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L ight reflecting off churches and palaces, views of craggy mountains and blue sea, smells of orange blossom, oregano and mint … Sicily is an inspiring place, particularly for northern Europeans. Better to get to know Sicily in chunks — and its Ionian coast, with the honeypot towns of Siracusa and Taormina, plus second city Catania, and hulking Mount Etna, is an ideal start. Thriving Siracusa , inhabited since ancient times, is at its liveliest at market time Mon-Sat 7am-1pm.
Sellers on Via Trento and side streets around deal in delicious things: men at an upturned crate prepare spiky sea urchins with their bare hands, a fishmonger pares steaks off tuna, and stallholders preside over mounds of melon-sized aubergines.
San Filippo in the former Jewish quarter offers free tours of its crypt and three levels of Greek-built tunnels plus a medieval mikvah , or Jewish ritual bath. The look of much of south-east Sicily is a result of a huge earthquake in Afterwards, architects were given free rein to design palaces and churches in their own curvaceous take on baroque. Noto was rebuilt on a new site, streets aligned to catch the sunlight, which bathes buildings in an apricot glow.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele feels like a vast work of art, or a film set. Other baroque glories in Unesco-listed Noto valley include Ispica , rebuilt on its hilltop site; Scicli , in a narrow gorge; and Modica , known for dark, gritty chocolate. Here, wedding-cakey Duomo di San Giorgio gleams behind intricate iron railings, and down the square, Gelati Divini does suitably heavenly ice-creams, including cherry tomato and olive oil flavours, perfect for eating in the 19th-century Ibleo garden, with palm avenues and valley views.
Piazzas San Giovanni and Matteotti are buzzing on summer evenings, with restaurants, gelaterias and cultural events, including a literature festival in June.