After enjoying the many delights of ancient Ortygia, the Wandering Kiwi family decided to do a day trip from Syracuse with our hire car along the south-east coast of Sicily.
We drove an hour to the tiny fishing village of Marzamemi, then worked our way back towards Syracuse, exploring the Vendicari nature reserve and the baroque town of Noto, stopping at a couple of beaches along the way back to Syracuse.
The village of Marzamemi was recommended to me by my friend Jenny at A Taste of Travel but as we drove into the outskirts I have to say it didn’t look great. Mr Wandering Kiwi was giving me that “why have we come here” look. But I shouldn’t have doubted. We parked the car and had only walked 10 metres before rounding a corner and there was the most gorgeous combination of sparkling water and rustic stone buildings laid out in front of us.
There were also stylish outdoor seating and inviting cafes with lemon croissants and Italian coffee. We sat and watched small fishing boats tie up; friends gathering to hear the story of the morning’s fishing adventures. A wandering along the pier to look at the boats and into the old piazza with its simple church and more perfectly pretty cafes and restaurants. In short the perfect start to a day trip.
Remote Cala Mosche beach and Vendicari
The Vendicari Nature Reserve is a long strip of protected land south of Syracuse in south-eastern Sicily. It’s not that far away from the nearest towns but it straightaway feels quite remote as you walk out through the fragrant macquis towards the lagoons and beaches of the coast. There are a number of beautiful beaches and the one we chose to visit was Cala Mosche.
To get there we turned off the main Pachino – Noto road and travelled down a white, dusty track for awhile to a car park under the carob trees. There is a small cantina there offering food and drink but it’s best to bring your own supplies in case it is not open.
The beach itself takes about a mile to walk. In spring there are lots of wild flowers. I crushed thyme and rosemary sprigs between my fingers and we all enjoyed inhaling the warm scent. Cala Mosche is a perfectly unspoilt curve of sand and clear, blue water and we spent several hours swimming and picnicking.
If Wandering Kiwi Junior’s legs were a little longer and stronger we might have walked further towards the lagoons because in April and May the Vendicari Nature Reserve is a stopping off point for flamingos and other interesting birdlife as they migrate from Africa.
The stunning town of Noto
There has been civilisation in Noto for several millennia and the town has played host to Daedalus and Hercules, according to legend. But the current look of the town, and the reason it is a Unesco World Heritage Site, is due to the devastating Sicilian of 1693. A number of towns and cities were rebuilt subsequent to this in a remarkable baroque style.
Other examples of Sicilian Baroque include Ragusa, Modica and Catania but Noto is the most homogenous of them all and considered a masterpiece of its kind. It was nicknamed the “stone garden” thanks to the honey-coloured soft tufa stone used in the rebuilding.
We enjoyed wandering through the old town of Noto. There is one main street – Corso Vittorio Emanuel – where the most glorious buildings can be seen, as well as a few side streets to explore. Don’t miss the Villadorata palace on Via Nicolaci with its fantastical caryatids under the balconies. Oh and watch out for the budgerigars. We nicknamed Noto the “budgie garden” because every 20 metres down the high street is a person trying to get you or your child to hold a budgerigar and take a photo, with a fee attached of course.
Also don’t miss the gelato. Noto has two famous gelateria, which vie for preminence in the creation of Italy’s delicious ice cream. Unfortunately Caffé Costanzo was closed (on a Saturday afternoon!) but we sat and had a degustation at Caffé Sicilia. This proved quite an experience as Café Sicilia stirves not only to make quality gelato but to be especially creative in developing new flavour combinations.
They do some wonderful things with nougat and pistachio – two typical ingredients of this part of Sicily. But the most unusual was the Arancia Salade. I had the wonderful Sicilian orange salad a number of times during my time in Sicily so I was curious to find out how they had translated this into a gelato. It was lovely, until I got to the onion aftertaste. That’s right, onion ice cream. Only in Sicily.
Pretty Fontana Bianche beach
Fontana Bianche beach is, according to all the guidebooks and promotional material, one of the best beaches in Sicily so we had to stop by and check it out. It is only 20 minutes’ drive south of Syracuse. It is a long gentle curve of soft, pale sand but of course there are plenty of houses and hotels there and it just did not have the magical remote beauty of Cala Mosche so I’m afraid Fontana Bianche came a distant second in our Sicily beach experience.
So there you have it: the perfect day trip from Syracuse! What a wonderful day!
By Natasha von Geldern
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