Traveling in off-season has both pluses and minuses. On the one hand, no crowds at any of the sites meaning almost never having to wait to get in and discounts on accommodation, while on the other, you are often faced with a sign saying “Chiusa” (closed in English).
Our visit to Modica and Ragusa gave us a great opportunity to experience both!
Modica our base for a couple of days is about an hour and half by train from Siracusa. Its a direct line and definitely the best way to get there if you can coincide your travel plans with the off season timetable.
Modica is one of the towns rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 and consists of two towns – Modica Bassa (lower) and Modica Alta (upper) and a lot of steps between the two!
Taking the advice of our guidebook on Sicily and numerous informative blogs, we stayed in Modica Alta at the delightful Palazzo Failla Hotel which was offering a very good off- season deal. Its a delightful old hotel with a grand entrance staircase and large rooms with recently renovated bathrooms (almost unheard of in Sicily). Attached to the hotel is one of the region’s finest restaurants.
Modica is well known for its great food, not just its chocolate and baroque architecture. However, as we quickly found out most of the restaurants, including the hotel’s, that were on our hit list were, as the Sicilians say so delightfully in English “Is close ed”. The hotel also gave us a list of places to eat, however as we wandered the delightful streets, alleyways and stairs of Modica we were able to see that most were in fact “close ed”. This is notwithstanding that their websites gave no indication of their being “close ed”. Infact many of the windows also suggested they were open, when they so obviously weren’t. After throwing ourselves on the mercies of the hotel we found two very pleasant restaurants for evening meals.
After weeks of fish in Siracusa it was nice to have a change of diet. While pasta is still the staple, the sauces are meat or vegetable based including Fava beans. On the subject of beans, in winter, there is not much better than minestrone and this region does it proud.
So when thinking food in Modica, don’t just think about its granular world famous chocolate which is excellent, think also about the typical food of the region.
Modica”s architecture is stunning with the churches being the highlight both on the outside and inside (Note – the churches are usually “close ed” between about 1 and 4.30 to coincide with the time when most tourists on a day trip would visit!). While not Catholic, we have made a practice to light a candle or make an offering at each in memory of the needless violence that seems to have been a daily part of the news reports that have accompanied our trip.
Modica is about half an hour by bus from Ragusa, another stunning hillside town. We asked at the hotel desk whether they had a map of Ragusa, given it was so close and the normal approach to a visit to the region is to visit both towns – they didn’t have one. They suggested that we get a map from the tourist point at the bottom of Ragusa (Ragusa Ibla) . The hotel had warned us that the bus from Modica would drop us at Ragusa Superiore’s (the upper town) inconveniently located bus station and that we then needed to catch the innercity bus down. Once in Ragusa, we dutifully bought our ticket and caught the bus down – our first mistake – never give up altitude! Our second mistake was not to get out about halfway down at Piazza Republica, where there was an information point because when we arrived at the bottom of Ragusa Ibla the tourist point was “close ed”! Fortunately, a group of gardeners were having their break and milling around the entrance to the garden and were able to give us a map! Made me think that we weren’t the first people to ask where we could find a map!
From there it was a steady climb back up the hill past many “close ed” coffee shops and bars until we found a place to stop and get our bearings – a place called Mad Magazzini Donnafugata. While having a coffee a half a dozen or so of the about 20 tourists in town descended on the place (I say descended because they all seemed to be walking down while we were walking up!). The coffee was good. From there it was a walk up past the Duomo until our map ran out. At this point my favourite person mentioned we should have bought the guidebook – good point! After a frustrating walk in a couple of circles we discovered that the Duomo Museum was “clos ed”, we then actually got lost and took another wrong turn just a few metres from the tourist point at Piazza Republicca doing another loop before we found it – It was open!!!
From there we continued our walk up, which was rewarded with some amazing views and coffee before finding the stunning Duomo in Ragusa Superiore. Then it was a further uphill walk to where we thought we would catch the bus to the inconveniently located bus station. W met have looked puzzled as a local gestured to us – what we were looking for. We said the “autobus” stop which he seemed to understand but he had no clue as to where it was. Rather, he said he’d drive us to it as it was on his way home – we gratefully accepted.
Once at the bus station we checked the timetable. The bus timetable on the website and posted at the station said that the bus for Modica left at 3.30 but just as the hotel had told us – it left at 3.45. AST hadn’t updated their website for the off season!
- Modica & Ragusa are great places to visit! There are numerous blogs and guidebooks that give you all the information.
- Off season is a great time to visit these locations as it is quiet and you have an uniterrupted view of the stunning architecture but remember many places will be “close ed”
- Don’t rely on bus websites timetables.
- If you can’t find the tourist point ask a gardener!