Have you thought about where you will retire? Perhaps in Goa or maybe escape to the mountains…
My ideal place would be Ortigia (Ortygia), a tiny island off Siracusa (Syracuse) in Italy.
… pretty houses with pastel-coloured walls peeling plaster…
… ageing balconies over-run with plants…
… the odd brightly-coloured Fiat 500…
… the Mediterranean waters all around (sometimes azure, sometimes cerulean)…
… even the mundane walk to the market taking you by 2,000-year old ruins…
… is it any wonder I fell in love with Ortigia?
The island is small and you can pretty much see all the main ‘sights’ just ambling about it. The ruins of Tempio di Apollo, at Piazza Pancali, is a good place to start exploring. The temple was built around 6 BC and is the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily.
Walk along further to the Piazza Archimede, where the beautiful Fontana di Diana stands. Legend has it that Diana or Artemis (Goddess of the hunt), Zeus’ (illegitimate) daughter and Apollo’s twin sister was born on this island.
Further along you will arrive at the Piazza del Duomo, where the Siracusa Cathedral stands. The cathedral was built over the Temple of Athena (5 BC), whose Doric columns can still be seen inside, incorporated right into the walls of the cathedral.
The Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, next door to the cathedral, is also worth a visit, especially for the Caravaggio painting that hangs in there.
As you walk further down towards the seafront, past lanes filled with quirky shops, restaurants and gelaterias (Bel Bon was our favourite), you will arrive at the Fountain of Aretusa, a nymph who was an attendant to Artemis. The fountain has been mentioned in several Greek mythologies.
The seafront promenade is a lovely place to walk along, lined with cafes and restaurants at some places, completely devoid of people at others.The Largo Aretusa, next to the fountain is a great place to catch the sun setting over the Mediterranean.
The Jewish quarter, with its labyrinth of pretty alleys and houses, is a wonderful place to get lost in. Deep underneath the hotel Alla Giudecca, you can see the ancient Jewish ritual baths or Miqweh (€5 entry fee).
Drop in at the Puppet Theatre late evening, for a traditional Sicilian puppet show. The proceedings are in Italian, but it’s not hard to follow the story 🙂
And of course, you have to head over to Siracusa’s Neapolis to see the well-preserved ruins of the ancient Greek Theatre. The ruins of the Roman Amphitheatre, nearby, are a disappointment, but the Greek one is stunning. It’s still in use and Greek plays are staged here every year in May and June.
Walk over to the Latomia del Paradiso, a quarry filled with citrus trees. At one end of the quarry is the massive cave, called Ear of Dionysius and used as a prison in ancient Siracusa.
Ortigia is also heaven for food, from seafood ppastato ricotta-filled pastries.
Where to stay
You can stay in Siracusa or in Ortigia, though I strongly recommend the latter. Siracusa is nice little city, and you can access the Greek & Roman theatre ruins easily. However, Ortigia is more atmospheric, slow-paced, and will give you a real taste of island life.
We chose to stay in this elegant little apartment in Ortigia called Casa Giulietta. Our hostess, Lynette, was a charming lady, well over 80, but whose energy can put most young people to shame! Her daughter Giulietta picked us up from the bus station in Siracusa (we arrived from Palermo by bus, with a change in Catania), and drove us to the apartment.
Casa Giulietta is on the ground floor of Lynette’s house, who lives upstairs. The apartment has its own independent entrance. The bedroom is huge, and has a slightly Victorian feel to it. There’s a big double bed, plus a settee that can double up as a single bed. There’s a dining table and TV as well. The kitchen is well-equipped, with a complete cooking range, stocked pantry, microwave oven, refrigerator and the all-important washing machine (essential when you’re on the road for long). The kitchen also has a couch that can transform into a bed.
The apartment is close to the local food market, which is an absolute must-visit. The seafront is just a 5-minute walk as well. Lynette and Giulietta are fantastic hostesses, offering a lot of great local tips and I’d highly recommend Casa Giulietta for your stay in Ortigia.
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