The surrounding countryside is rugged and covered with the exotic foliage of prickly pears, carob and palm trees. Ragusa feels as if it is cut off from the rest of Italy but that’s not to say that it’s a rustic, uncultured backwater. Rather, it exudes affluence and historically resisted the mafia’s clutches due to its agricultural abundance and wealth. Ragusa’s old town (Ragusa Ibla) feels particularly cosmopolitan and boasts a Michelin-star restaurant. The area isn’t as readily accessible as other tourist destinations but is well worth the extra effort.
Tour of beauty
In the past, Ragusa and its satellite towns never needed to rely on tourism and so the infrastructure has suffered as a result. Consequently, it’s near impossible to rely solely on public transport to get around. Your best bet is to hire a car and do some touring along the winding roads which will take you through plunging valleys and gorgeous scenery to the nearby towns of Scicli and Modica. Like Ragusa, both towns were razed by the infamous earthquake of 1693. And like Ragusa, both towns were rebuilt in the sumptuous baroque style which survives today.
In Sicily, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines collide to create a spicier, more robust version of Italian food. Not surprisingly, for an island, seafood features heavily. And Sicilians love their food – five-course meals are common. Check out the local specialties including scaccia ragusana: a tasty focaccia pizza bread filled with tomato sauce and the region’s own caciocavallo cheese and the especially delicious arancini – fried rice balls filled with meat sauce or mozzarella.
Unfortunately, this is where Ragusa lets the side down. The old town has only two hotels – both expensive. Budget accommodation and hostels are virtually non-existent. Those with limited funds should take a look at the camping options which, again, aren’t plentiful and most grounds are out of town. In fact, camping tends to be concentrated in the more touristy coastal towns. Check out Eurocamping at Contrada Punta Braccetto (+39 0932 918 126) or Baia Del Sole at Ragusa Marina (+39 0932 239844).
Worth a look
These beautifully landscaped gardens situated in Ragusa Ibla overlook a lush green valley allowing for heavenly views. The gardens are home to a clutch of pretty little churches including St Agatha et Cappuccino where the order of Cappuccini priests, and subsequently the coffee’s moniker, originates.
In nearby Modica, this tactile and interesting museum is dedicated to the region’s artisan and agricultural past, and includes a collection of painted horse carts and reconstructions of stables and farmhouses and a chocolate factory.
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto
Also in Modica is this family-run chocolate factory dating back to 1880. All of the chocolate is made on the premises using traditional methods. The resultant chocolate is grainy and an acquired taste.
Cantina Valle dell’Acate
The south-eastern area of Sicily is an up-and-coming wine region so there are some real bargains to be had from the local wineries. Managed by the glamorous Gaetana Jacono, Valle dell’Acate grow Frappato, Nero d’Avola and Inzolia grapes and produce authentic Sicilian wine. The winery plans to open a fully operational wine museum which will recreate old-fashioned wine-making methods, and promises to be spectacular when it’s finished. See www.valledellacate.com for more details.
– ALISON GRINTER