Honestly, after 20 hours of straight traveling, anything would have looked like an oasis, but Syracuse was a perfect retreat.
I was relieved when I landed in Catania to find our driver holding a sign with my name on it, despite the hour+ delay . I had heard that many Sicilians speak little English (unlike other parts of Italy where they tend to be rather fluent), so I was a little intimidated. I found this to be true, but I managed to say enough to the driver to make sure I was headed to the right place. For the rest of my stay, I made due with a little help from Google translator and plus “buongiornos” and “ciaos” thrown in for good measure
Other than catching a view of the famous Mount Etna, Catania was a blip on the itinerary that I am bumping up to a priority on my bucket list. Syracuse was up next, and I was ready to get to the bed & breakfast. It was confirmed that driving in Syracuse was not for the faint of heart due to the small alleys, assertive pedestrians, tour groups, and speedy locals (thank goodness that I was not behind the wheel). The Residence Hotel Alla Giudecca was tucked inside one of the small alleyways, and perfectly hidden from the hustle and bustle… I was at my (temporary) home!
The room was spacious with a full family room, efficiency kitchenette, bedroom, bathroom and balcony that you could enjoy hearing the chatter of neighbors while glancing around at the clay roofs and glisten of the sea. Intrigued yet? Yeah….I’ll be back. Space is limited in many European hotels, and this was the exception to the rule.
Plus, one of the coolest things about this unique boutique hotel is that there are recently excavated Jewish baths underneath the building and they give free tours every hour. I don’t think there are many things more incredible than staying in a place with such a rich history.
Enough about where I stayed though…there was plenty to see and do in this seaside town. First off, I headed to the Piazza Duomo which is the pulse of the city. This lively square has charming cafes where you can enjoy a view of the historically rich structures (palaces, churches, and more). Naturally, I stopped for a bite (and an Aperol Spritz) to provide a little energy for all the site-seeing.
Even though I didn’t know what exactly to expect from Syracuse (I felt like I couldn’t find really quality insight for this leg of the trip), I truly fell in love with the town. The history, food (more on that later), and pace of life was infectious. I have summed up things that may help anyone else interested in visiting below.
Things to know before visiting:
- The ride from Catania is about 45 minutes by cab. I wouldn’t suggest driving unless you are pretty brazen and confident with your city driving skills.
- Most restaurants have predominantly seafood. If you are allergic or just flat out don’t like seafood, you may struggle here.
- This is a walking town. I’m referring mostly to Ortigia, which is the historic center. Ortigia is very easily seen on foot, and it should be done just that way to get the most legitimate view of how the people of Syracuse live their day to day….can you imagine passing the Temple of Apollo on your way to work each morning?!
- The food market is a must see. There are markets, and there are markets! This one is incredible. There were oysters with wine, sea anemone roe in cups, fish stands, cheeses, local wines and liquors, fruits, vegetables, and any spice that you can imagine. The colors, smells, and sounds here are classic Sicilian and it is a perfect way to experience the local culture.
- There will be a language barrier if you do not speak Italian. This is not as “touristy” as other locations, and therefore English tends to be limited. A hotel may be a good solution if you are a beginner traveler, as they can help you navigate around and find what you need. However, as with any place, I would encourage anyone to learn a few greetings for courtesy purposes. The rest, you can Google….but don’t forget to connect to Wifi or add data to your phone plan (read more on that here).
- I suggest staying within Ortigia for easiest commute around town. The Jewish quarter was a great area close to the water, and away from the main foot traffic, yet everything was within a 5-10 minute walk. I would gladly stay in this area again!
- The mafia is not sitting around waiting for you at a café. Okay…so this is so silly, but I was asked a lot about if I was scared of the mafia in Sicily. I’m not aware of any unpaid debts from my end, and I do my best not to offend others while traveling…so I should be good! Plus, I left the gun and definitely took the cannoli! Always take the cannoli...
I hope you enjoyed my recap, and there is more where that came from! I will be posting more regularly now that I have more time during commutes. Next up, Malta!