Photography by: Svadore
Where to sleep, what to eat, where to shop and what to do on the island of Ortigia, Sicily.
With its old and restored baroque architecture, Southern Sicilian food – a unique blend of ancient Greek and Arabic cuisine – and legendary Sicilian culture steeped in over 2,700 years of art and history, it’s no surprise Ortigia is one of Sicily’s most popular destinations. From its tight-knit medieval lanes pleasant for strolling, the abandoned palazzi, seafront churches and picturesque alleys, here I share where to go, what to see, and how to most enjoy the colorful and vibrant destination.
Where to Stay
In the center of Piazza Minerva and Piazza Duomo stands Antico Hotel Roma blends traditional Sicilian style and antique Arabian and Greek architecture seamlessly – it is the oldest and most central hotel in Ortigia and the only one in the world to be adjoined to a Greek temple, now the Cathedral of Syracuse. Founded in 1880, the hotel is found between the Archbishop’s Palace and overlooks Piazza Minerva, a continuation of Piazza Duomo that runs alongside the Doric columns of the temple and onto Ortigia’s central road, Via Roma. Many guest rooms have a view overlooking Piazza Minerva and bits of Ortigia history are found throughout the property-the stairway of the 5th century Temple of Minerva is still located inside the hotel and its remains are still visible through glass panels in the floors. The interiors are covered in limestone used in Greek temple and Baroque palaces, filled with traditional “secret” Arabic courtyards, small hanging gardens and Dammus arches carved from volcanic rock.
The outdoor tables and chairs placed in Piazza Minerva and the large indoor patio allow guests to surround themselves in this ancient atmosphere, over breakfast, dinner or any other moment of relaxation. Via Roma, 66; 39-09/3146-5630; antico-hotel-roma-1880.siracusa.hotels-sicily.net.
Where to Eat & Drink
When in Ortigia, one is obliged to include Bar Midolo on their gastronomic tour. Known to locals as Cassarino, at Bar Midolo you can find the best arancini in Southern Sicily with every imaginable filling: ragu sauce, ham, eggplant, prosciutto, spinach, artichokes and more. My personal favorite is ragu. Fried on the spot, always hot and very crunchy Bar Midolo is an unforgettable experience of the palate. Corso Umberto, 86; 39-09/316-8046; barmidolo.it.
A simple, family café where one can savor a traditional piadina made from fresh and genuine products. One does not have to look far to find classic Sicilian cuisine in a family environment surrounded by a courteous staff, high-quality products and great prices. Via Santa Teresa, 8; 39-093/1185-3240.
Things to Do
The heart of the town is Piazza Duomo where one begins with the requisite iced tea or granita for breakfast. The Piazza will leave you breathless, coated in white from head to toe it is a true Baroque pearl. You make your way down Via delle Vergini which joins into Passegio Aretusa to find yourself at the Fountain of Arethusa, an ancient water source for Ortigia. Before proceeding for a stroll down Lungomare Alfeo, take a quick peak down Largo Aretusa parallel to Passegio Aretusa full of its baroque stores and antique shops. At the end of the oceanside walk down Lungomare Alfeo, past all the quaint restaurants and boutiques, you arrive at Castello Maniace.
Quick break for lunch and you are back at Piazza Duomo. Here you can explore the small labyrinth streets that overtake the island like Via del Collegio, Via Roma and Cortile Grande. A few streets down Via Roma is the secret Piazza del Precursore where one can admire the remains of this open church. Continue down Piazza del Precursore towards Via Giuseppe Maria for true authentic Sicilian cuisine, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists. Check out Vicolo Zuccolà‘s quaint restaurant while you are there! Your last stop for the evening is the Lungomare d’Ortigia that loops around the entire island giving you a 365 of all the city has to offer.
Where to Shop
With all the big-name stores that line the streets of Ortigia, visitors already know the island as a shopper’s paradise. But for insiders, the real joy comes from discovering its hidden surprises: leather sandals, hand-beaded tops, the perfect pair of shades. The main street, Corso Matteotti is too crass, too commercial, but wander through the vias that hide behind the street and you’ll find a bevy of boutiques that makes the island a singular shopping destination.
The luxury artisanal leather goods maker can only be found in two locations – Ortigia and Catania. This tiny boutique is worth visiting for its vast selections of handmade bags, purses, sandals, flats as well as more unexpected items. Shoppers will find those hard-to-find items that once were so prosperous in Italy such as wrap around, handmade, toffee colored leather sandals and suede and soft leather bags. For those looking for a one-of-a-king piece, the store can also customize bags and shoes according to one’s tastes and needs allowing them to choose the shape, details, and type of material all within a 48 hour turnaround time. Via Capodieci, 26; 39-33/1431-1553; ebanostore.com.
Hidden in a small via, this small concept store sells enameled necklaces, sandals, striped shirts, light dresses and much more. There choice of hats and accessories come from every part of Europe from the small streets of Paris, to the Spanish quarters to the medieval streets of Holland. The store combines all of these colorful and unique pieces to create an elegant and minimalist Sicilian style. Via Roma, 26; 39-9/5377-7845; ikiboutique.it.
In front La Fontana de Arethusa is the remains of what the Amalfi Coast used to embody before it became commercial – Bottega Del Mar. A tiny boutique owned by Nadia Aristova, here you can find gold-plated rings with colorful semi-previous stones (perfect no matter the season), gilded necklaces, Dolce & Gabbana and Calypso St. Barth like tops and bottoms all hand-made by Italian artisans. Largo Aretusa, 6; 39-9/3962-4913; bottegadelmar.com.
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