Welcome to Part II!
At the end of Part I I left you in Palermo, so let’s continue to Ortygia.
Ortygia is an island, but it is basically the historical center of Syracuse. It is a UNESCO site and it is literally an enchanted place. It is basically intact, with almost only historical houses, shops, and facilities. It is very rich in heritage, from churches to legends and mythological stories: it is even mentioned in the Odyssey as one of the places where Ulysses stayed. Visit the Duomo, a majestic baroque church, and the Fonte Aretusa, unique in its genre: it is a natural sweet water spring which is basically on the sea. Incredible to see! In Ortygia I also saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. Unfortunately, I lost many pictures of this part of the trip. If I find any, I will add them later.
//Tips and Tricks//
It is connected to the mainland via two bridges and it is entirely traffic protected at specific times (you can only enter a very limited area and park in the parking lot). You need to check the times with the Municipality of Syracuse because they change according to the time of the year. Going there by car is, in general, very complicated. Parking is basically non-existent unless you park in the expensive Parcheggio Talete. You can buy a weekly membership, but you have to call before and make sure they have space. Otherwise, book some garage through your hotel. But PLEASE arrange these things in advance. In fact, I hadn’t, and it was VERY stressful. I had to park my car outside Ortygia many times, and walk to go get it and go to the beach (because there is almost no beach in Ortygia, only terraces). Apart from this, life there is chilled and relaxing: fish markets, little shops, little streets, nice restaurants, nice people, nice food, amazing gelaterias.
//What to visit//
The main square is a must. Go there, sit on the steps, get a cannolo, enjoy the view. I basically lived on cannolos for 4 days. I got mine at Artale Giovanni (via Saverio Landolina 32) and Cannoli Del Re (via Pompeo Picherali, 6, literally around the corner from the Duomo).
The main sundeck terrace (free) is below Forte Vigliena: crowded, but the typical place for both locals and tourists. I am from Genoa and we are used to sunbathing on terraces and jump in the water. If you don’t like this, it’s not the place for you.
Get your morning granita at Monzu or Caffè Minerva (both in Piazza Minerva), and make sure you try Mandorla (almond) or Gelsi (mulberry).
Since I was staying in an Airbnb, I always cooked at home to save money and go out for gelato and so on. Sorry, not helpful with dinner time! But I know some locals there, so if you email me, I can probably find out for you!
Beaches: I went by car to several beaches around there.
– La Riserva Marina del Plemmirio: rocky cliffs, natural ‘terraces’ where to find peaceful spots to sunbathe and jump in the crystal clear water. Perfect to snorkel around.
– Calamosche (Noto Marina)
– Fontane Bianche
– Marzamemi (loved the town as well)
If you go to Noto, go to Caffè Sicilia, Corrado Assenza’s business. Probably *the most* famous gelateria and pastry shop of the whole region and considered an international excellence (they even have a dedicated episode on The Chef’s Table on Netflix).
//Where I stayed//
I stayed at an Airbnb that was absolutely lovely, but it’s not always available (they live there sometimes). Do your research, but get a place with AC if you visit during the summer. Sicily is HOT.
I am going to skip Tropea in this guide, since I literally only stayed for half a day, jumped in the water, and went straight to the next destination: Cilento and Vallo Diano National Park.
Cilento and Vallo Diano National Park
This is a very beautiful area of Campania, in the Province of Salerno. It is where they make the best mozzarellas (buffalo and cow), caciocavallo and a huge variety of goat cheese. It is a UNESCO natural site, and it also hosts a UNESCO heritage place, the Certosa di Padula. Wonderful beaches, great, GREAT food, and a lot less crowded than the fancy Amalfi coast. It is also way more low key, and where locals (from Salerno and Naples areas) go on holiday to avoid the crazy prices of Positano & co.
//Tips and Tricks//
It is fairly easy to go around there, but avoid getting to the beach too late if you are by car (middle of the morning). If you are late, then go during lunch time because people go home to have lunch and siesta (believe it or not, many do!). Ask for a receipt if you pay the parking lot. Corruption still exists (even if I have seen a drop in the last years) and sometimes they try to force you to pay even when you shouldn’t. If they insist, honestly, as bad as it sounds, just give them something if it’s not too crazy of a price: you don’t want to fight with these kinds of people, really.
When you eat at home, always buy local. Try to find local shops or small markets: the food here is the best part, and it should be relatively cheap. However, bear in mind that a good caciocavallo can be between 10-12€ per KG. Go buy directly from the producers! Villages like Sanza are very famous for it. For the mozzarella, go around Battipaglia area if you can. I like Il Granato, with its beautiful garden where you can sit and enjoy fresh yumminess and the possibility to say hi to the buffalos!
//What to visit//
There are many places and things to visit around there, from mountains to beaches, from archeological sites to UNESCO heritage areas. What I know best is the beaches, because I went to the mountains only once, but I didn’t drive and I wouldn’t know how to guide you. Local tourist offices know all about it. It is called Monte Cervati and there are many beautiful paths you can explore.
– Scario (via sea: you need to get a little ferry service from the harbor that takes you to any of the beaches (four). I like the first three more, but the fourth has a bar and the others don’t so bring food and water. They are amazing.
– Camerota/Marina di Camerota area on SR562 or Calanca (crowded! go early)
– Arco Naturale Palinuro
– Acquafredda: it is a bit far, but SO BEAUTIFUL. Not just the beach itself, but the panorama that you see while you go there. The cliffs will give you real vertigo! Drive safely.
– Agropoli. The historical center is called Agropoli Vecchia and the most prominent palace is the Angioino Aragonense Castle (VI cent).
– Vatolla. Visit the Palazzo de Vargas, where the philosopher Gianbattista Vico write part of his works.
– Rocca Cilento. Longobard origins and incredible shape, this palace is stunning and very ancient (end of IX cent). It is now being restored so check the websites and make sure you know what is happening before you visit.
– Castellabate. Considered -rightfully- one of the most beautiful Borghi d’Italia (Italian historical villages) Castellabate is now a symbol of the area. It became incredibly touristy after the famous Italian movie Benvenuti al Sud (Welcome to the South) was shot here. Amazing panorama, alleys, shops, piazzas, Castellabate will leave you enchanted.
//Where I stayed// – Rofrano’s insight
I have close friends there, who have houses and family. I am always a guest in a little village called Rofrano. I will be honest with you: if you are looking for a vibrant nightlife, well, that’s not exactly where you want to be. However, if you want to spend a night or two in a fully relaxed environment, consider booking a place around there. Life is led at a different pace: people are old but friendly. They like to chit-chat, get a coffee, talk about their goats. It’s cute. If you don’t know Italian, use your hands, don’t be shy. They will look at you like you are a Martian, because they are not very used to seeing tourists. Smile and be kind! They will be too (and probably offer you something to eat). The best activities around there are hiking and… EATING.
Food is home-made, simple, fresh (REALLY fresh), and tasty. It’s awesome. However, don’t expect fancy dishes: huge portions and low key.
Try either: Da Cono (84070 San Menale Province of Salerno) or Il Centauro (Località Viggiano, 84070 Rofrano SA) which is also a nice hotel. Get your bread, focaccia, zeppole (fried sweet dough) and sfogliatelle at the corner of the main square, in front of Caffè Centrale and the gas station (I cannot find the name, but you will see it). One thing: it gets chilly in the night. Perfect to sleep well, but bring a sweater (and write to me if you go! I can tell you more).
All right, that’s all for part II! If you are interested in the next stops, go to part III!