It was a fair old drive from Noto to Ragusa, although the fact that our satnav tried to turn us right into a mountain ravine did not help. But when we arrived we felt a little disappointed. Sure, it had a grand looking cathedral and some nice-ish streets but what was it worth the near-death experience on the journey? It was only when we sat down at a local cafe, coffee needs predominating, that I opened my Baedeker and realised that Ragusa is actually a town split geographically in two. And we were in the wrong bit. For the real star of Ragusa, and well worth the fuss, is Ragusa Ibla, its ancient town, built on a steep hilltop across the other side of a rocky mountain valley which splits the town in two.
Of course we were parked on the wrong side of the divide, but the walk at least offered us the best possible vistas of Ragusa Ibla: a cluster of houses and churches which appear to defy gravity in their precarious positioning upon the steep slopes of the hill, and which collectively takes the breath away for the sheer feat of this human intervention upon the Sicilian landscape.
There were many steps down to the crevice which carves Ragusa in two, and many slopes within the old town itself, but the climbing and panting and general opposition to the heat was both a necessity in this car-defying town, and a very useful mode of calorie consumption. It came, after all, just before our arrival in the Piazza del Duomo, where lunch next to a deliciously somniferous trickling fountain provided me with the star dish of the holiday as far as I was concerned: spaghetti with local Bronte pistachios, hard pecorino cheese and gamberetti. Washed down with a little local Etna wine and heaven descended, and that was before the typical ricotta desert of cannoli deconstructed into a mass of creaminess and crumbling texture.
Stamina recovered, we were able to discover the quaint nature of this beautiful town, another with its fair share of fairytale like Baroque brilliance but on a somewhat more compact scale. Walking the narrow streets provided an inescapable exposure to wafts of garlic and pistachio, and to the perfume of herbs drooping from pots crammed onto wrought iron balconies. Some streets were so narrow as trigger maze-like disorientation. Others gave way onto stunning vistas, such as the great glass dome of the Cathedral of San Giorgio which rises above the old town, or the views across the arid mountainous landscape.
But for all those views, and the indelible beauty of Ragusa Ibla, gosh how we bemoaned its location as we made the hike up hundreds of steps, in full 30-something degrees of heat, back to our car parked in the other half of the city. But as we all know, it’s the inaccessible places that are often the greatest gems, and that was certainly the case with the treasure of Resplendent Ragusa.
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