Sicily in a Week: Noto, Modica and Marzamemi

Previous day: arrival and Syracuse/Ortygia :SICILY IN A WEEK

Day 2: A gorgeous breakfast tray was delivered to our room at 8am – fresh fruit, coffee, excellent homemade pastries, pistachio and orange/almond filled. We opened the double windows, the sea directly below us and enjoyed breakfast against the sound of the waves.

The Baroque showpiece that is Noto was our first stop. As ever, the city’s modern outskirts seemed to go on forever but using Google maps we found central parking near the centre for a very reasonable few euros (parking everywhere in Sicily was quite cheap.) In minutes, we arrived in front of the magnificent Cattedrale di Noto, built in 1776 after the late 17t century earthquake which devastated the town. It looked almost brand new, unreal. The steps were full of schoolchildren but overall everywhere we visited was not overly busy; it felt ‘off peak.’

We had a look inside then walked over to the Chiesa de San Carlo Borromeo to climb up to its two terraces which give wonderful views over the architectural masterpieces below. Then excellent coffees (as ever in Sicily and Italy) in a small café (name) with outdoor seats on the street.Many of the houses had beautiful elegant balconies. Had a look inside an absolutely stunning small church, Chiesa de Santa Chiara,  the city’s oldest and lovelier and more atmospheric inside I thought than the Cattedrale.

Then a wander down to the city’s famous ice cream shop, Cafe Costanzo for pistachio ice cream but it was overly sweet and not as good as the best I’ve tasted ( Carmel, California.) Noto was wonderful to see though the actual area of finest architecture was very small indeed.Overall, it felt a little unreal somehow.

I’d read of the fishing village of Marzamemi, not too far away, so off we took for that, keen to get to the sea again. Easy and quiet parking and in minutes we were past the modern outskirts and looking at the most charming , wide piazza lined with beautifully restored fishermen’s cottages and an old church. It was so delightful, the cottages now converted small restaurants with tables and chairs in bright blues and reds. At the back, each had a dining area right on the rocks. Lunch beside the sea, you couldn’t get any closer!

But the food on offer was high end pricey, more than we wanted to spend money and time on right now. There were more cafes on the other side of the piazza, all overlooking the pleasant bay and a low key modern resort. Had a decent bruschetta and tomato and Chris had a hot panini with cheese. A place to just sit and relax and enjoy being beside the sea in a quietish spot. Lovely.

Modica – the city of a hundred churches – awaited so off we set and 45 mins later we were driving on the high road parallel to this surprisingly large city sitting above a deep gorge with a superb view of the higgledy – piggledy, jam packed jumble of tiny Sicilian houses that made up its centre.

There didn’t look to be a breath of wind between the buildings, ancient and grimy, grey and beige but looking quite fantastic as an urban whole. I think I liked Modica better than Noto because it seemed more genuine and real. The rain came down in torrents as we drove along the broad main street of the lower town. It wasn’t prepossessing under the heavy dark skies. The windscreen wipers were going so fast we could hardly see ahead and managed to sweep past the big car park we’d planned to stop in. Oops…before we knew it we were on a one way system leading up, up UP into Modica Alta, the older town, a warren of impossibly narrow cobbled streets.

Thankfully, the one way system continued and after going round and round in circles several times (hhmm , didn’t we just pass that building…..?)  we managed to find the Belvedere at the very top of the town. What a view over the city! It also allowed us to locate the Cathedral of San Giorgio, much lower down than we thought. Now the problem was – how to get there?

In fact, in minutes we were driving past its superb Baroque façade and amazingly, we were able to park close by on the street (white lines = no charge.) I loved this part of Modica, with some grand atmospheric old buildings and then the superb church with its impressive steps. Inside it was so beautiful, all whites and pale blues/pastel colours. And best of all, the approach to was like Rome’s Spanish Steps, bedecked with oleander and hibiscus flowers, a profusion of pinks and reds. It was SO pretty. A difficult spot to leave with grand views over pan – tiled rooftops and peeling facades of golden stone, many with beautifully ornate balconies.

Another jam packed day! Stopped at a small mini market in Modica Basso and stocked up for tonight. One of our favourite meals is to arrive in lovely accommodation and have our own spread of Parma ham, nutty Emmental cheese, tomatoes, good bread and butter, olives and pickles. A glass or two of wine while sitting out in the pleasant warmth of evening, listening to the cicadas. Bliss.
The fun and games began as we tried to find our accommodation – Torre Don Virgilio Country House. Google directions conked out when we ran out of signal and signage was non-existent.

We were now in a pleasant areas of pasture land criss crossed with ancient dry stone walls, really lovely. But the myriad little turn offs and roads were totally confusing. The clue was in the name – torre, or tower. I was as much good as a chocolate fireman as navigator, becoming almost speechless when Chris asked at a crossroads – ok which way?? I had no clue! But he spied a tall tower in the mid distance and we made – eventually – for that. Eureka!  It was indeed our place, a beautiful old place with lovely gardens and olive trees, all on its own in a very rural landscape. Perfect. Our room was gorgeous , big high ceiling, elegantly decorated, lovely bathroom and a small terrace. Half an hour later, after getting showered and setting out the food, we were sitting outside, rain threatening a bit, having a glass of Prosecco and toasting to another fine day in Sicilia. A stroll in the softly lit gardens later on and we were both ready to flake out.What great fun travelling and exploring is! And many new days and new sights and experiences lay ahead……

Next day – the finest Roman Floor mosaics in the world and we cross the Madonie mountains  SICILY IN A WEEK: Ragusa, the world’s finest Roman mosaics and the Madonie Mountains


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