Imagine a town that is big enough to be exciting, yet small enough to feel cozy. Imagine friendly locals, children playing in the narrow streets, and the sweet smell of freshly baked brioches wafting through your window in the morning. Imagine a crystal clear sea, blue skies and patches of colorful flowers hanging from the windows and balconies.
Siracusa, Sicily’s fourth biggest city, is a true gem overlooking the Mediterranean, rich in history, filled with stunning churches and palaces and so down-to earth it makes the perfect destination for a weekend (or more!) in any season. Thanks to its position,Siracusa offers more than 300 days of sunshine a year, a real treat for those who want to visit it during the fall and winter, and a nice steady breeze that helps visitors cool off in the warmer months.
The island of Ortigia, the oldest and most fascinating part of town, is where most of the historical sites, churches, restaurants and hotels are located. Driving around the narrow alleys and navigating the intricate maze of one way streets is difficult: a much more pleasant way to explore the town is by foot, which gives you the chance to wander and discover quaint corners and courtyards you would miss otherwise.
At the very center of Ortigia the amazing cathedral, the Duomo, dominates with its baroque façade one of Italy’s most beautiful squares. The church is particularly interesting to visit because it gives unique insight on how ancient Siracusa really is: it used to be a Greek temple, built in the 5th century BC, dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom, and the temple columns, now part of the church’s walls, can still be admired both from the outside and the inside of the Duomo.
From the Duomo the half hour walk to the southernmost tip of Ortigia, to the Castle of Maniace, is pleasant and interesting, as the streets are dotted with gorgeous baroque palaces with their lush courtyards and pretty cafés offering coffee granita and decadent Sicilian pastries. The Castle itself, built by the Normans in 1038, is a truly remarkable example of gothic architecture and the views over the Mediterranean are breathtaking.
Off the island of Ortigia, history buffs will enjoy a visit to the Area Archeologica of the Neapolis, a site to check out if you are interested in Greek and Roman ruins. The entrance to the park costs 10 Euros and it gives admission to all the different areas of the site. The most famous and most visited of all is the Greek Amphitheatre, built in the 5th century BC and refurbished by Romans in the 3rd century, still stands in all its glory, overlooking the sea. Also famous is Dionysus’ Ear, a cave that curiously looks as if shaped in the form of a human ear. Legends and stories on how and why the cave has its peculiar shape are countless: the park rangers will only be too happy to share their favorite version with you.
If art and history make you hungry, you are in luck: Siracusa offers some great and very affordable options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just walk around the streets of Ortigia and take a look at the small restaurants tucked away in the alleys: there are so many it is hard to decide where to stop. The cuisine, as in most parts of Sicily, focuses on the freshest, locally caught seafood, handmade pasta, sharp cheeses, pistachios and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Taberna Sveva, Piazza Federico di Svevia 1, is one of your best bets for food that is both rooted in Sicilian tradition but prepared with flair. The gnocchi with clams and arugula are flavorful and interesting –potato gnocchi aren’t served often at Sicilian restaurants- while the tuna carpaccio, with local oranges delivers tangy and sweet notes that are a real treat. Prices are reasonable: lunch for two, with a bottle of great “house” wine –an amazing Grillo from the region, is around 15 euros per person.
Ortigia offers plentiful of accommodations that range from family run bed and breakfasts to stunning seaside grand hotels. Staying at a B&B in Sicily is a safe bet and a great way to get to know better the locals. Always friendly and helpful, the owners of Magnolia B&B (Ronco Bentivegna 18, Ortigia) take immense pride in keeping their rooms, small but quaint, absolutely spotless and they serve homemade pastries for breakfast on their terrace. The price tag on the rooms is budget friendly: 60 euros gives you a double room with breakfast right in the heart of the old city.
There is no airport in Siracusa, but the town is well served by the Catania International Airport, with daily flights to Italy and the rest of Europe. The airport is 40 minutes away by car or shuttle bus.