Bookworm book count: 30
Waking up in the Valley of the Temples is all a bit surreal. From daytime to sunset to nightime and sunrise, the view is outstanding. I just could not get enough of it.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the Presidential Suite (how that happened I have no idea – and on the back of Palermo we were starting to feel just a bit spoilt – as if we weren’t already). Our room had its own terrace and stunning views across the almond fields to Concordia, the main temple and to Juno, a little further away.
By the time we had enjoyed breakfast, I was itching to get up close and an experience it properly. One of the advantages of staying in the hotel Villa Athena is that is a private guests gate, close to the action which enabled us to get into the Valley before anyone else. It is an amazing place but seeing it without another person in sight, was a really incredible experience. The silence was the thing that struck me the most. No noise, no crowds and no waiting for some one to move so you get the photo. It only lasted 20 minutes but it was awesome.
We wandered around the park for a while, imagining the past and taking it all in.
Their olive trees are literally centuries old so we bought olive oil made from them (at greatly inflated prices I am sure!). But it is the fields of almonds that the region is famous for. There were fields and fields of them and every year in February there is a festival to celebrate the blossoms. It would be worth seeing but for us, we could just see the fruit.
By 10am, we are back in the car with Vincenzo, our driver and on our way to Ragusa.
The trip from Agrigento to Ragusa is long and not particularly attractive. What struck me was the maximisation of land, from olives, to wine, to fruit trees, to wheat fields, to wind and solar farms, everything piece of earth is used. But some of the roads are poorly maintained, rubbish and litter are commonplace and at times, it was slow going.
Vincenzo had suggested we head inland to Piazza Armerina, an ancient Roman villa, but we decided that we had enough of ruins and Rugusa was on my must see list. I suspect that his reasons for the suggestion was to avoid us seeing this less attractive part of Sicily. He was passionate about the environment and preserving it. You could hear him cringing as we drove past oil refineries and factories.
But after two and a half hours we arrived into the town of Ragusa. It is another impossible town built on a hill and connected by step pathways. Somehow they made those narrow paths into even narrower roads. The end result is views to die for and a lovely lazy amble through steep little streets that open into lovely piazzas. Basically, my happy place. Well worth the hike to see it.
With a lovely main square framed the step stairs of yet another church, Charlotte was so excited-not.
A quick lunch stop there (the best buffalo mozerella is from Rugasa) and it was another town, Modica for dessert. Modica is known as the home of Sicilian chocolate. Very different from normal chocolate, made with coco and sugar, it’s yummy but quite grainy in texture.
Apparently you can leave it in direct sun and it won’t melt – we haven’t tested that.This town is in a deep gully, that used to have a river that ran through it and bridges that connected the two sides of the town. A terrible flood saw the end of that, so the river was diverted underground and life went on. No more bridges required!
Another lovely place to wander, with their own version of the Spanish Steps. This time, we didn’t climb or count them!
Onwards to our next stop we passed Noto, a lovely Baroque town that was entirely rebuilt after the major earthquake in the 16th century, that severely damaged huge parts of Sicily. The earthquake on the 11th of January 1693 destroyed over 70 cities and killed 60,000 Sicilians. There were tsunamis that wiped out many coastal towns and it was felt across Europe.
It is the reason that some towns, which were hardest hit, have little historical sights and why those structures that remain are so miraculous. The Valley of the Temples sit right alongside the town of Agrigento, which was almost completely destroyed and yet those temples are some of the best persevered Greek Temples left in the world.
It was a fleeting visit as we were running out of time to get to our final destination of the day, Ortigia, a historic island in Syracuse (basically the old town) and our stop for the night.
We arrived just in time for dinner and a quick wander around town, before the sun set on the day. Staying in a quaint hotel, the Grand Hotel, Oritiga, we were brilliantly located so it was very easy to explore. Which was a good thing as we were shattered.
Once again what looked to be completely doable on a map, proved to be a long and tiring journey. From the small person’s perspective at least, she could read lots and my need to go inside every one of Sicily’s 1000’s of churches had finally wained.
Pizza by the waterfront never tasted so good.
Tomorrow Taormina for 5 glorious nights at the Timeo Grand Hotel.
Highlights from small heights
One advantage of Villa Athena is that it is very much in the middle of nowhere, meaning that the only things to explore are temples. And explore them we did. We used the gate to get us to two temples before the crowds did and unfortunately they are practically the same as about ten other temples we have already seen. Well preserved and templey. What really made them cool was the awesome view the hotel had of them, which was I must admit pretty awesome.
But that was all there was to it so off to the car by ten and on the road to Ragusa, a little town, which we mostly climbed the stairs of and descended the slope of. It was a nice little town-but not much to do so probably a cruise stop or a drive through would be its spot in a holiday.
Next up Modica-probably either a cruise stop or a day or two location. It is supposed to be all chocolatey by really the most of chocolate there is rich, dark adult stuff (A.K.A disgusting) so I’ll mostly talk about their Spanish steps, which I like to call the Chinese steps because you know, people name their steps weirdly all the time. (Rome – had Spanish Steps so Modica can have Chinese one’s) They are pretty beautiful with all the flowers decorating it – I kinda wish we’d climbed them.
Fun rating of chocolate in Modica: 2 out of 10.
Improvement tip: Make it normal or if you have to make it all orange-flavoured because that was the only one I could stomach.
Charlotte’s two top tips: Forget the chocolate while inhabiting Modica and name your steps accurately.