A week in Ortygia, or why everyone needs to plan a holiday to Sicily

12 August 2018

Next year we're absolutely going to travel somewhere different. Absolutely. Maybe. Well, if I can find somewhere just as beautiful, fun, relaxing but cultural, and with such good food as you find in Italy.

Back in July, we hopped on a plane bound to Catania. My husband had just celebrated a milestone birthday (it's still a few years away for me - phew!) and I was determined to do something really special to celebrate, despite the fact that buying a house earlier this year was also a wonderful achievement and one which used up a fair amount of annual leave (and those all-important pennies).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, we decided to go back to Ortygia - the old town of Syracuse, on the south-east coast of Sicily - where we went on honeymoon a few years' ago. It's quintessential Sicily - historic buildings overhanging tangled alleyways, romance and bustle, and food to make your heart sing. But at the same time, the atmosphere is a world away from rambunctious Palermo, which we visited last year. With our last visit to Ortygia not being too long ago, we knew it would be comfortingly familiar while at the same time opened up options of new things to discover and the promise of a bit of a break as we didn't have to worry about fitting everything in as we'd already done that not too long ago.

Where we Stayed

We did something we've always wanted to do in Italy throughout all of our previous trips - we decided to opt for an Airbnb to enable us to cook some of the amazing food that you see in all Italian marketplaces.

We chose an apartment that was incredibly central, on the Via Maestranza, but really Ortygia is the perfect place to discover on foot so you'll never be too far away from anything. We popped to the market on the first day and picked up an array of treats, and developed a bit of a morning ritual of waking up to fresh coffee, succulent doughnut peaches and a fresh caprese salad. I also found delicious gluten free sliced brioche in the supermarket, which I enjoyed with very liberally-applied Nutella, which is a bit of a holiday tradition for me.

In the evenings, we enjoyed some fresh swordfish - simply fried with a squeeze of lemon juice, a rocket salad and the best aubergine I think I've ever tasted - honestly, anyone who's asked me about the holiday has heard me wax lyrical about this aubergine but unless you tried it you just don't know...

We didn't just eat at home though - having been here before, we had some favourite restaurants to go back to and I've mentioned them below, just in case you ever find yourself in Ortygia at a loss for where to eat.

What we Did

Ortygia is best discovered on foot - its maze of tiny backstreets and its winding paths along the seafront with rusting rails that look fit to crumble at any moment. It's not a 'beachy' location. There are a few tiny little beaches and more further along the coast but the sea front of Ortygia is quite rocky and there's one particular spot where people like to sunbathe/swim from the rocks and a platform is set up there each summer for people to swim from more easily. One morning, we got up early (around 7) and walked down to the seafront. There were just two old chaps there, taking in the early morning sun before going for a swim. The water was slightly chilly to start but you soon got used to it and it was like a delicious bath. We swam out and floated on our backs, looking back at the old city walls and the buildings above us with their faded shutters and peeling-painted fronts. I think I was happier at that moment than I've been in a while. The sea is always my happy place.

We also went back to the Duomo - the cathedral at the centre of the city, in a beautiful piazza that's particularly stunning to walk through at night. The Duomo was a 5th century BC Greek temple that was converted into a church and you can still see the huge Doric columns inside and outside the church.

One thing we didn't do this time but I'm mentioning it here for anyone taking a trip to Ortygia is the miqwe - an ancient Jewish ritual bath that lies buried beneath the Alla Giudecca hotel in the told Jewish ghetto, called the Giudecca. It's absolutely fascinating - three deep pools that were only rediscovered relatively recently. They were once connected to a synagogue but were blocked up when the Jewish residents were expelled from the island in 1492. 

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

For me, a holiday isn't a holiday unless it includes a visit to at least one historical place and you're spoiled for choice in Sicily. We visited the archaeological park during our last visit to Syracuse and it was top of my list of must-revisits. There's a Greek Theatre, which this time was set-up for its annual season of classical theatre, the Latomia del Paradiso, deep limestone quarries riddled with catacombs, and the Orecchio di Dionisio or Ear of Dionysius, an eerie grotto hewn into the rock. For a few blissful moments, we were in there on our own without any tourists and it was like stepping back in time. 


On our list visit to Ortygia, we took the train to Noto - a historic little town with stunning red-gold buildings, baroque churches and the best granite (drinks made of crushed ice). Taking the train in Italy is an experience in and of itself so we decided to use one of our precious days to visit the town of Modica - a hill town famous for its chocolate and churches. (I'm a big fan of an old church!)

Modica has two distinct areashigh Modica, where most of the churches are, and low Modica, where most of the restaurants (and the station) are located. I think our trip to Modica fell on one of the hottest days that we were there and it was a long climb and a lot of steps to get to the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, a wonderful baroque church which is itself located at the top of its own sweeping staircase. It was so worth it though - the church was beautiful and the views over the countryside were stunning.

What we Ate

Oh Italian food, how I love you so. I know I must have mentioned this about a hundred times before too but Italy is fantastic for us gluten free folk. There's an array of choice in the supermarkets and most restaurants have at least gluten free pasta in the kitchen and generally speaking, a much better understanding of what a coeliac can and can't eat than I've found here (although that is improving every day).

The Syracuse region is famous for its seafood, meaty ragus, lemons and tomatoes. If you pop to Noto, you'll get some of the best granite and Modica is famous for its chocolate.

I would particularly recommend the following restaurants in Ortygia:

Trattoria la Foglia, Via Capodieci 21
This is the oddest little place - mismatched tables with crocheted napkins, porcelain dolls sitting in the window and a huge old wadrobe are just some of the decor choices making this more Edwardian drawing room than restaurant at first sight but this place is always busy for a reason. The food is amazing - cosy, comforting and very reasonably priced. I opted for the mackerel pasta on our first visit (this time) but the ragu is delicious and the local chilled red wine slips down a treat. Don't miss the local cheese platter either.

Taberna Sveva, Piazza Federico di Svevia
This little restaurant is tucked away in a quiet piazza near the castle and is hugely popular with the locals so I'd recommend arriving early or booking a table. It serves traditional Sicilian food. (I went with the sea bass and we shared the house antipasti to start - olives and cheese and meats, oh my!)

In Modica, we chose the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti, Corso Umberto I 228-230 as it was recommended for its Sicilian specialties and it was very meat-heavy. We didn't have too long there unfortunately because we were keeping a close eye on the train times but it was full of local families enjoying a long lunch. It's one of my favourite memories from our trip though because they made me homemade gluten free ravioli with a simple tomato sauce and it's one of the best things I've ever tasted. It was exquisite, I wish they delivered to England.

There are lots of bars in Ortygia but our favourite from our honeymoon (and we were so pleased to see it still running and very popular) was Solaria Vini & Liquori on Via Roma 86. It's a small place, with a few places to sit inside and about 4 or 5 tables outside but the wine list is extensive and it's a wonderful place to sit and people-watch, while enjoying a glass or two of a particularly fine wine. You can also get small platters of food too - cheese, olives, prosciutto and the like. I can wholeheartedly recommend the dessert wine from Noto.


And with that, I'm practically booking my next trip again... Do let me know if you're planning a visit to Sicily anytime soon, or where I should visit next!

Wonderful Wednesday 55

27 June 2018

Since I sat down at my computer at the weekend and loaded up this dear old page, and typed out a brief ramble that had been going around my head for the preceding days, I've done my best to put my money where my mouth is (was?!) and focus on one thing at a time, to try to give myself time to truly concentrate on a task and do it well. I sat out in my garden on Sunday evening, taking only my book with me and enjoyed a glorious hour or so just reading. Right now, I'm just sipping a cup of tea and taking the time to think back to what has made me smile in recent weeks and it feels like I'm able to think a little more easily, with less actual and imagined background noise going on. I know it'll be a work in progress but here we go...


A visit from my brother... My brother and his girlfriend came to stay with us this weekend and it was so much fun! I'd been looking forward to their visit all week and, you know when you don't sleep properly the night before Christmas because you're just too excited for the next day? That. I woke up in the middle of the night and was exhausted the next morning, so much so that I had to put a podcast on and have a little power nap first thing in the morning to keep me going!

It was their first visit to our little house and I'm sure that that was one of the reasons for the excitement because I'm just so happy to show it off and have people to stay! And the sun shone gloriously all weekend and really made the visit that bit more special. Doesn't everything look better in the sunshine?!

I met them from the train and took them back to the house for a little tour before we headed out for a walk through the fields - they live in London so we wanted to give them the full countryside experience! Just as we were all starting to feel a little parched, we headed back to a brewery shop that's been high on my beer-appreciating-brother's list of must visits in our new town for a couple of drinks in the sunshine (they do a really tasty gluten free beer!) We knew that the weekend was going to be a gorgeous one so we'd decided to do a bbq and it was the best choice really as we sat out in the garden for hours enjoying good food, the sight of the sun setting over the hills and lots of conversation. What good weekends are made of.

♥ Stationery... Always always a good thing and something that regularly pops into my list of things that never fail to make me happy. I've been disappearing into the stationery-ogling black hole that is Japanese stationery websites in recent weeks and it has been so much fun. Some people have Asos wishlists, mine is full of notebooks, pens and washi tape but I think I've whittled it down to a few key items that I've decided to treat myself to come payday in anticipation of our forthcoming holiday adventure. Just watch this space! 

♥ Sunsets... Haven't they been glorious over the last few nights? The sun is glowing gloriously in the sky behind me as I type this but nowhere near as intensely as Saturday night's fabulously red sunset. I wanted to record this here for posterity because, wow. Have the sunsets been as amazing where you are?

♥ Books upon books upon books... My parents have visited a few times over the last few weekends bringing with them my books, which have been boxed up at my parents' house for quite a few years since I moved out and into my first teeny-tiny flat with my husband. Opening these boxes up again has been so exciting - they contain my childhood books, my university texts and all the books in-between, comfort reads and books I can't even remember getting. I don't think I need to buy any new books for a while and I still don't know where we're going to put them all but that's half the fun, right?!

♥ Exciting discoveries... I mentioned this over on Instagram at the weekend but on Sunday, we decided to go and look for an old oak tree that one of our neighbours mentioned that's in a field not too far from our house and on which people often hang coloured ribbons. We followed the route that she'd described to us and there, looming in the distance was a huge old oak tree, with a variety of coloured ribbons hanging from the branches. Not just ribbons though, some people had hung medals and little carved items (I think I saw a dove), as well as placing other little remembrance items around the trunk.

When I got home, I got straight onto the computer to carry out a little research into this custom and discovered it's a really ancient tradition dating back to pagan times, when people would hang coloured ribbons in trees as a wish or a prayer to nature deities. I love seeing things like this continue into the modern day, even more so when it's so close by. I shall be visiting this dear old oak regularly from now on!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJoSamKerri, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiMartinaLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

Too many tabs...

24 June 2018

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So, I sat down with my laptop on Tuesday night to type up a Wonderful Wednesday post for the next day and...didn't get any further than the first few lines. 

I did, however, watch a TV show with my husband, catch up on Instagram and Twitter, browse birthday gift ideas for my mum and research some places to visit during our holiday next month. But if you asked me anything specific about what I was looking at or even what happened in the particular episode we were watching, I doubt I'd be able to tell you. 

I know that so many of us are guilty of doing too much, trying to cram too many things into every free moment we have and becoming distracted, particularly by social media (Instagram is a huge vice for me!) I've read so many posts about the quest to spend less time on our phones, which are a real distraction now and especially when you should be doing something else or even just devoting your time to one specific task. When did these little devices become so all-consuming? It's got to the point where I struggle to even sit down and focus on one thing without my brain constantly running through a to-do list of other things I should be doing at that very moment. So instead of just focusing on one task, I'm trying to achieve that and 8 others but getting very little done instead - so nothing is actually getting crossed off the list and the cycle repeats itself. I feel like my brain has too many tabs open and, just like they would on a computer, they're slowing everything down!

How to resolve this? As of right now, I really don't know. I suppose, like anything, it will take work and focus, which is an appropriate word for the task at hand - focusing on one thing at a time. And, as I do in the office when  I write my to do lists, I need to look at things in terms of the order of importance and just cross them off, one at a time. And, perhaps most importantly of all, recognise that when I'm doing something relaxing like reading a book, watching TV with my husband or sitting down to collect the happy highlights of the previous week, that those things are good and necessary too, so I shouldn't have to try to cross off other must-dos at the same time. Just being a little more mindful in my actions.

Are you guilty of the 'too many tabs' mentality too?!

Review: 'The Keeper of Lost Things' by Ruth Hogan

1 June 2018

The engagement on Instagram has been at a real low in recent weeks and I know I'm not alone in noticing that. My feed, which for a while seemed to be vaguely chronological, has reverted to a really illogical order and I'm seeing posts from some of my favourites days later than originally posted or sometimes not at all. But in weeks where the general activity is at an all-time low, this book generated almost as much comment as the Eleanor Oliphant post did before it. And I love engaging in book chat and hearing from people who love a book as much as I do or recommend others I might enjoy.

And I really enjoyed this book!

Here's the cover blurb:

Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the 'Keeper of Lost Things' have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters...

Whimsical, absorbing and completely charming, I devoured this book in about a day and a half. There are a few stories woven through the main arc, which I enjoyed and kept me guessing how they would tie together in the end. The main characters themselves are as lost as the items collected by Anthony over the course of the years but in fulfilling Anthony's wishes, they are brought together and begin to discover what's important. 

I've read some reviews calling the book 'twee' but I was very much in the mood for that, it was a deliciously comforting book that was a pleasure to read, with wonderful well thought-out characters and moments of real humour and sadness. 

Have you read this book? Do drop me a comment and let me know what you thought if you did, as well as what you're currently reading and any other books you'd recommend - I need to build up a list pre-holiday!

Wonderful Wednesday 54

9 May 2018

I'm typing this post from our garden on Tuesday evening, one which really feels like a Monday thanks to our long weekend so Friday's going to be an even more pleasant surprise than usual. It's slightly cooler than it has been over the last day or so but still warm enough to sit out here sipping a cool drink, listening to the birds and watching the sun set over the hills in the distance.

I could probably write an entire Wonderful Wednesday post dedicated only to this moment right now but I suspect that that would be quite dull to anyone other than me, so here are a few other things that have made me smile over the last week...


♥ Bank holiday weekends...but more particularly, this bank holiday weekend we've just had and I think that's entirely down to the weather. The sun shone gloriously all weekend and the beautiful long days made the weekend seem that little bit longer, with the extra day on top. It felt like a real holiday. I'm counting down the days to the next one already - just a few weeks to go!

♥ Visiting and visitors... We had just the right amount of socialising and time at home this weekend. We went to visit some friends for dinner on Saturday night, my first trip into London for a little while!, and then had another friend over to us on Sunday - we went for a walk through the fields to a cute little local pub then back home for lunch. Lots of food, chat and sunshine - now that's the recipe for a good weekend!

♥ Yoga... After hurting my back earlier this year, I fell out of the habit of rolling out my mat on a weekly basis but on Sunday I woke up, craving a good ol' stretch before starting the day. Before the feeling passed, I hopped out of bed and chose a morning routine to follow. Wow it was tough, I really noticed the difference after having let it slide for a few months, but it felt really great to get back on the mat. A real boost to start the day!

♥ The garden... Finishing this post off full-circle but I couldn't not mention all the wonderful moments spent in the garden over the last few days. On the Saturday, we cleared some of the weeds out of the multitude of pots left behind by the previous owner and the piles of leaves that had blown into the corners of the garden over the months that the house had been empty before we moved in. Next weekend we're hoping to get some more dry weather to pick up some bright blooms to plant in the pots beside our front door and cheerfully welcome us home each evening.

We didn't do much else work-wise in the garden over the rest of the weekend (although my husband did clean out the old bbq that had been left in the hope of more good weather to come) but just enjoyed having a space to sit out, read and chat. We sat outside drinking Pimms on Sunday afternoon, before retreating inside again for dinner as it was a little *too* hot, then took our tea outside again later. We were sitting there just reading and chatting, while our neighbour did the same next door with a visiting friend and her little dog just ran back and forth through the gate between our gardens, before settling down on her own little cushion on the floor. It was perfect. We did the same again on Monday but also took our breakfast out in the morning to enjoy the sunshine before the heat of the day. It was only three days but it felt like a proper break, it was magical.

♥ Do let me know what's made your week a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJoSamKerri, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiMartinaLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

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