It is hard to imagine the extraordinary concentration of ancient treasures clustered in the south east corner of Sicily, a relatively small area packed with Greek and Roman ruins, magnificent baroque architecture and prehistoric tombs. Yet, for the holidaymaker, there are also miles of deserted sandy beaches, nature reserves and superb food and wine.
Art and architecture
The origins of the region date back to ancient times, as demonstrated by the necropolis at Pantalica, a colossal gorge studded with prehistoric monuments. Many of the most impressive sights in the region are in and around Archimedes’ home town of Syracuse, which, following its defeat of Athens in 413BC, was possibly the most important city in the western world. The city has an impressive archaeological site and a charming historic centre on the island of Ortigia that brings together Greek temples with Norman, medieval and baroque churches and palazzi.
Destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1693, many of the towns of the Val di Noto – including Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Scicli and Caltagirone – were subsequently rebuilt at the peak of the baroque period, with Noto leading in the way as the most extraordinary example of baroque extravagance.
Beaches in south east Sicily
The beaches to the south of Syracuse are amongst the best in the region. Calamosche Beach, on the edge of the Vendicari Nature Reserve, is a large horseshoe-shaped crescent of sand, accessed via a trail through the reserve, but alongside the slightly untamed bays, there are lido-style beaches with full facilities.
Food and wine
Spicy Modican chocolate, Nero d’Avola wines, local aubergines and Pachino cherry tomatoes are all an intrinsic part of this corner of Sicily. Local ‘street’ food includes arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with mozzarella or meat) immortalised by the fictional detective Montalbano, and scaccia (thin pasta-bread layered with tomato and ricotta).