Here are my tips on what to see and do in Syracuse, a city in the region of Sicily, Italy. Say “summer, holidays, rest”, and what any Italian thinks about is having the chance to spend a couple of weeks in the regions that form the southern part of Italy. These are Sicily, Sardinia, Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata, Campania. Italians from every part of the country love spending the summer holiday on the coast, absorbing the sunlight, breathing in the salt air and the breeze of the blue Mediterranean Sea. First-time travelers to Italy might be drawn to the marvelous Renaissance architecture of Florence or to the ruins of the ancient Roman empire in Rome. However, if you’ve decided to spend the whole trip walking through historical centers, know that you are missing out! And, you’re also doing the exact opposite of what an Italian would do, that is, visiting the coast! If you’re having a hard time choosing your itinerary, because there are too many marvelous destinations available for your dream trip, there is one place where you’ll find all the best options gathered together in the single most intense showcase imaginable, and that place is Sicily, and more specifically, Syracuse and the surrounding area. For personal reasons, I was in a lousy mood the day I headed for Sicily. Anyway, my choice turned out to be excellent, and I had one of the most beautiful, heartening trips of my life. Thanks to the land which, because of the uniqueness of its history, languages and heritage, was elected an “Autonomous Region of the Republic of Italy” to protect its distinctive culture.
I reached Syracuse by night train from Rome. As a base, I had rented a tiny apartment on Ortigia. Ortigia is a tiny island which is the historical center of the city of Syracuse. I highly recommend visiting Sicily in the off-season, to avoid the extremely hot weather: go in May, June, September or October.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE IN SYRACUSE: EXPLORE ORTIGIA BY FOOT. WANDER IN ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HISTORICAL CENTERS OF SICILY AND ITALY
Ortigia island is very small. Get lost in the alleys, enjoy the architecture of the common houses in all their shades of white and ivory, explore the Cathedral of Syracuse (Cattedrale della Natività di Maria Santissima), which is a perfectly preserved, beautiful example of the adaptation of a Greek temple into a Christian place of worship. There are plenty of places to sit and eat genuine Sicilian food in Ortigia. Treat yourself with granita & brioche, the traditional Sicilian summer breakfast. Try the granita in different cafeterias as flavours and prices vary (cafes just off Ortigia Island are cheaper). If you’d like more consistent food but you are in a hurry, get a sliced pizza (it’s different here than in other parts of Italy) or arancino (balls of rice, green beans, ham, tomato sauce, ragu and mushrooms, fried in oil) or other street food specialties at Pizza e Altro.
When you wish to sit and have your meal in a very quiet, special place, head for La Foglia. This restaurant surprised me with the unique, handcrafted, colorful decoration of its interior. It’s a family-run restaurant, founded by a local hippy chef and her artist husband. The dishes are sensational, and for the quality offered, they´re more than affordable! You’ll find original variations of traditional Sicilian cuisine. Don’t miss the fettuccini with shrimps, walnuts, pachino tomatoes, and wild fennels and the Sicilian almonds’ pudding. I went back to this restaurant several times, charmed by the atmosphere. La Foglia is a pleasure for both the eyes and the palate!
SWIM IN ORTIGIA
In Ortigia, there is one special spot where it’s nice to swim and relax, but it´s quite small. Once you reach Fontana Aretusa, walk to the left to a bay perfect for snorkeling.
TAKE A BIKE TO THE BIKE PATH AND SWIM MORE
Once you’re familiar with Ortigia, go ahead and explore the coast on the mainland. When the old railway line connecting northern Sicily to Syracuse was dismantled, a bike path was created which stretches for 6.6 kilometers along the wild landscape of the coastline. The bicycle paths are mostly unpaved, used by a few local runners, and they are most enjoyable in the hours before sunset. Your first sight of this part of the Sicilian coast will leave you breathless from the colours of the sea and the cliffs, the fragrances of the plants and the tranquillity.
I checked out a few bike rentals and found that the cheapest, with a super-friendly staff, was the Ortigia Service. They’ll give you a map together with your bike, which will help you reach the starting point of the bicycle track (near the Monumento ai Caduti d’Africa in the Piazza Cappuccini). Anyway, it’s very easy to find, and you can also get there in half an hour by walking from Ortigia.
Along the way, several rocks that have been made accessible in order to allow locals to get into the water. Be sure to wear your swimsuit!
VISIT THE ARCHEOLOGICAL PARK
Approximately a half hour by foot from Ortigia lies the Neapolis Archaeological Park (Parco Archeologico Neapolis), with the Greek amphitheater and the monumental cave called “Dionysus’ Ear” (Orecchio di Dioniso), dug in limestone in an “S” shape, which is still a mystery for archeologists. What was its purpose? How and why was the natural echoing quality of the limestone used? Adult tickets for the Neapolis Archeological Park cost €10.
Every summer, between May and July, the Greek theater hosts presentations of Greek tragedies, recreating the ancient atmosphere of the 5th century BC. Consider seeing one if you travel to Syracuse during the right season. You’ll find updated info on the INDA foundation website.
DAY-TRIP TO FONTANE BIANCHE BEACH
The town of Syracuse offers breathtaking views and historical landmarks, but lacks a long stretch of sandy seashore. If you want to spend time on a proper beach, all you need to do is rent a car and head for Fontane Bianche, 18 km south on the coast from Ortigia. There, you’ll find a tropical paradise of white sand and blue water. Only a few little restaurants where you can enjoy a seafood meal based on the catch of the day.
HIKE AND SWIM IN THE VENDICARI OASIS AND CALAMOSCHE BAY
About 45 km south of Syracuse, you’ll have other chances to hike the deserted coast and swim in secluded bays in the Vendicari Nature Reserve. The area was made a reserve in order to protect several species of birds, and the coast is unspoiled for kilometers. Look at the photos to have an idea of how beautiful this natural oasis is. The bay of Calamosche, that you can reach in 45 minutes on foot after entering the reserve, holds what is considered to be one of the most attractive beaches in Italy.
VISIT MARZAMEMI VILLAGE
Roughly one hour by car from Syracuse lies the little fishing village of Marzamemi. In here there is plenty of spots where you can chill out by the sea and taste local dishes. The old town spreads out around a central square with the church of San Francesco. As soon as you get out of the car, you’ll perceive the relaxed atmosphere that envelops this place. That will immediately make you feel quieter and more serene.
How do you feel about traveling to Syracuse, now?
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