Next stop on our Sicilian Baroque tour is Ragusa where our other favourite programme, Montalbano, is loosely based (along with Scicli, Noto and Modica). All feeling a bit weak we amble round Ragusa Ibli, the old town, before heading off to the new town (disappointing) but where we find a good restaurant for a simple lunch.
Now we have some real R&R, three nights at the Agrotourismo Rurale Cozzo Di Papaleo, where we have four large suites overlooking the countryside and the pool. Set up on a hill it’s a lovely place to have a Campari Spritz and gaze toward the distant sea. More cats with a very bad mother so we spend our breakfasts trying to get her to feed them, if only to halt the piteous cries. They were still alive when we left. On our way there we stop briefly to check out the ceramic staircase.
This is a base to visit Scicli and Modica; the former very charming the latter less so, but there we had another fabulous lunch complete with amuse bouche on a map of Sicily. One night we have a huge and unseasonal thunderstorm, great forked lightening and gusting rain; another night Ross and I stay in trying to kick the Covid, reading the first three Montalbano books just to get into the mood. This is really a lovely place to stay and use as a base for excursions. It is close to the Marina Ragusa, which makes a good tourist experience for drinks and supper, heaving with visitors and tacky souvenir stalls. But everyone is laughing and enjoying their holidays.
En route to our last stay in Ortigia we stop in Noto, renowned as the Baroque jewel of Sicily. Apparently there are 54 churches but we are slightly churched out and more interested in finding Sicily’s best ice cream (we do and it isn’t!); we also visit a sumptuous Palazzo apparently in the style of Lampedusa’s in The Leopard. Aside from the stunning building we find a small restaurant in a side street and have a simply delicious- antipasto lunch….
The countryside is varied – undulating hills (the hay bales lying like Swiss rolls), vines, olive groves, Etna with a faint plume towering over it all, rocky outcrops, azure skies and sea, and oleander everywhere – in bushes and even trees, providing glorious colour splashes in pinks, purples and whites in the otherwise gold and dusty backdrop of fields and buildings.
Diego is a wonderful driver – a really safe pair of hands despite some very narrow squeaks, literally, the proverbial cigarette paper sometimes between us, walls and other cars. Ross provides sat nav setting and guidance as the TomTom is rubbish, so it’s a good team effort. Cognisant but in denial of our infection, we careen along, windows wide open and fresh air circulating. As we are all travelling together we decide not to test and just live with feeling off-colour and only get official when we return home. For the record all the girls tested positive and none of the men! Weird.
Ortigia is a small island joined to the ancient city of Syracuse by a couple of bridges. Winding streets, more large churches and goose-breast wrought iron balconies. We are staying in a converted stable block of an old palazzo, right in the city centre. Ross is leaving early to join his group walking along the Alps for two weeks. Typically his easyJet flight is cancelled within a couple of hours of departure; luckily he can rebook on Swiss five hours later (NB never book easyJet when there’s an alternative). Our host recommends an excellent restaurant on the first night and the following day we wander round the markets, spying on the super-yachts, a bridal couple posing aspirationally alongside.
The grand finale is being locked into our apartment (Fort Knox with no other entry/exit points and super thick walls) as we are about to leave to return the van, catch flights and buses. It is a nail-biting 1 hr 20 until the firemen (three brawny guys including one who resembles a Michelangelo sculpture – thanks Laura for pointing that out!) finally break through the steel door by dismantling it. An unused bolt has jammed it. We race towards Catania and no one misses any deadlines. Phew!
Diego, Christine and I suffer one final annoyance as we are refused entry to our Palermo bus on account of our masks not being compliant with the regulations… all news to us, and we suspect a mafia-style scam as they are €6 each!
One final night in Palermo, confirmation that Janet is indeed positive, and then I head home to take my test. Luckily my covid only lasted ‘officially’ two days and I now back to normal and preparing to go to a wedding. Despite none of us feel 100% we had a fabulous holiday and enjoyed the sites and will be back, healthy and firing on all cyclinders.