Day 69 Syracuse to near Scicli

Last night we stayed in a hotel in Syracuse, made famous because Winston Churchill stayed there in 1955, and claimed that he experienced the ‘best sleep he had ever had’. It was indeed a very comfortable, slightly dated, but very grand old hotel, and we enjoyed a pleasant bedtime drink in the bar that is named after him. We had ended up there because both the local campsites close to Syracuse had not yet opened for the season – so their loss, our gain. In the grounds is the quarry used by the Ancient Greeks to extract the stone used to make the city. Today, it has been converted into a beautiful sunken garden. On our way out of Syracuse this morning, we passed the large amphitheatre, but decided that nothing could top the amazing cliff-top Teatro in Taormina.
Today we continued our journey southwards along the south eastern tip of Sicily. Our first stop was a visit to Noto, which is notorious (see then pun there?) for it’s baroque architecture. The original city was raised to the ground in the 1693 earthquake, along with seven other neighbouring towns, and so the mayor at that time decided to re-site the new city 6 kilometres inland, away from it’s original site on the coast. He took the opportunity to employ three famous Italian architects, who designed the new town on a grid system in a completely Baroque style using the local white limestone. Over time, this weathered to a mellow golden colour, and is today designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, allegedly being the best example of baroque architecture in the whole of Italy. We parked up, and Howard decided on a walking tour before coffee. I dutifully followed, but was rather puzzled as to why there was not a soul around, bar the odd local. We climbed the hill to a church, which Howard informed me was the Duomo or cathedral. It sat in a pretty looking square, and was indeed a church, so I took his word for it, and went in to have a look. I was fairly underwhelmed at the interior, but had a quick look around, and we continued on our way. It had a lovely charm about the place, all the better for being so quiet. However, I was surprised that there were no cafes in sight. Eventually we headed back down the hill, and suddenly, there it was – this huge grand street, with the cathedral on one side, and the town hall on the other. The street was heaving with tourists, cafes, shops and restaurants. Ah – so this is where everyone is, I thought. The architecture was indeed grand and very ‘over the top’ baroque, but personally, I had preferred our quiet wander through the back-streets.
Our exit from Noto was interesting! We chose to ignore Boris when he tried to send us up a ridiculously narrow street, only to find ourselves in an even narrower one, with a ninety degree turn at the end, and a flight of steps at the other end. I must admit, I completely freaked out, and had to jump out of the van to help Howard negotiate the turn, as well as just to start breathing again! The posted street photo says it all. We chose a quiet countryside route after that, passing through orchards of lemon trees, and yet more olives. We followed the coast for a while, then headed inland again towards a town called Modica, famous for it’s Gorge, and it’s chocolate making. Apparently Modica chocolate is made with only cocoa and sugar, and no heat or cocoa butter, giving it a crunchy grainy character, and is named ‘chocolate glass’. We turned off and visited the smaller town of Scicli nearby, which was also completely destroyed in the earthquake. Like Noto, Scicli is built entirely in a baroque fashion, and had some fairly interesting gargoyles decorating one of it’s churches. As we walked through the main piazza, we were interested to see a huge anti-Mafia banner hanging from the window of the local comprehensive school. Apparently, there has been a huge movement against Mafia activity in Sicily in recent years, but despite this their influence remains, particularly in the south. We stopped in a cafe and bought some of the local chocolate, so I will report back if it is good!
We are now settled in our seaside campsite, just along the coast from Scicli. After a pleasant morning, the wind has picked up, so we selected a pitch as far back from the sea as was possible. The campsite is run by a man from Darlington (who married the Sicilian mother of the owner) – it was very strange to hear a British accent after all these weeks. Howard is off checking on the washing – if he doesn’t hurry back, I might have to start on the chocolate without him!

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