Sardinia’s Coastal Cities

Sardinia’s coastal cities are well preserved local centers that are well worth a stopover or as a base to explore the surrounding region. Over 10 days, I made it to Cagliari, Alghero, Castelsardo and Bosa. Sardinia has significant airports at Alghero, Olbia and Cagliari, so  you can also access the island that way if you’re intent on flying.

Cagliari

Cagliari is Sardinia’s principal city and a great place to arrive off the overnight ferry – there are direct ferry connections from Sicily and mainland Italy.

Pilot Boat, Cagliari Harbor

Cagliari’s castello stands out and is the first thing to take a look at. Sardinia has very Celtic tones and in Sardu the city is called Casteddu – Castle – which sounds rather Welsh or Breton to me.

You have great views from the citadel and it’s worth climbing to the top of the Torre dell’Elefante, one of the city’s remaining two defensive towers.

Cagliari is a great walking town and while it is Sardinia’s largest city it still has a very approachable and accessible feel.

The wall art is random and catchy – who doesn’t appreciate a melting Francis Bacon.

I stayed at the Arcobaleno hotel which was close to the port and was very comfortable. There are plenty of great restaurants in Cagliari, although I would recommend going further afield from the Marina area where they lean a little towards visiting tourists – the Stampace neighborhood and Corso Vittorio Emanuele west of Plaza Venne is worth a look.

Alghero

Alghero ended up being my favorite spot to stay however – balanced on the northwest corner of the island, it faces out to the open Mediterranean and has a clearly set out medieval fortified port town, with a larger suburban town spreading into the hinterland. It definitely gears to visitors but is really well preserved without getting spoiled. The walls are intact along large stretches and overlook the ocean.

Alghero gets the westerly winds and has plenty of variety in weather.

As with any city in Sardinia, it’s quick to escape into the county. You can rent bikes from Rent a Bike Raggi di Sardegna on Via Maiorca. They also organize longer tours and will recommend itineraries. I got ambitious and decided to head south along the coast road, which had some spectacular views along the way.

I stayed at the Hotel San Francesco which worked well – just ask to see the bathroom before you take the room as mine was ok but on the small side. Alghero has some good craft brew pubs, including the excellent Birreria San Miquel and L’Altra Vineria. If you’re feeling like a more outdoor cocktail with great accompany snacks, Cafe Latino overlooks the Marina. There are plenty of restaurant options in Alghero and it’s hard to go very wrong.

Castelsardo

Who came up with Castelsardo? Founded as a stronghold in the 12th century by the Doria family from Genoa, it was also ruled by the Spanish during their period of Mediterranean dominance.

This would have been a tough nut to crack in terms of medieval siege warfare.

It’s not a big town and after the fort there are some narrow streets and pretty standard suburbs.

Castelsardo can be walked thoroughly in half a day however you are back in the 15th century.

Even if you are passing by, it’s worth a stop to check out the place. The Ristorante Il Bounty is outstanding and their seafood pasta is garlicky, fresh and superb. There are a number of B&Bs in the old town and I stayed at the Colti di Rosa which was very comfortable.

Bosa

I liked Bosa – it’s a relaxed market town located by the Temo River, about 40km south of Alghero. It is slightly inland so has missed out on the beach tourism that has commercialized other Sardinian cities. This is a nice walking town with the obligatory castle on the overlooking hill.

 

Sardinia’s Peaks and Canyons

Sardinia’s wild and lightly populated interior has outstanding hiking – try out the Gennargentu Mountain Range, just south of Nuoro, where you can hike in the hills or see some spectacular canyons.

Punta La Marmora

The mountains are a short drive south from the city of Nuoro, which is an excellent base for the outdoors.  Punta La Marmora is at 1,834 m and as part of the Gennargentu mountain chain, is the highest peak on the island. Located in the Gennargentu National Park, you can access the trail by driving along the SP7 from Desulo to Fonni, after which you will see signs to Monte Spada and Bruncu Spina (1,819 m).

To reach the trailhead, you continue along the tarmac road to the end (where the road has a traffic barrier – park there), and then walk along the road to where there is a rifugio and ski lift area below Bruncu Spina – here https://goo.gl/maps/E1ysBZNdZHS2. The trailheads (with wooden signs) start from there.

You can hike both peaks in a single half day trip, either starting by hiking up to Monte Bruncu Spina (where there is a meteorological station at the top), or first head southeast for Punta La Marmora. I started with Punta La Marmora and took the trail that ran along the east side of Bruncu Spina (which is to the right in the photo below – Punta La Marmora is the far peak).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having come round the east side of Bruncu Spina, I reached this intersection marker (about here https://goo.gl/maps/N9S6McsPpN42) and then headed southerly towards Punta La Marmora.

Intersection marker – looking southerly towards Punta La Marmora.

It was a gentle uphill to Punta La Marmora, Sardinia’s highest point. The views are certainly worth the walk and there are very few remnants of winter snow (as of March).

Punta La Marmora – looking east

Punta La Marmora – looking northwest

From Punta La Marmora, I backtracked and then from the intersection marker headed uphill and north along a smaller trail that took me northwest along the ridgeline to Bruncu Spini (below).

Upper trail heading northwest towards Bruncu Spina.

Ridge trail heading northwest to Bruncu Spina.

Bruncu Spina has great views to the north – still some snow hanging around as of March.

Bruncu Spina – looking north

The one drawback to finishing up here is that it’s a steep downhill back to the ski lift station at the Rifugio – basically over a downhill ski area if you go direct. It worked but you had to watch your step in places. This is a great hike that makes for a great day out of Nuoro – or wherever else you overnight.

Gorropu Canyon

Gorropu Canyon (Gola di Gorropu) is one of the deepest canyons in southern Europe, with walls up to 200m above the canyon floor. The trailhead (from the north of the canyon – there is a southern access as well) is located about 14km southwest of Dorgali, exiting the SS125. There is a parking lot located northeast of the trailhead here https://goo.gl/maps/oBGdPFxDdV82 or alternatively you can drive past it over the river bridge and then find a space heading south along the dirt road that runs up to the trailhead.

The hike starts in an open wooded valley as you take a trail south along the west side of the Flumineddu River towards the canyon. This was an out and back hike that took about 4 hours. As you are staying along the valley floor, it’s fairly flat.

You can see Gorropu Canyon form up in the distance with a fairly sheltered dirt trail to take you there.

Closer.

You drop down off the dirt trail into the river floor, where there are plenty of boulders.

You can also approach the canyon from the south where there is parking and accommodation located off the SS125 https://goo.gl/maps/pvv6q7SL6yz

Wilma, I’m Home!

If ever the Flintstones were real, it seems they were natives of Sardinia.

– Philip Coppens

Sardinia has over 7,000 ancient stone structures (nuraghe) from its Celtic past, mostly constructed between 2300-500 BC, which could have been fortifications, palaces, temples or lodgings. This is quite a lot for an island of that size, and reflects an overall high level of preservation. The nuraghic civilization drew to a close with the arrival of the Phoenicians around 500 BC.

Many of the nuraghe are circular towers, whereas the Albicciu nuraghe is rectangular. The building is well preserved and after coming into a small hall you can head up to the rooftop. The construction simply laid dry fitted stones against the other.

You have a good view of the mountains to the north through an olive grove. There are signs of  additional construction – including a wooden structure as well as a tower.

The rear of the nuraghe shows multiple rooftop levels where additional, probably wooden structures may have stood.

Nearby is the Coddu Vecchiu burial structure, one of the larger burial monuments on the island, believed to be constructed around 1800-1600 BC and excavated in the 1960s.

The burial chamber sits behind the stele which contains a small entrance.

Together with the nearby La Prisgiona nuraghe, this area was quite heavily built up for the time. Arzachena is a good base for this as well as for exploring Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda.

I stayed at the Santa Lucia B&B in Arzachena which had great rooms and breakfast. http://www.bbslucia.it

Of the other 200 or so excavated nuraghe, others worth seeing in Sardina include major complexes located at Barumini, Torralba and La Prisgiona, also near Arzachena.

The Lost Cities of Ancient Sicily

You can’t move very far in Sicily without coming across the remains of the cities left by Greek, Roman and other occupants of Ancient Sicily. It would take months to fully explore the sites, and so even if you have a couple of weeks you’re going to be selective. Here are three that you shouldn’t miss.

Agrigento – Valley of the Temples

The Valley of the Temples, about 3 kilometers south of Agrigento, is a Greek temple complex dating mostly from the 4th-6th centuries BC that was built around the city of Akragas, one of the major cities of the ancient Greek world. The very well-preserved Temple of Concordia was built in 430 BC and has managed to stand since then as one of the finest examples of Greek temples, withstanding Sicily’s many earthquakes, in part owing to a layer of clay beneath it. It’s certainly worth half a day to walk the 1,300-hectare site.

The 6th century AD Christian basilica was added within the structure.

View east towards the Temple of Hera.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was destroyed in an earthquake and contains two toppled Telamons – figures of a man with raised arms that would have acted as supports.

Telamon, Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Hercules is one of the oldest temples from the 6th century BC,  with eight standing columns.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux was destroyed by Carthaginian invasion and then restored by the Greeks. It’s four remaining columns were rebuilt in the 19th century.

I drove from Catania to Agrigento and afterwards went west to stay in the fishing port town of Sciacca, which is great choice for a low-key stopover in the southwest of Sicily. In Sciacca, I stayed at the Garibaldi Relais in the center and the Trattoria La Buona Forchetta on Via Pietro Gerardi 16 is excellent for dinner:

Seafood Stew, Sciacca, Sicily.

Villa Romane del Casale

The Villa Romane del Casale is a 2nd/3rd Century AD Roman villa complex located about 4 km south of Piazza Armerina. Much of the structures are recognizable, but more compelling are the extensive and incredibly well-preserved floor mosaics throughout much of the building. The villa is believed to have belonged to Rome’s co-Emperor and would have been an impressive regional palace. The building was covered over by a landslide in the Dark Ages and was only excavated in the 19th Century. Hence the preservation of the building (which otherwise would have been demolished and it’s stones re-used) and it’s stunning floor mosaics. The building is now covered with a lightweight wooden structure that protects the site and gives some useful context as to it’s original size.

Villa Romane del Casale

The reception areas must have glowed when first built.

Remains of wall frescoes still stand along this long hall.

The center of the building consisted of a large covered courtyard with hunting scenes. The Roman aristocracy were clearly obsessed with hunting and capturing large African mammals.

Seafaring and fishing scenes including the inevitable large mammal capture scene.

 

The animal motif floor mosaics are cartoon-like and reveal a sense of humor in some of the aesthetics.

The Room of the 10 Maidens (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze sounds a lot better though) features bikini-clad athletes in a Roman-era equivalent of BayWatch.

The throne room, or Basilica, is quite impressive, and the wooden ceiling conveys the size of the place. You would have to ascend into the room and presumably the aristocrat in it would be on a raised dais of sorts at the far end.

The tepidarium (warm room) contained the hot baths heated from below.

I drove to the Roman villa from the Madonie mountains area http://wp.me/p7Jh3P-fh which is reasonably close by.

Selinunte

Selinunte was once a major port city and fortress constructed by the Greeks from about 630 BC.  Once one of the largest and most powerful cities in the known world, it was ransacked by the Carthaginians in about 400 BC. Abandoned as a city in the Roman era, it was only excavated in the 19th century.

You enter the site through the Eastern temples which originate from the 5th Century BC and were reconstructed in the 1950s. Temple E is the most complete and gives off a golden glow.

 

Further north, the other two temples are massive ruined expanses of handcut stone.

From the temples, the walled acropolis overlooking the sea is visible and a decent walk.

Selinunte must have looked impressive overlooking the sea when it was up and running – one of Europe’s major cities around 600 BC.

The acropolis is anchored by a series of temples on its south seaward side, of which Temple C is the only one standing. The temple area is littered with stone wreckage that makes it interesting to traverse.

The street plan of the acropolis still stands out amongst ruined stone buildings and temples.

You can still leave by the north gate of the city.

The fortifications are clearly laid out, although ultimately didn’t help against the Carthaginians.

Selinunte is a must-see for a western Sicily itinerary and is less than two hours from Palermo, which you shouldn’t miss: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-palermo/

If the above still doesn’t get you into the 2,000-year old mood then don’t forget Siracusa: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-siracusa/ 

 

Sicily’s Highlands

Sicily!

Historical atmospheric ancient cities beside azure seas, etc. All true. Try to head inland if you can though, for rugged and scenic hill country awaits. Along with a surprising amount of snow for mid-March.

Madonie Highlands

The Madonie highlands are a little over an hour’s drive southeast of Palermo and are an excellent outdoor hiking and nature area.

Pizzo Carbonara, Madonie Mountains

Madonie Park (http://www.parcodellemadonie.it) is a highland area that features the Madonie mountain range surrounded by the towns of Polizzi Generosa, Collesano, Petralia Soprana, Gangi and Castelbuono, amongst others, which offer a base to explore the region. If you hate the outdoors you can just drive around the park and visit the towns. There was cross-country skiiing at Piano Battaglia, which is an outdoor recreation area in the center of the Park and there are multiple hiking trails best accessed by your own car – public tranport is infrequent. Some itineraries are here http://www.parks.it/parco.madonie/Eiti.php and this is a good description of the topography http://www.summitpost.org/le-madonie/364267

Petralia Soprana

Gangi

Petralia Sottana and Pizzo Carbonara in the Distance

I went for a hike on the Abies Nebrodensis trail (Sentiero degli Abies Nebrodensis) which you can reach on SP 119 from Polizzi Generosa and Piano Battaglia, with a trail head about 8km on the right from Polizzi Generosa. Even for mid-March at about 1,000 meters elevation, there was a lot of snow on the trails. http://www.parcodellemadonie.it/sentiero-degli-abies-nebrodensis.html

I went again the following day and the snow was more manageable for a few hours. The trail to the Rifugio Monte Cervi was also accessed from SP 119 and headed west.

The weather clouded over but it was a nice stroll along the valley.

The Rifugio was shuttered and was a good turnaround point.

I stayed at Agriturismo Cuca just north of Polizzi Generosa which worked really well. Agriturismos are a farmstay option that are very well set up – http://www.agriturismo.it/en/farmhouse/sicily/palermo/Cuca-1470060/index.html

Castelbuono is the largest of the towns if you are looking for a base and it has a large fortified medieval center. I quite liked Polizzi Generosa as well.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna, Sicily’s only active volcano, is located just north of Catania, and is an interesting day hike. There are multiple routes up, and I drive to the base on the south side at Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza. You can take a cable car up or alternatively you can hike up the main access road – I had a roughly 4-hour round trip without going all the way to the crater.

As ever the weather was quite clear in the late morning but it clouded over soon after.

This was where I turned around. Not so much owing to the warning (which was relevant the following day when Etna erupted http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/17/europe/bbc-crew-volcano-mount-etna-eruption/index.html) but because I didn’t trust myself to navigate across the snow with the visibility being variable.

Variable visibility and a suspiciously recent lump of ejected rock.

This is a fuller account:

A Day Jaunt Up Etna, Wherein Not Much Happened Except for Cold Weather

Enna

Enna is good place to base out of central Sicily. It has an impressive and defendable hilltop location – in case. Enna is very pretty.

It has the obligatory historical sites that will fill say half a day.

Commanding views over Sicily’s heartland.

I stayed just south of Enna at the Agriturismo Mandorleto http://www.agriturismo.it/it/agriturismi/sicilia/enna/IlMandorleto-3080663/index.html

Also within striking distance of Enna and worth a visit is the Roman villa near Piazza Armerina http://www.villaromanadelcasale.it

Urban Adventures in Sicily – Trapani

Trapani is a very cool port town on Sicily’s western tip that still shows its fortified origins and role as a trading port between North Africa (cous cous being a local specialty), Spain and mainland Italy. It has ferries to Pantelleria and Tunis and a pretty extensive fishing fleet hangs out in the port. It’s a great base for Western Sicily and to explore the Egadi islands – and a short bus ride from Palermo. Trapani is one of those places that look right on the map and it turns out that you chose well.

Old Town Trapani

The old town is quite compact and can be well covered in a day. It’s a nice place to cool your heels for a few days.

North Sea Wall, Old Town

Most of the old town originates from the 18th and 19th centuries and it has a small town feel.

Corso Vittorio Emanuelle

Head out to the southwest end of town to see the large fishing port with visitors from North Africa.

Libyan Fishing Boat, Trapani Port.

Erice

Erice is a nearby walled medieval hill town reachable by a 40-minute bus ride, that makes for a scenic day trip. You have stunning views over the coastline and get to understand why the Normans put a castle here.

The Duomo was originally built in the early 14th century by the Normans.

Duomo, Erice

The 12th/13th century Norman Castello di Venere was built on the site of a Temple of Venus and was the center of a Roman cult. Erice is mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid, so there you go.

Castello di Venere

Castello di Venere

Erice Castle, Mediterranean Coast and Bird

If you’re based in Trapani, AST buses leave from the Porta Trapani stop near the ferry terminal and set you down at the Erice Duomo. The Caffe Maria on 117 Via Vittorio Emanuele is a good place for a coffee and the associated Pasticceria Maria Grammatico a few doors down is well known for its pastries – don’t leave without picking some up.

The Egadi Islands

Trapani is a convenient base to ferry out to the Egadi islands, either for a day trip or for a longer island exploration. Schedules and tickets can be obtained at the Liberty Lines Ferry Terminal ticketing offices, on Viale Regine Elena http://eng.libertylines.it/destination.php?id=1 Of the three islands, I decided to visit the island furthest west, Marettimo, which is about an hour each way on the hydrofoil. Marettimo is the wildest and peakiest of the islands and a great place for a day hike.

Marettimo Harbor

Italian hiking trails are well marked and maintained, with distinctive red-flashed signage. I picked up the trail toward Pizzo Falcone, the peak at the north of the island. There are trails that run west out of the Marettimo town although I took a more southerly roundabout route – heading south of the town along the coast road and then cutting west on a trail that led into this pine forest.

Breaking out of the pine forest, you head north along the east side of the hill range with views towards Sicily.

A notable stop along the way is the Casa Romane, an abandoned Roman settlement, alongside which is a Byzantine-era church.

You finally start to get some altitude and are high enough to look west as well, into the cloud base.

The view from Pizzo Falcone is stunning – the largest of the Egadi islands, Favignana, is in the center, and you can see the hills around Trapani beyond.

Marettimo town with the ferries docked at the ferry terminal, lies below the trail. The tideless Meditteranean permits the back-in “Med Moor” which saves a lot of wharf space.

You can make out the other islands and the Sicilian mainland beyond – along with the next ferry.

Marettimo Town

I didn’t go on this day trip but there are also good hikes to the 17th century fort at Punta Troia (northeast tip) or to the Punta Libeccia Lighthouse (southwest tip). I’d recommend 2-3 days if you want to get in some beautiful day hikes in pristine and wild island country.

Logistics

Trapani is easily reached by bus from Palermo (and direct from Palermo airport). The long- and short-haul buses stop off by the Liberty Lines Ferry Terminal ticketing offices, on Viale Regine Elena. Certain of the long-haul buses require you to buy the ticket at a nearby cafe or travel agent – you can buy AST bus tickets from Egatour Viaggi opposite.

There are plenty of lodging options in Trapani. I stayed at Trapani In Appartamenti on Via S. Francesco di Paola 4, which had excellent apartments with a good nearby cafe for breakfast in the square just east.

Trapani not surprisingly has excellent seafood – seafood cous cous (cuscus con zuppa di mare or cuscus alla Trapanese) is mighty fine and has to be tried. These places were great:

  • La Bettolaccia
  • Hostaria San Pietro

I also came across Il Barbagianni, which was the only craft beer bar in town as I could tell, and well worth the stop.

 

The Baroque Hill Town Trio: Noto, Modica and Ragusa

The Baroque hill towns southwest of Siracusa are worth a visit and are close enough together to base out of one and day trip around. They were all heavily damaged in the 1693 earthquake and so rebuilding occurred around the same time, giving the main iconic buildings around the center a similar character. I stayed in Modica, in part because it was in the center of the three. It turned out to be a good choice as it had good eating and sleeping options.

Noto

From Siracusa, I took the bus to Noto, which took a little over an hour. Noto goes way back to the Romans and was modified on a grid pattern after the 1693 earthquake.  Since then, it has become a honey-tinted UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bus station is close to the center and you are greeted by a 19th century archway.

The main cathedral is quite grand and dates from the early 18th century.

San Niccolo Cathedral

Noto’s a pleasant place to walk around with a pedestrianized main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and the main sites are the most centralized of the three towns.

You can get as much baroque architecture as you want much of the time.

Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore

Baroque 3D angels and other celestial phenomena.

Lunch was at the streetside Arancini Planet on Via Ducezio. You only need one.

Cafe Costanzo on Via Silvio Spaventa is a good place for a stop off and their ice cream is excellent.

I spent half a day in Noto which was about right. The tourist office (Info Point) on Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135 are very helpful and will keep your bag for you if you want to go walkabout.

Departing Noto for Modica, I took the train, which is walkable but located further from the town center.

Modica

Modica is situated across a large valley with the commercial center in the low ground to the south, around the intersection of Corso Umberto I and Via Marchesa Tedeschi, which is a busy street that makes for an interesting stroll.

The old town is reached heading up the northeast side of the valley off the main thoroughfare.

St George’s Cathedral is a waypoint on the upward walk, and it has the usual ornate interior that you see in Sicilian baroque churches.

Duomo di San Giorgio

The view from the heights of the old town are worth the walk – this is looking southerly towards Corso Umberto I.

The Pizzo Bel Vedere has a good overlook.

View from Pizza Bel Videre

Chiesa di San Pietro

The Rappa Enoteca on Corso Santa Teresa 97/99 https://www.facebook.com/rappaenoteca/ is a great stopoff for wine or microbrews in the old town.

Ragusa

Ragusa is the largest of the three hill towns. Its main working center is Ragusa Superiore, much of which dates from post-earthquake construction. The old town – Ragusa Ibla, is located to the east over a saddle along the hill line. The rail and bus stand are located in the newer town to the south of the Ragusa Superiore, so it’s a decent walk to the old town. But worth it.

Ragusa Ibla

The old town is good for a wander punctuated by the usual church and palazzo stopoffs.

Chiesa Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Ragusa Ibla.

Palazzo with Lemon Tree

From time to time you come across brutalist fascist architecture, which isn’t necessarily surprising given that they governed the country from 1922 to 1943, although the regalia often remains.

The Delicatessen in drogheria on Via Archimede 32, in the new town https://www.facebook.com/DelicatessenRagusa is a good place for a panini and a microbrew.

Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, Ragusa Superiore

Logistics and Tips

AST is the regional bus line that bets gets you between the southeast cities http://www.aziendasicilianatrasporti.it  Click on “Linee e Ori” to find the schedule.

Keep the train in mind if the bus schedules don’t work out – it was convenient Noto-Modica http://www.trenitalia.com. You can also buy your ticket online anytime if your smartphone is set up for Italy.

Unless you are fine with roaming costs, you can purchase a SimCard as long as your phone is 3G compatible and you are able to unlock it. I went with Telecom Italia Mobile – seek out a TIM store when you arrive in Italy. Mine was 20 euro for 30 days of wireless and voice, not unlimited but it was sufficient.

I stayed at the B&B Palazzo Il Cavalliere in Modica which was perfectly fine.palazzoilcavaliere.it

There are plenty of food choices in Modica, mainly in the new town – I recommend these places which covered local specialties very well:

Osteria dei Sapori http://www.osteriadeisaporiperduti.it

Trattoria Ristorante Il Girasole Di Colombo Corrado http://www.trattoriailgirasole.com

Urban Adventures in Sicily – Siracusa

The ancient Greek town of Siracusa (Syracuse) is an atmospheric port town that is well worth a visit to see the remnants of one of the largest cities of the ancient world. I took the train from Palermo via Catania to get to Siracusa. It’s a nice way to see the wild interior of Sicily.

Enna from the Train.

Siracusa is a great walking town and is one of the better preserved old cities of Sicily with a significant medieval center dotted with ancient artifacts.

The old town, which was founded by the Greeks around 730 BC, is contained on a separate island, Ortigia. You’ll walk it in a day, although spending a couple of nights in Siracusa gives you enough time to absorb the place.

Isola di Ortigia, Siracusa

If you enter Ortigia from the north, the first major site is the Temple of Apollo, a large open ruin from the 6th Century BC.  Further south is the main square and cathedral, another early 18th century baroque example.

Piazza del Duomo, Siracusa.

The site has had previous lives under Greek, Roman, Arab and Norman inhabitants. Here some of the interior and exterior Doric columns come from the 5th century BC Greek temple to Athena originally on this site, which has a mention by Cicero in the 1st Century BC.

Duomo, Siracusa.

5th Century BC Doric columns, Duomo.

As well as the tight streets of the old town and a beautiful waterfront, other things to see include the 13th century castle at the south tip of the island, and the old Jewish quarter of La Guidecca.

About 2km northwest of Ortigia is the Archaeological Park, which contains a Greek amphitheater from the 5th Century BC and a later Roman amphitheater from the 1st Century AD. This is worth a small expedition as a break from walking around Ortigia.

Roman Amphitheater, Siracusa.

The park also contains some old quarries and a large cave, the Ear of Dionysius, which was also quarried out and used to hold prisoners. Dionysius was a Greek ruler of Siracusa who is said to have used the cave acoustics to listen in on his prisoners.

Ear of Dionysius, Siracusa.

There is a large market on Sundays in the Piazza Santa Lucia, to the east of the new town.

And as ever there are interesting markets in the old town for browsing and buying. The main market area in Ortigia is around the north of Via Trento and Via Emmanuele de Benedictis.

Tito’s House of Fish.

Logistics and Tips

I stayed at the Grande Albergo Alfeo which is a good 19th century hotel in the new town, and just 5 minutes to cross over the bridges into Ortigia. Good breakfasts and very comfortable. It is also closer to the bus and rail stations located in the new town.

These places were good –
Osteria del Vecchio Ponte. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187891-d7029468-Reviews-Osteria_Del_Vecchio_Ponte-Syracuse_Province_of_Syracuse_Sicily.html Small place just outside the old town, killer seafood. Seafood’s the way to go in Siracusa.


…and Taberna Sveva, a more local place at the south end of Ortigia.
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187891-d1007859-Reviews-Taberna_Sveva-Syracuse_Province_of_Syracuse_Sicily.html

Barcollo has a great bar where you can also sit out in the courtyard. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187891-d3540353-Reviews-Barcollo_Siracusa-Syracuse_Province_of_Syracuse_Sicily.html

Two good and popular lunch places next to each other:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187891-d4509117-Reviews-Fratelli_Burgio-Syracuse_Province_of_Syracuse_Sicily.html They do some nice antipasti plates which I didn’t try, have micro beer and you can sit down.
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187891-d2441975-Reviews-Caseificio_Borderi-Syracuse_Province_of_Syracuse_Sicily.html Go early for this one, sexcellent panini – I got there at 2:30 having just arrived off the train and there were about 25 people in line. The owner makes the panini on a table outside. I gave up.

Previously: Palermo

Read about the Palermo trip here http://wp.me/p7Jh3P-a3

Next: The Baroque Hill Town Trio

How I Started Photographing my Food and Hated Myself for Doing So

How did this happen? I used to not do it, I just ate it all up.  Now I’ve become one of them, clicking away. Traveling to Sri Lanka, Sicily and Sardinia and finding stuff that tasted pretty damn good just drove me to photography, ultimately.

Inflight Catering

Like this for example. Singapore Airlines standard breakfast. The bread roll, meh of course. The green beans, not exactly flavorful but just right on a plane. But the dim sum (lower left) was pretty good, hard to mess up and salty and fatty enough to work at 38,000 feet.

Breakfast SFO-SIN on Singapore Air.

Of course, when you get to Changi Airport 17 hours later…Satay!! This was excellent, chewy beef with a spicy caramelized bbq’d crust dipped in peanut sauce essence and countered by raw onion/cucumber crunch (lower right). Shockingly, very few Malaysian places outside southeast Asia recreate the real peanut sauce seen here…it’s usually a creamy sweet goop that hasn’t got within 10 miles of tamarind paste, garlic, chili and freshly hammered peanuts, as happened here.

Satay, Terminal 2 Food Court, Changi Airport.

Sri Lanka

On to Sri Lanka and the basement food court of the Crescat shopping mall off Galle Road, Colombo. Curry selection, with whole chillis scattered throughout like nuclear confetti. The curry shrimp worked for me, as did the whole green chillies for a while after, in an excellent way.

Breakfast time masala dosa at the Dosai King on Galle Road in Kollupitiya. Dal refills compulsory. Eat with your hands and wash them at the taps afterwards. Sweet milky coffee not shown.

I also did not photograph the crab curry and cashew nut curry at the Riviera Resort hotel in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, and regret that. If you are vegetarian, seek out a recipe for cashew nut curry, and your life will improve. If you ever go to Batticaloa, go there for dinner. I did get a superb mango juice in World of Juice however. It was so dense it quivered when you picked the glass up.

Mango Juice, World of Juice, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.

Halal Sri Lankan chilli chicken and veggie biryani rice at the New Ibraim Eating House in Batticaloa. Frankly the rice (with poached egg atop) was a meal in itself.

Chilli Chicken and Vegetable Biryani, Batticaloa.

Sicily and Sardinia

Moving on to Sicily, you start to get presented with lots of seafood combined with various means to stick it in your gob. Pasta of course, as in the classic pasta con le sarde, seen here. Sardines go ok with pasta, these were very fresh.

Pasta con le Sarde, Taberna Sveva, Siracusa, Sicily

Lots of raw and smoked marine life is a common starter. Lemon, bread and white wine accompany well.

Seafood Starter, Siracusa, Sicily.

Walkable lunches are available – especially arancini, which is a large riceball with a deep fried crust and filling of choice. Here meat ragu. Coke zero bottle cap for size reference, it felt heavier than it appeared.

Pork Ragu Arancina, Noto, Sicily.

Other intermediate items include the following:

Death by pastry. Although this hit the spot wondering around Cagliari having been dropped off early from the overnight Palermo ferry. There was chocolate inside, wrapped around a core of nutella.

Chocolate and Nutella Croissant, Cagliari, Sardinia.

This one may have gone first. Crisp exterior, custard interior. Again, I departed the overnight ferry at 7am so had an excuse.

Cagliari had excellent take out options and elaborate baking practices.

Just look at the crema and the balance between milk and full on espresso. I think they wanted a Euro for this, in Noto, Sicily. Tip well.

If you move inland things get meaty, and the standard appetizer plate covers various dried meats and fried doughy items.

Appetizer, Modica, Sicily.

The paninis of Ragusa are worth checking out, washed down with one of Italy’s many excellent microbrews. This is the Tari “For Sale” pale ale from nearby Modica which  had plenty of amber hoppiness going on https://www.birratari.it/en/shop/craft-beer/birra-tari-for-sale/

Ham, Cheese and Roast Potato Sandwich, Ragusa, Sicily

This was close to one of the best meals I had in Sicily. Seafood stew. Those are fried bread slices. Inside was crab, prawn and large crawfish, amongst a lot else. The house wine was good and minerally. La Buona Forchetta in Sciacca, which is a nice seaside town.

Seafood Stew, La Buona Forchetta, Sciacca, Sicily.

Sardinia has a similar dynamic of great seafood and solid inland meat stuff. This tuna carpaccio hit the spot with the fresh tomatoes and basil.

Tuna Carpaccio, Fresh Tomatoes with Basil, Cagliari, Sardinia

Another standard was the seafood spaghetti – with black spaghetti. There was a decent amount of olive oil, but this was purely a means to capture the seafood and garlic goodness.  This photo is out of focus.

Seafood Spaghetti Nero, Ristorante el Bounty, Castelsardo, Sardinia.

A Sardinian standard worth trying is Faine, a baked crepe that uses chickpea flour, similar to a farinata. This one had a bacon and onion filling  it and was just right.

Faine, Alghero.

I left Sardinia via the compact and efficient Cagliari airport. Even at 6:05am, the coffee stand was cranking it out. Italian breakfasts are usually quick and light, so the standup approach works well.