Sicily in December

Travelling in early December in Europe is a delight. Ten days in Sicily was no exception. Blue skies, no crowds, minimal tinsel, snow on Mount Etna and wonderful Unesco world heritage sites to visit. The island is much bigger than I had realised so we concentrated on the southern half. Flying into Catania, the holiday began with a stay in Syracuse, about an hour’s drive away. A very walkable city with glorious sea views and an amazing Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre. As the entire city is a World Heritage site, there are many other historical delights to uncover as you stroll around.

A great restaurant to try on the outskirts of Syracuse is L’Ufficio on Via Tripoli.

A dark chocolate lover, I had heard of the special chocolate made in Modica. We were just a few days early for their chocolate festival, but we did manage to see the preparations – a team painting a giant Pinocchio with real melted chocolate! The man in charge had come from Florence to oversee his creation.

If you are a fan of the tv series Inspector Montebaldo, then Ragusa and the surrounding countryside should trigger memories of scenes from it. Filled with baroque churches, it is another pleasant place to stroll through, find a cafe in the sun and people watch, amazed that you are sitting outside in December and warm. occasionally there are reminders that it is December – Santa costumes on ice cream holding cartoon characters!

On to Ragusa, to stay in an Airbnb situated underneath a cliff pinned with a hundred metal supports. The town had two distinct sides, old and modern. The old part was beautifully lit in the main square with falling snow projected onto the old buildings – another reminder that Christmas was not far away. Being off season, there are only a few restaurants to choose from, but the ones that are open are good. Sicilian red wine can be a bit hit or miss, but the waiters really tried to find one I liked before giving up and bringing one from Tuscany! A tiny food orientated Christmas market and a lovely park made it a lovely place to spend time in.

The next highlight was the Valley of the Temples. Set on a hill, so Valley is a misnomer, with the town of Agrigento behind it are the well preserved remains of seven Greek temples. Another Unesco world heritage site, this one helped by an Englishman, sir Alexander Hardcastle who funded many of the excavations. The weather was very atmospheric when we arrived.

Sightseeing always makes me hungry and Sicily has some lovely food to try. The arancini, balls of risotto rice filled with delicious ingredients, are a favourite.

The next Unesco world heritage site was one of the best Roman archeological sites I have visited. The Villa Romana Del Casale was thought to have been owned by a wealthy merchant who shipped the wild animals to Rome to be used in the gladiatorial contests in the coliseum. His Villa is decorated with the most detailed and vivid mosaics depicting the animal being caught and transported. It is also famous for showing the first example of a bikini worn by Roman women exercising.

Even in December, it was warm enough for a swim and the coastline is lovely to explore. The weather was great for walking too, but when we climbed Mount Etna, full winter gear and hiking boots were required. Ten days after our trip, Etna exploded and lava poured out from where we had walked in the snow. Taormina felt earthquakes and I contacted the Airbnb owner where we had stayed to check they were okay. Thankfully they were.

So wonderful historic sites, great food, towns full of atmosphere, museums, a volcano to climb but one final treat is in store if you visit and that is the delightful ceramica work found all over. So colourful and creative.

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