The South East corner of Sicily is an area I would not miss; especially Syracuse old town Ortygia, the wonderful old fishing village of Marzamemi and the baroque towns of Modica, Ragusa and Noto.
Often overlooked for the more ritzier areas of Taormina or Syracuse, The Val di Noto offers an authentic Sicilian experience and sits within arms-reach of the Baroque towns of Modica, Ragusa, Ispica, and Siracusa. Admittedly, the Sicilian infrastructure in this southeastern quarter needs a bit of work. The two-lane “autostrada”, or highway, links Messina to Noto on the eastern coast and is in good shape.
Upon reaching the back roads near the Val di Noto, visitors are rewarded with a view of the simplicity of the Sicilian countryside. It is easy to see how it lured the ancient Greeks to call this area home and to create the settlement of Eloro here.
The tiny island of Ortigia is reached from mainland Syracuse by the Umbertino Bridge and two smaller bridges. The island is rich in monuments from each era of Syracuse’s history.
To explore the island, start from Piazza XXV Luglio, wandering past the ruins of the 6th century BC Temple of Apollo and follow the streets to Piazza Archimede. On Via G.B. Alagona, you will find the hotel “Alla Giudecca”. Here you can see the oldest Mikvah (Jewish Bath) in Europe that is open to the public. The baths were hidden in 1492 when the Jews were forced to leave the island by the Spanish. They have only been discovered 15 years ago during the renovation of the hotel.
At the southernmost tip of the Island is Castello Maniace with its circular towers set in each of the four corners. This is best seen on a walk around the island which will take approximately 1 hour. As you pass Castello Maniace, the landscape changes as the waters of the Ionian Sea wash the shore.
Ortygia is very easily seen on foot, and it should be done just that way to get the most legitimate view of how the people of Syracuse live their day to day….can you imagine passing the Temple of Apollo on your way to work each morning?!