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  • Writer's pictureAmar Dhaliwal

Syracuse (Ortigia), Sicily - June 2023

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Arriving into Syracuse (or Siracusa) by train is quite underwhelming. The eastern coast of Sicily between Catania and Syracuse is unexpectedly industrial with refineries, energy plants, and factories hugging the coast and the railway line.

One minute you're looking at business parks and the next you are pulling into the non descript station of a 2,700-year-old city that played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.


Syracuse is located in the southeast corner of the island of Sicily. Ortigia is a small island which is the centro storico (the historical center) of the city and where most visitors stay


The city was founded by ancient Greeks and became a very powerful city-state. Cicero described it as "the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it equaled Athens in size during the fifth century BC.

The city is today rich with Greek, Roman, and Norman history, culture, amphitheatres, and architecture. It's most famous son is Archimedes.


Syracuse (Ortigia) is a beautiful island city with an accessible seawall all the way around (approximately 5 kms circumference with many bars and restaurants) and listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


The island is a warren of small streets and alleys - each one to be explored and enjoyed. You will stumble upon hidden squares, discover shops and restaurants, experience beautiful views framed by ancient buildings, and generally enjoy the relaxed and chilled vibe.


My simple advice is to walk and enjoy.


In the sections below, I have only listed places that I have personally visited.

 

Staying


Hotel Roma (map)

  • Boutique hotel in an unbeatable location in the heart of Ortigia. Wonderful staff who were both accommodating and responsive. If you can, request a renovated room as some rooms are a bit dated. The restaurant and bar open up on to a beautiful piazza - a lovely place to enjoy breakfast or an aperitivo. Expect to pay between €250 to €350 per night.

 

Eating


Moon (map)

  • Despite the name, Moon (or Move Ortigia Out of Normality) is the best vegan restaurant I have ever been to. Sensational hummus and fantastic tempura. Try the scussa nonna - tagliatelle with vegan ragu - it is delicious. Great cocktail and wine selection. Make a reservation to sit on the patio.


Le Vin de l'Assassin (map)

  • This is a lovely restaurant serving Sicilian cuisine with a french twist. Try to nab a table out front or in the little garden on the side - I suggest you walk by earlier in the day and make a reservation to secure a nice table. You will experience great food, excellent service, honest prices, and a good wine menu. Had a bottle of the Benuara from Cusumano for €26 - it was great and served at the perfect temperature!


Al Mazarì (map)

  • This small, family owned and operated, trattoria features in the Michelin Guide. The food and service are of the highest order and the prices decent but a little expensive compared to elsewhere in Ortigia.

  • My suggestion is to go here for lunch as the menu is quite cheaper than dinner and represents amazing value. I don't think they are open every day for lunch so do check.


Fratelli Burgio (map)

  • This salumeria, in the market area, is definitely worth a stop for a sandwich after you have wandered through the various stalls. Crispy on the outside and pillowy soft in the middle their bread is the perfect vehicle for the many fillings they offer. They also have a good looking selection of tagliere (boards of salumi and cheese). The seating gets pretty jammed but the tables seem to turn over quite quickly.


Trattoria La Foglia (map)


  • Had high hopes of this trattoria based on how busy it had been as passing by and how charming the decor was. Made a reservation earlier in the day and got a nice table outside. The service was friendly and attentive (maybe a touch too efficient) and the menu was welcoming for a variety of tastes and wishes. Despite this, found the food to be a little off point - can't say that anything was bad but it wasn't great, over sauced, not piping hot, etc. Other reviews of this trattoria are generally positive so it might have just been the case of bad meal selection.


The 'protocol' for having a meal in Italy can still be confusing, here are some tips:

  • A typical Italian menu is divided into the following sections:

    • Antipasti or appetizer

    • Primi or first dish - these are often pasta or risotto dishes

    • Secondi or second dish - these are typically the meat, fish or vegetable main dishes

    • Contorni - these are sides or vegetables for the second dish

    • Dolci or dessert

  • You are not expected to order from each section of the menu. It is perfectly fine and expected, for example, for two people to order an antipasti to share and a plate of pasta (primi) each and call it a day.

  • We ourselves will often order one antipasti, one primi, and one secondi and share each dish. Some places might split the dishes before they bring them to the table but this should not be expected.

  • You should expect to see a sitting charge (coperto) on most bills - it's normally €2 to €3 per person.

  • In some very touristy places you might see a service (servicio) charge added to the bill. If such a charge is applied then do NOT tip anything more.

  • If a service charge is not applied, you are not expected to tip (and, in fact, the credit card machines don't have a option to add a tip). If you are inclined you can leave a few coins to round up the bill, but again, it is not expected.

 

Drinking


Enoteca Solaria (map)

  • The best wine bar on Ortigia Island with a great selection of Sicilian wines by the glass and by the bottle. Super friendly and helpful staff. Has a small menu of excellent bruschette and tagliere (boards) of salumi and cheese.


Cortile Verga (map)

  • Relaxed bar, in a lovely courtyard setting. Well made and presented cocktails including a very good Negroni. Approximately €9 to €12 per drink. Also offers tapas and small plates.

Moon (map)

  • The team at Moon (see the eating section) also make great cocktails. Ask Nick (behind the bar as of June 2023) to make you a gin martini - you will not be disappointed! Approximately €8 to €10 per drink.


 

Doing


Duomo di Siracusa (Cathedral of Syracuse)


  • The stunning Duomo di Siracusa was originally a Greek doric temple dating back to the 5th century BC. Some of the original columns (which can be seen outside and inside) were incorporated into the walls when the Duomo was rebuilt and, for this reason, it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building was converted into a mosque in 878, then converted back when Norman Roger I of Sicily retook the city in 1085. Do visit this beautiful, serene, and historically important place.

  • Entrance costs €4 per person.


The Burial of Saint Lucia by Caravaggio (map)

  • In the Basilica Santuario Santa Lucia al Sepolcro there is a painting by Caravaggio that is more than worth the 20 minute walk from Ortigia Island.

  • Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) is the patron saint Syracuse. Legend has that Lucy came from a wealthy Sicilian family. Spurning marriage and worldly goods, however, she vowed to remain a virgin. An angry suitor reported her to the local Roman authorities, who sentenced her to be removed to a brothel and forced into prostitution. This order was thwarted, according to legend, by divine intervention; Lucy became immovable and could not be carried away. She was then condemned to death by fire, but she proved impervious to the flames. Finally, her neck was pierced by a sword and she died in 304 AD.

  • Caravaggio had escaped from prison on Malta in 1608, fleeing to Syracuse. There he got a commission to paint this altar piece to honour Santa Lucia.

  • There is no fee to enter - don't be confused by the ticket office which is only for those who want to see the catacombs, never worth it in my opinion. However, I do suggest making the €1 donation to illuminate Caravaggio's painting for four minutes!


Archimedes & Leonardo da Vinci Museum

  • Eureka!! This little private museum is a very nice place to spend an hour or two, especially to escape from the midday sun.

  • Archimedes is without doubt the most famous son of Syracuse and , of course, considered the greatest mathematician of ancient history, and one of the greatest of all time.

  • In this museum his discoveries, insights, and inventions (and those of his admirer Leonardo da Vinci) are bought to life with interactive models and tactile exhibits. He was a busy man... you will learn a lot.

  • Tickets cost €7


City of Noto (map)

  • The city of Noto is a 40 minute drive from Syracuse. It is a beautiful baroque town (UNESCO listed) and a lasting reminder of Spain's impact on the history, culture, and architecture of Sicily. If you have the time, I highly recommend that you spend a few hours, the vision, passion, and commitment to build this city is awe inspiring.

  • Renting a car in Syracuse costs about €80 - €100 per day.

  • A quick recap on parking in Italy. First thing is to look at the colour of the lines on the road:

    • White lines - parking is free

    • Blue lines - you need to pay for parking and there will be a meter near by

    • Yellow lines - you need a permit to park, so don't!


City of Modica (map)

  • The city of Modica is a 60 minute drive from Syracuse and can be nicely combined with a trip to Noto. Modica is also a beautiful and important historic town and, like Noto, rebuilt by the Spanish following the devastating earthquake of 1693. I was not able to spend spend much time here but did visit the stunning Duomo di San Giorgio in Upper Modica.

  • One thing you must do, however, is buy some of the famous chocolate of this city which is still produced with an ancient and original Aztec recipe. It's extraordinarily bitter and quite unlike any chocolate I have tried before. Can't say that I really liked it - much more of a milk chocolate person myself.

  • The famous Sabadi chocolate shop is just next to the Duomo di San Giorgio.

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