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Photo by Caroline Crutchley

The Province of Ragusa - the Golden Triangle of Sicily, Italy

The province of Ragusa lies in the southern area of Sicily with the blue Mediterranean Sea lapping its southern shoreline. From the high peaks of the Hiblean Mountains to the coastal plain it is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Great river gorges converge on cities clinging to the cliffs like limpets.
The countryside of Ragusa has rolling hills and large patches of farmland divided by stone walls--reminiscent perhaps of Scotland, Ireland or England, only with the pleasant addition of the warmer climate.

Earthquakes of past years have taken their toll on the golden triangle of UNESCO cities of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli, but the levelled cities were rebuilt in the grand Baroque style. The architecture is stunning with the hard Modica stone used for well preserved carvings on the frontage and balconies.

The Italian way of life of pavement cafes, restaurants, and family make this an ideal summer destination. The hotels and bed and breakfasts come alive at Easter and are busy throughout summer and into the autumnal evenings. Plus, all the cities have their fiesta weeks when it is an ideal time to see the spectacle.

Scicli

Scicli is on the coastal plain, warmer and a more spacious as a city. On all sides the great cliffs of stone surround it. The city grows many of the best fruit and vegetables for the rest of Italy, with giant broccoli and lemons and strawberries to die for. Scicli also has a worldwide known parade of horses to honour their Saint Joseph on 19th March. Over 100 horses in full regalia and bells stride through the city. The heritage park of cave dwellings is interesting, but perched perilously on a cliff edge.

Modica

Modica is a city of three parts. This unlucky city has suffered great disasters - from earthquake to flood. The earthquake of January 1693 devastated much of the buildings and killed over 2400 people. The city then had the indignity of being stripped of its status as capital of the Ragusa region due to political diagreements.

The great floods of 1833 and 1902 roared down the two converging rivers and flooded Modica Bassa to a level of 5.5 meters, now marked in the Corsa Umberto. The rivers were diverted below ground level and the Corsa Umberto now runs through the centre of the city.

Photo by Caroline Crutchley

The ABCs of Ragusa

Alta
La Belle Vista - Alta, the home of the Duomo spreads upwards from the valley floor to over 300 metres. The tiny houses with tiled roofs seem piled upon each other to the summit castle. ALTA is scaled by lung busting steps from the valley . I had not the breath to count them but after 3 days I was able at least to enjoy the view while catching my breath. I was reliably informed by the locals that there are 250 to the front door of the Duomo San Grigor. To visit the church take the walking tour of the city. The winding roads are intersected with great flights of well worn steps for those on foot and one can walk in the footsteps of those that had walked there centuries ago. The proud castle on Modica's hill is now nearing complete renovation. It will soon become a centre of history and culture of the city.

This is not an ideal destination for those less able. For the brave and fit -- well, you soon will be -- it is stunning.

Bassa
In the valley below lies Modica Bassa creeping slowly skywards. The commericial centre has many bars, restaurants, shops and banks. Here you will find the theatre, town hall, train and bus stations. Local buses link Alta and Bassa and Sorda, the new area ideal for shopping.

Chocolate
Strangely in Sicily there is a thriving micro industry of chocolate making. The recipe was brought here by Spanish visitors with a recipe by Aztec Indians.

Photo by Caroline Crutchley The cold process gives a very hard and granular chocolate. The specialty flavour is chilli/chile which is an aquired taste. Not only in bar form but as a hot drink that burns its way down. For the brave, there is even a chocolate chilli liqueur.

There are several shops in Corsa Umberto where you can watch the process and sample. At Cafe d Art there is a chance to see chocolate maker, Ianncono Ignazio at work in the mornings. The oldest makers can be found in a small alley and are called Antica Dolceria Bonajuto.

There is a yearly festival when chocolate lovers descend on the city.

Getting Around Ragusa

Ragusa, now the capital of the region, consists of Ragusa Ibla and the new centre. The two halves are separated by the Valle dei Ponti, a deep ravine crossed by four bridges. The most noteworthy of them is the eighteenth-century Ponte dei Cappuccini.

Ibla is perched high on a hill with near vertical sides. The old town houses cling together in safety and little alleyways abound to wander around. Over the doorway of the St George Church is a carving depicting the saint slaying the infamous dragon. This link may well be why hot food and horses play such a large part in the lives of the Ragusa people. The church of Santa Maria delle Scale ("Saint Mary of the Steps" built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries) was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1693, and half of the church was rebuilt in Baroque style, while the surviving half was kept in the original Gothic style.

There are airports at Catania and Comiso with coach links to the cities at very moderate prices. At Pozzallo port the catamaran arrives from nearby Malta.

The best way to explore the countryside is by hire car. Meander along lanes and discover view after view. Visit Lake Rosalia and take to horse back or mountain bike to be a part of the beautiful landscape.

Food and Lodging

The food made from local ingredients is wonderful and with a good Sicilian Nero d'Avola red wine to accompany it, there is no better way to end a days wanderings.

There are many local tratatoria that serve good rustic food and A Putia Ro Vinu in Via Pisacane, Modica serves a rustic style meal for under Euro10 with a carafe of local wine included. Sunday lunch there is buzzing with local families eating en family as only the Mediterranean's do well. Modica is an ideal summer base to explore the baroque triangle of Ragusa to the north and Scicli to the south.

I stayed in the Palazzo Faille Hotel, a four star haven in Modica. The baroque rooms are furnished in grand Italian style. In the grand house ante rooms guests relax on chairs surrounded by artwork and antiques. Their restaurant is Michelin starred, with a breakfast set beautifully in the dinning room to make a wonderful start to a day.

Good food, wine, scenery and sea - what more could you wish for in a holiday?

For more information visit EnjoySicily.it and SicilyWeb.com


Caroline Crutchley is a freelance, British born travel writer residing on Malta in the centre of the Mediterranean for some years. This is an ideal base for her independent travel trips to many of the usual travel destinations. However, her love of venturing off the beaten track has helped her discover places and people who with their stories have enriched the travel experience. Through her travel writing she hopes to encourage other less adventurous travellers to broaden their travel horizons too.

2009