Aurà guesthouse is in a prime location for all of the points of interest in historic Ragusa Ibla, most of which can be reached within a 10 minute walk. “Aurà” translates to “Wow” and can be applied equally to the minimalist guesthouse and to the extravagant Baroque vistas and streetscapes of Ragusa Ibla.
Start your day at Aurà guesthouse with a plate-sized filled pastry and a delicious cannoli Siciliani, together with a selection of bread rolls. There’s a choice of jams, but try the grape preserve and local cheeses, including a special soft “warm” variety.
There is freshly pressed orange juice and coffee before you head off into the historic town that starts as you step out through the front door. If you become confused by the local tourist board’s map, it may be because, strangely, there are few street names printed on it.
Stroll the historic streets to be amazed by flamboyant, decorative Baroque churches, palaces and civic buildings crammed onto the vertiginous valley walls; ascend hundreds of steps to enjoy spectacular vistas of the town and surrounding valleys; climb aboard a tourist train for an official tour of the sights and views; relax in a sunny piazza with a local grain beer or gelati.
Ragusa sits high on two valley ridges, linked by three bridges and a little bus that seems to run when it feels like – certainly not to the timetable displayed at the bus stop in Piazza di Giardino, just round the corner from Aurà guesthouse. That could be because it’s dated 2015 or, possibly the poor timekeeping is due to the continuous hairpin bends and bad parking hold-ups of the narrow road?
The famous Inspector Montalbano and Young Montalbano TV hit series are both filmed in Ragusa Ibla and key locations are just a few minutes from Aurà guesthouse. Picnic in the nearby Giardino Ibleo with its three churches and vistas of rustic countryside that has featured in several episodes; dine in one of the inspector’s regular eating places, such as the traditional A’ Rusticana Ristorante, which doubles as the televised Trattoria ‘’Da Calogero’’.
Just across the Piazza Duomo is the cafe where the fictional Montalbano eyes up his favourite arancini – rice filled croquettes, best when they are hand-made by his onscreen housekeeper. Tourists take a selfie by the nearby, eccentric, Circolo di Conversazione building used as a backdrop for another Montalbano mystery. The adjacent bookshop has Montalbano books in Italian and English in case some catching up is necessary…
Montalbano’s police station in “Vigata” is actually the town hall of the beautifully preserved town of Scicli (pron: “shi-cli”) with it eye catching Baroque streetscapes. The coffee and cannoli are good at “his” cafe just across the street, while the office of his boss is nearby in the Palazzo Lacona. The “police station” is open until lunchtime for Montalbano cognoscenti to visit. Try and get there on a Sunday when the parking is free and easy.
The big attraction for Montalbano fans has to be the inspector’s house on the beach where his morning swim is frequently interrupted by a telephone call from the police station announcing a new mystery to be solved. It’s at Punta Secca, where the local mayor has renamed the adjacent piazza after the Inspector who has put the resort on the tourist map.
Have a beach picnic – first checking that the corpses of the horse and the druggie that featured in a couple of episodes have been returned to the props department at Italian broadcaster RAI.
Drive out into the unspoilt Sicilian countryside, as does Inspector Montalbano when there is a case that may involve the local mafia boss Balduccio Sinagra. Guarded by his heavies, the Don lives in Il Castello di Donnafugata, a 19th century hilltop castle 18km from Ragusa. It’s open to the public and there are restaurants with fine views. Violin cases may be searched on entry.
Ragusa and Scicli share much of their history with the other UNESCO Heritage Site towns of the Val di Noto, all of which were rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1693 that killed thousands. It’s a short drive to Modica where a 400 year-old tradition of chocolate making continues.
A few choice chocolate purchases at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Corso Umberto may settle your stomach if you have just driven over the very scary Gurrieri road bridge and seen the town nestling at the foot of the gorge. Vertigo sufferers don’t look down – at 300 metres, the bridge is same height as The Shard in London.
Noto is another beautiful Baroque town to be visited. Although rebuilt after the earthquake, it still cascades down a hillside in a fantastical torrent of churches, palazzos, and civic buildings, fountained piazzas, all uniformly built in the local honey-coloured stone.
Marina di Ragusa is a custom-built seaside resort backing a lovely sandy beach and modern marina. There’s a good mix of bars and restaurants, piazzas and shopping and the promenade is ideal for joggers, walkers, and meanderers.
Punctuality, courtesy, reasonable rates and mastery of the English language . If you need a taxi in Ragusa for transfers and tours ask Amedeo
Eating out in Ragusa Ibla
Favourite good value restaurants include:
A’ Rusticana Ristorante, famed onscreen eating place of gourmand Montalbano and the film crew that work on the series, offers the best of Sicilian dishes. There’s plenty of pasta, but fish features strongly and the world knows the Inspector approves of the wines on offer. Vico Domenico Morelli.
Ristorante Il Barocco offers an extensive menu of pizza and pasta, meats and fish. Wine list is likewise expansive and led by locally produced Carasuela di Vittoria, a smashing red, served at several degrees below room temperature.
Trattoria Cucina & Vino is well patronised by locals, but more tourists are being directed there to enjoy traditional Sicilian dishes and excellent service. The wine list contains some classy local whites that can be enjoyed via mezzo litre carafes.
Via Orfanotrofio. www.cucinaevino.eu
Salumeria Barocco is the best place for a light lunch. Eat in with a glass of house wine from the barrel or stroll across the square to a shady Giardino bench for a picnic of artisan rolls, slices of Sicilian cheeses, salami and hams by weight. Delicious and carefully prepared by friendly staff.
Corso Venticinque Aprile. www.salumeriabarocco.it/
La Bettola is a wonderful family run trattoria with mamma and poppa in the kitchen and two daughters providing excellent table service. Menu delivered verbally, with specials chalked-up. Always busy, tasty, traditional grub. Mamma’s cannoli is incredible and can sell out quickly…
Largo Camarino. www.trattorialabettola.it/#welcome
Plus a just out of town manor house
La Capinera is the highly regarded weekend dine-out with its wood-fired oven/BBQ and silver service restaurant. Family run, with ingredients from their large garden complementing fine cuts, fish and pasta – like the delicious ravioli ricotta. Try fruity red Morgante IGP Nero d’Avola.
Contrada Arancelli. www.ristorantelacapineraragusa.it/en/
Review: Courtesy of Terry & Heather – first English guests of Aurà guesthouse © 2017