Narrow streets full of history and tradition, numerous baroque churches and palaces and a setting that makes you stop and stare.
This is Ragusa.
South eastern Sicily is peppered with gorgeous old baroque towns; others like Modica, Noto and Scicli which, sadly, we never got to see. Limited time and having to deal with infrequent local buses stood in our way, although if we had a car it would have been much easier.
The town of Ragusa is divided into two – Ragusa Superiore (the new town) and Ragusa Ibla (the old part) – and as lovely as it would be to stay in Ibla, the prices are significantly higher; especially when we were there during peak times in mid-August.
Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista
Had the majority of Italy not closed up shop and left town for a beach or island somewhere, the town would have had more things open and a lot more life. Plenty of closed restaurants, a rather desolate Piazza San Giovanni and not a great deal to do in Ragusa Superiore.
You can’t miss the stunning Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista that looms over the piazza, and a perfect way to take it in is whilst lunching at Senapé Café opposite it.
Sit outside on the breezy terrace or inside air-con comfort and take advantage of their lunchtime menu. My tongue did backflips over the divine spaghetti vongole (8.5), and despite the filling of the ravioli di ricotta (6) being quite sweet, it was still rather tasty.
Piazza San Giovanni
Senape Café – Piazza San Giovanni 1
Tinchitè – Via Sant’Anna, 92
My favourite place to eat in Ragusa – so good and convenient that we returned a second time – was Tinchité. It’s a lovely trattoria with deck seating on the street, tables inside a slightly retro dining room, and even more spilling down steps at the rear.
My faves – the tagliolini al battuto del mastratto (basil, caciocavallo cheese, ricotta, almonds, potatoes & thyme; 6) and those gorgeous polpette al sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce; 5). Very nice house vino, too. They also do a 7-dish €20 tasting menu.
Another one worth trying is Trattoria da Luigi, not too far from Piazza San Giovanni. Given the few tables in this place, getting one is luck of the draw. Unless you’ve booked and not just rocked up, as we did.
Ignore the sterile surroundings and focus on the friendly service and homestyle food. Additional to the regular menu is a hand-written daily supplement with many tempting specialties. That’s if you can decipher the barely legible writing. I had the spaghetti alla carrettiene (lemon & chilli; 7)
Trattoria da Luigi – Corso Vittorio Veneto, 96
Now this is what people come here for – Ragusa Ibla. This UNESCO site was virtually destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 – a quake that levelled much of southeast Sicily – but it emerged from the ruins in a baroque outfit; all of which we see today.
There’s no real plan to the town other than streets that follow the gradient of the hill on which it sits. Narrow passages, piazzas, small squares and blind corners make up this gorgeous labyrinth that rises from the Irminio river valley.
Duomo of San Giorgio
The Duomo dominates the centre of Ragusa Ibla; looming over Piazza Duomo like an elegant baroque wedding cake. Shops and cafés line the piazza, selling handpainted ceramics unique to the region, specialty cheeses, salumi, olive oil and some very nice gelato.
Be sure to stop in to Gelati DiVini where you can sample olive oil gelato, or a some made with vino like bracetto or moscato. They sell local wine and liqueurs, preserves and artisanal chocolate too.
At the east end of Ragusa Ibla is Giadini Iblei, a lovely public garden dotted with fountains, statues and churches, and the view of the surrounding valley from its eastern terrace is spectacular.
The best thing about Ragusa Ibla is simply getting lost in its medieval passages. You’ll discover grand old palazzos, peer into residential areas, take in the gorgeous flowering wisteria and bougainvillea and appreciate the wonderful small businesses dotted about.
AST bus runs from Palermo to Ragusa at 8.50am and takes just over 3½ hrs. Buy your tickets one or two days in advance as they don’t tend to sell them on the same day. Cost is €13.50 per person. Check the Palermo map for bus station location.