Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

A brief but selective report on our Sicilian sojourn

A brief but selective report on our Sicilian sojourn

Old Jun 11th, 2016, 05:13 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
A brief but selective report on our Sicilian sojourn

Our lovely trip to Sicily is over and given that there is much going on in our lives right now, I don’t have the energy for a full report. But I wanted to share some of our experiences as I so appreciate all the help I got in planning.

Just to let you know about us…we are a 60-something couple, youthful but with too much going on right now, we were truly exhausted when we left, and didn’t do half the things I had on my to-do list, although naptime was definitely a daily activity! I usually take lots of notes, and this time, I just couldn’t manage it, so I tried to capture the trip every few days.

The trip was focused on the ancient ruins and appreciating the cross-cultural place that Sicily is, and we felt we got a good sense of the many layers that add up to this remarkable island. It does not feel like “Italy” – it really does have an identity of its own, and many times I had to remind myself exactly where are we? Sometimes I thought we were in Greece -- it's reminiscent of Crete -- and other times, I had inklings of last year's trip in Andalucia! It just didn't quite feel like "Italy", if you know what I mean.

There are so many places we would’ve loved to see, but didn’t get to in the short time we were there. I opted not to go to Taormina as we are not fond of crowds and felt we had other priorities. If I were to do it over, I might include it, but still not sure what I’d sacrifice, as we had limited time. Overall, though, we felt like we had a wonderful taste of the island. Maybe someday we’ll return…..

We stayed in some lovely hotels and B&Bs and overall I’d say they were some of the best for value we’ve stayed anywhere. I’ll highlight some of our favorites as I go along.

It seemed that our diet was ‘Pizza, pasta and pastry’! We loved the pizza! And we are NYers, and have some great pizza, but consistently, the pizza was really good. Maybe it was what we ordered, or where we ate, but we weren’t in love with the pasta as much as we expected. Breakfast almost always consisted of large buffets, with lots and lots of pastry options (cannoli for breakfast!); most places did provide more savory foods, including cheese and meats, and yogurt and cereal were available, but it was always overwhelmingly sweet dessert for breakfast! We are not foodies and don’t eat at higher end places, but will look for good, local places. I used recommendations from here, TA and from our hotels; some places were outstanding and others were good to very good. Again, I’ll mention more as I go along.

So let me begin….our itinerary + hotels:

Ortygia – 3 nights – L’Approdo delle Sirene (with many thanks to kja for the recommendation)
Scicli – 2 nights – Hotel Novocento – wow! We were upgraded to the suite, and what a wonderful experience that was!
Piazza Armerina – 1 night – Villa Clementine – Lovely! Wonderful hostess and amazing place with great breakfast, good pool and grounds
Agrigento – 1 night – Villa Diana – Great big house, warm host – almost wonderful, but misses a beat – we were the only ones there so it was a bit odd.
Selinunte – 2 nights – Villa Sogno – My absolute favorite, I could’ve stayed here happily for a lot longer. Loved the place. Loved the hosts, Cinza and Lorenzo, and a stunning property with beautiful pool. Thanks to Alison, I remember reading about this place and thinking, that’s where we’ll stay. And I was so happy we did.
Erice-2 nights – Pietre antiche – an apartment, not hotel. Large space, good amenities, very helpful and available host/manager and great location. We enjoyed staying here.
Palermo-3 nights – Palazzo Pantaleo. Very comfortable and spacious room, good location in the center of town. Many reviews sing the praises of the host, Guiseppe, and talk about his energy and helpfulness. Although he was mostly available and provided the necessary help, he was not especially engaging and didn’t seem particularly interested in assisting us. So I was left with a bit of a disappointment, as we were expecting a much more enthusiastic host.

So, by location:

Ortygia – the first 3 nights. Loved the town! It’s a beautiful place to stroll, and the first day we were there, we walked all around the lungomare, soaking in the waterfront. Very romantic, very relaxing. Our favorite site in town was the Duomo, with the remainders of the 5th century BC temple to Athena still visible, and its beautiful Baroque façade lit by the sun or by lights at night. We also enjoyed seeing the fragments of the Temple of Apollo, sitting right in the middle of the busy streets of Ortygia; the Fonte Arethusa; the mikvah (a mini-highlight); taking a boat ride. We did enjoy the archeological park more than we expected, and were fortunate to see a performance of Electra by Sophocles in the Greek theater during their festival. Despite not understanding a word, we thoroughly loved the experience of being in the open air theater on a beautiful night, experiencing the drama of the play with hundreds of others – it stayed with us long after it was done.

We did have the frustrating experience of finding out that strikes occur randomly and no one seems to have a clue when places are really open…. Our first full day was a Monday, and my research and the hotel told us that the Archeological Park was open till 5, and then it closes to get ready for the performance. The hotel gives us directions to find the bus and we leave for the park in the early afternoon. The first thing we discover is that the local busses are on strike and the bus to the Park is not running. So we walk – it’s doable, but long and not an especially interesting walk, and I have some difficulties with distance walking, but we do it, and at last we arrive around 2pm….only to find out that the park has closed at 1:30pm! Why didn’t our hotel know this? I looked on line and it was still scheduled to be open! So we discovered the ‘Sicilian way’ –schedules do change arbitrarily and one needs to be able to adjust. It was the only melt-down of our trip, but I was really annoyed!

The next day, we set out in the afternoon, and planned to stay through the evening as we had bought our tickets in town for that evening’s performance. We discover that the bus stop that we were sent to was not the location for the bus to the Archeological Park, and we are sent on our way, with vague directions as to where the stop really is located. We then walked into a small café to ask directions, and a local couple and their daughter hear us asking for directions and then insist upon driving us to the park in their car! Sicilian discovery #2 – the people are incredibly warm and welcoming, and will go out of their way to help you.

Meals:
-Trattoria Kalliope – good food in a touristy but very comfortable setting, with a large outdoor seating area, it’s especially good (and popular) for its pizza. Not fancy but good atmosphere. We ate there the first night and had pasta with sardines (good, but a little strong), tuna with pesto (nicely done) and Pizza Margerita (very good). Total 34Euros (no alcohol, just bottled water).
-Dioniso – More upscale, excellent dinner overall – the appetizer and firsts were outstanding, the main dish was okay. We had stuffed sardines (excellent); gnocchi with cheese and pistachio (to die for!) and tuna (this was okay; a bit dry and disappointing. Tuna the night before was better). I had a white wine that was recommended but don’t remember what it was.
-Caseificio Borderi, the sandwich shop in the Market. Everyone writes about it and it’s fun and they make excellent custom-made sandwiches for a reasonable price.
-Granitas – at a lovely little café along Via Cavour. Both the almond and pistachio were delicious
-Arancines (rice balls)- I enjoyed these tasty morsels, M. not as much. They are dense with rice and other filling, and for me, a great small meal.
progol is online now  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 06:31 AM
  #2  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Scicli – As many of you may remember, I struggled for a long time to make a decision about where to stay. I had originally planned to stay in Modica, but the fact that the town consists of 2 areas, Modica Alta and Modica Bassa, with a steep slope and many steps in between, gave me pause, as the walking up has become a problem. After much agonizing, I decided upon Scicli, and we really loved the town. We found it a perfect size – not too big, not too small – a very pretty little town, in a lovely valley, surrounded by steep ridges. Scicli is often described as “Modica-lite” because there is an integration of the touristic and the real life – and perhaps that’s true, but we found it to be a perfect place to be, with enough to explore. It didn’t hurt that we had been upgraded to the suite at Hotel Novocento – with its stunning fresco paintings on the ceiling. The staff there was also very helpful. One of our favorite activities in town was to go to the Chiesa di San Mateo viewpoint on top of one of the hills (and I was able to walk it by going slowly). We also took the little treno de Barocco around the town, a great way to get a good overview and a good way not to overdo the walking!

Our arrival in Scicli was quite an adventure, though! The hotel is not easy to find in town, given the many small, one-way streets, so I got very detailed directions from the hotel. I was using Google maps, and they paralleled the directions. So far, so good! Well, we arrive, and suddenly we are told by a policeman (probably the polizia di stato) that the street we needed to turn onto was closed. We asked directions to the hotel, and he said, sorry he didn’t live here. It turned out that many of the streets were closed because they were filming Inspector Montalbano! And we were on our own. Well, we begin our riding around and the streets seem to become narrower and narrower, and we are positively lost. We see 2 women walking and stop and ask for directions. They don’t speak any English and M’s Italian isn’t enough to follow the directions. The two confer and then indicate, “Follow me” and the 2 of them led us through the streets, with us following in the car, until they bring us face to face with the building! Another wonderful Sicilian gesture.

The first day we were there, we explored Scicli; the second day, we took a drive to Modica and Ragusa. It was the only day we had rain during the 2 weeks we were away. The grey and rainy day didn’t enhance Modica at all, and I can see why people’s initial impressions are not that great. We did the usual tourist things, going to several of the chocolate shops on Corso Umberto, and I did buy some chocolate at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. And I come out in favor of the grainy chocolate – it’s got a very rich flavor and I like the texture. We then walked up partway to Cathedral of San Giorgio, but it was very difficult for me and I was glad that I opted to stay in Scicli.

We then drove to Ragusa Ibla, and took forever to find a parking spot driving through town – but at last we did near Piazza Duomo and ate lunch at the Caffe Borgo, having a very tasty but very rich Bruschetta Classico with cheese and mushrooms. We walked up and behind the duomo, strolled for a while. Both of us were pretty tired, though, and ready to return. Ragusa was certainly a prettier town on first impression than Modica, and I could see staying there easily. There was much we didn’t see but it was simply a taste of the different towns and driving through the region.

Our one Google Maps near-disaster occurred on our way back to Scicli. We ended up somehow driving through the town of Modica again, and Google maps took us into a tiny, non-through road that narrowed and suddenly ended when a young woman came out to stop us! She looked at us and said “Google” and I’m still trying to figure out if she was implying, “Damn that Google! They did it again” or, “Why don’t you use your Google?” I strongly suspect the former was what she was trying to say. An elderly woman (clearly very used to this) and the young woman directed M and finally, we are on our way out and on our way back to Scicli!

Dinners:
-Osteria Tre Colli – I’m told that the food is good, once it finally arrives, but after an hour, we finally got our appetizer of cold cuts and we saw that the other tables that arrived long before us had not yet been served their dinners. We cut our losses and left – something we rarely do, but we were tired and cranky and the wait was ridiculous.
-Pommodoro – a recommendation from Vagabonda on TA. A charming, well-regarded place run by 2 brothers, popular with locals – the appetizer/first were excellent, the seconds not as good. We had a fried risotto with tomato and basil (excellent) as well as something else (didn’t write it down) that we liked. The lamb was awful – grizzly and chewy – and I sent it back. I’m told that’s the way it’s served, but it was not good. They were very gracious, though, and took it back without a problem. We also had a pasta and sausage which was good but a little too rich. Dessert was simple slices of melon – heavenly!!


We really were very fond of Scicli – I’m not sure, though, if it’s a place for a quick stop along the exploration of Baroque towns, as part of the experience was really in being able to explore at leisure and allow the ambience to unfold. Then again, one can say that about visiting any of the Baroque towns. I know we didn’t do Modica justice – our visit hinted at many interesting places to explore that we were not able to do – and Ragusa, too, had a lot more to see. My sense is that each town needs time to fully get the flavor, although Ragusa is more easily initially accessible because it’s very pretty. My 2 cents worth.
progol is online now  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 07:43 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 55,149
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
Well, we arrive, and suddenly we are told by a policeman (probably the polizia di stato) that the street we needed to turn onto was closed. We asked directions to the hotel, and he said, sorry he didn’t live here. It turned out that many of the streets were closed because they were filming Inspector Montalbano! >>

are you sure he wasn't part of the film crew, progol?

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to post this, especially when you've so much else going on. It's really appreciated by me as you know we are heading off to Sicily in September going to some of the same places so I'm taking careful notes!
annhig is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 09:54 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 22,230
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you for this report. I got so engrossed that I went back and read the entire thread on Noto vs Modica. Maybe a return to Sicily in my future!?
ekscrunchy is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 10:35 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 26,398
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Am enjoying your report. Sicily was one of my favorite trips.

I have found it is often the case that appetizers are better than mains. I might do better just eating appetizers...
thursdaysd is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 10:40 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 55,149
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
thursdaysd - I have started to do that. with a side dish or two, I find that I'm often much happier than I would have been with a full main course, AND I've got room for a pud!
annhig is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 04:51 PM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
annhig, ekscrunchy, thursdayd, so glad you're enjoying this report! I'm usually so much more detailed, but this has been a difficult year, so I'm doing what I can. Now visiting my 95 yo MIL, I'll write more when we return.

Completely agree about appetizers and firsts are good, but entrees are often disappointments.

annhig -- the polizia (if that's the right word) was nowhere near the film site, and pretty clueless about the town, so I don't think he was with the film crew! We did see the crew and a few of the actors (don't know names, I'm sorry) posing with locals, and it was fun watching everyone get so excited!
progol is online now  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 06:59 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,740
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Progol,

Thanks for taking the time to do a report. I've been looking forward to hearing about your trip and impressions. So glad you enjoyed Scicli and Ortigia as much as I did.

I also had dinner at Tre Colli and yes the service was slow. Thankfully my choice was worth waiting for!

Do continue!
Dayle is offline  
Old Jun 11th, 2016, 07:22 PM
  #9  
kja
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 22,983
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for bringing back great memories of Ortygia and inspiring a visit to Scicli some day!
kja is offline  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 12:04 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 2,625
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Progol, I enjoyed your Spain TR and photos last year, hope when things settle down you can share your Sicily photos as well.
Adelaidean is online now  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 01:43 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 10,317
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Looking forward to more...have been planning a trip to Sicily for ages, must get around to taking it!
jamikins is offline  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 02:09 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 55,149
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
Progol - I need to tell you off.

you've been praising Scicli and your hotel there so much that I've been looking at staying there instead of Ragusa.

Please stop it!
annhig is offline  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 02:51 AM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
annhig, stop! Now! Please! Go to Ragusa, you will love it! In our short time there, I wished I had more time to explore it! It's so pretty! Scicli worked well for us but it's an intimate experience, while Ragusa will be much grander!
progol is online now  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 02:57 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
annhig, close your eyes as I write to Dayle......

And let may get back to Dayle, and say, thank you! It's a lot because of your trip report that I finally decided upon Scicli, and we were glad we were there. We really enjoyed Scicli because of that intimate experience! And ending up in the suite of the Hotel Novocento was amazing!
progol is online now  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 03:02 AM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
kja, so many thanks! Your support and recommendations were very helpful and I adored L'Approdo delle Sirene,

jamikins, you would have an amazing time and your photos would be amazing! Sicily is incredibly photogenic!

Aidelaidean, many thanks! One day I will post our photos -- it is so picturesque!
progol is online now  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 03:26 PM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Piazza Armerina

Having seen photos of the mosaics at Villa Romana, there was no question but that we were going to see this place. And it is worth every bit of the the effort it takes to get there. I knew we wanted to stay overnight, but could not afford the time for 2 nights, so we left Scicli late morning, arriving early afternoon at Villa Clementine, one of the loveliest B&B’s that we stayed in. Gorgeous grounds, beautiful pool, welcoming and gregarious hostess, Rita, who serves a standout breakfast, I’m sorry we were there for one night only. This place is near Piazza Armerina though not in the city itself – and Google maps led us to a very tiny road off the highway that I was sure could not be correct – until it told us to stop, and sure enough, there was the name, “Villa Clementine” beside a private gate. Google maps knows all! We were in the triple room, with a private door onto the patio. It feels very removed from the city but it’s very close by car. The road is very much a backroad; Rita offers to drive us in for dinner and pick us up after but we do like being independent, so we pass on this.

We drive to Villa Romana del Casale soon after, and stop for lunch in La Ruota, a popular lunchspot on the way to the villa. We each had the antipasto for lunch, which was satisfying and quick. Not fancy, but perfect for what we were looking for.

And at last, we arrived at the site. As I wrote on a separate post, there were lots of tourists, some large groups, but we managed to see it all. Very impressive and very exciting to see the amazing mosaics. I won’t go into details as there is much written about it and many others will elaborate on the villa, but room after room of remarkable mosaics in excellent condition, and it’s mindblowing to see the extent of the work. Yes, it was crowded and it took some patience to navigate some of the more popular rooms, but it was so worth it.

That evening, we drove into Piazza Armerina and ate pizza and pasta with seafood in the very local Ristorante da Toto (great pizza oven!). Food was very simple and good. It was dark and we didn’t feel up to walking around – this is not a tourist town but felt very “real” and if we had time (ha!) would’ve been nice to spend a little time there.
progol is online now  
Old Jun 12th, 2016, 04:38 PM
  #17  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Agrigento

The trip to Agrigento took a long time -- there aren't any direct routes between the 2 places, and it felt like we'd been traveling forever, when at last we arrived at Villa Diana, a B&B which is also a farm with goats, sheep, donkeys, and chickens. We arrive and the front of the villa was busy with goats grazing! Quite a sight! Dario, the owner, warmly welcomes us and brings us to our room in his huge home, the shared area has antiques and some elegant sitting areas. Our room is big -- a bit too big, In fact, and it's a little bit faded but very comfortable. The best part of the place is the huge terrace overlooking the lovely countryside (although the view directly down below is of the goats' grazing area and is not kept up), but the views are quite special, and the terrace is inviting.

After a rest, we take off to the Valle dei Tempi, starting at the top of the hill by the Temple of Concordia. I quote my own review on TA:

"Valle dei Templi is a good intro for viewing the major archeological sites of Sicily as you are able to walk from one end to the other, viewing a range of temples in various stages of restoration or ruin. This is a very accessible site to view so many Greek,temples in one place. However, each of the individual temples are roped off so one cannot climb in and around them. As it's essentially a straight walk from one end to the other, it's pretty manageable to view it all within a couple of hours. It's not as interesting a site as Selinunte or Segesta; if you have to choose between them for time, I would pass up on Valle dei Templi."

Dinner: Dario gave us a recommendation for Kokalos, a restaurant with a view of the temples lit up at night. Sounded like a good idea. We had a mixed seafood plate and other seafood dishes and found it okay, not great. The view was nice, though a little too far from the temples and they didn't seem that well lit. The whole experience was not bad but nothing special.
progol is online now  
Old Jun 13th, 2016, 02:58 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 55,149
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
progol - thank you for posting all that; great to read about the Villa Romana which I'm very much looking forward to. Great also to read your honest appraisal of Agrigento, which reconfirms my view that we're better off not going there and concentrating on the eastern part of the island where there is so much we want to see.
annhig is offline  
Old Jun 13th, 2016, 09:01 AM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,697
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My pleasure, annhig! I feel remiss in that I'm not doing my more typical, detail-oriented TR, but I just have not had it in me this year. I'm pleased to be able to provide a little info and opinions (of which I do have many!)of our trip with the hope that it will have some value for others.

I think you're making a good choice - but truthfully, there's no BAD choice here!

(uh-oh, PLEASE don't take that last statement as an opportunity to second guess yourself! Stick to your plan.... say that over and over again!)
progol is online now  
Old Jun 13th, 2016, 09:40 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 55,149
Received 5 Likes on 3 Posts
i know, progol - I almost wavered over the weekend but I'm keeping well away from booking.com at the moment.

What I am trying to work out is what to do between arriving at Catania at about 10.30, and arriving to Ortygia later that say. I quite fancy exploring the area south-west of Catania - perhaps having lunch in Palazzolo Acreide [which appeals almost because it looks as if very few people go there but is described as charming in the Blue Guide] and having a look at the nearby Necropolis of Pantalica.

Anyone ever been to either of these places? They would only add an hour or so to a journey of about 1 ½ hours but we would have to leave our luggage in the car - probably safer in this places than in Catania!
annhig is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:32 AM.