GOLDEN DAY FORTY-THREE: Enjoy Ragusa Ibla with Jann Huizenga
I first encountered award-winning writer/photographer Jann Huizenga years ago when a friend mailed me one of her beautiful travel articles that was published in the New Mexican.
Jann’s story was about the Val di Noto–an area of southeastern Sicily that’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’d become enchanted with the place while on a Backroads biking trip–oohing and aahing over its fields of wildflowers and herbs, hills of almond and olive trees, and best of all its villages: Ragusa Ibla, Modica, and Noto–which are among Sicily’s many hidden treasures– fabulously adorned with stunning Sicilian baroque architecture.
Jann first visited the area in 1990, when it was rundown and virtually undiscovered by tourists. Ragusa Ibla (in her words) “cast a spell on her”–so much so that in 2007 she bought a place there.
I kept Jann’s story in my Sicily file for years and was so happy to recently rediscover her through her Baroque Sicily blog–which celebrates her passion for the Val di Noto with gorgeous photo essays, recipes and travel tips . I’m so grateful she’s generously come aboard to share with us her take on a Golden Day in Ragusa Ibla:
8am Let’s jump-start our morning with a Sicilian sugar rush at Donnafugata Bar (Piazza Pola). In warm weather, Carmelo the Barista will bring us a typical summer breakfast of almond granita and brioscia.
Or a double espresso and brioscia oozing pistachio cream, freshly made with nuts from the slopes of Etna.
9am We pop into the Duomo San Giorgio to admire the light filtering in from the 1820 neoclassical cupola (inspired by the Pantheon in Paris).
The splendid baroque church itself dates from the mid-1700s, rebuilt, along with the much of the village, after the 1693 earthquake that leveled Southeast Sicily. There’s a little museum attached to the church.
10am Ready? We’re going on an urban hike. We wend our way through medieval lanes, marveling at the overlay of 17th-century baroque style.
We arrive at Piazza della Repubblica.
There are some churches on this piazza—tiny Ibla has dozens—but it’s Santa Maria dell’Itria (off to the right and up a dozen or so steps) that catches our attention for its golden baroque beauty and five interior altars.
After a quick spremuta (fresh blood orange juice) at the kiosk on Piazza della Repubblica, we’re ready to scale Via Scale. Up up up we go, come on, only about 240 steps to go.
We’re climbing right through the old Jewish quarter. Yes, it’s steep and our hearts are thumping to beat the band, but forza, forza—it’s worth the view from on high.
We catch our breath, ooh and aah, and snap a few photos. We’re more than halfway to Upper Ragusa now, so the shoppers among us continue on up. The rest of us skip back down, stopping in Santa Maria delle Scale, a church so atmospheric it makes our eyes water.
1pm Stomachs growl. We opt to have lunch outside in Ibla, either at Trattorie Bettola (where we choose tagliatelle alla Bettola) or under the grape arbor at La Rusticana (where we order the grilled pesce spada, swordfish).
3pm The hike, the food, and the sun have drained us. We close the shutters and sink into bed, along with five million Sicilians.
4pm We wake with a single obsession: gelato. And we know where to go: Gelati Divini , on Ibla’s Piazza Duomo. We agonize over flavors: Fennel? Carob? Aztec chocolate? Orange blossom? The owner, Rosario, lets us sample them all. We settle on a combo of rose petal and jasmine.
6pm We join the little crowd for the evening passeggiata along Ibla’s main drag. We stop at the Circolo di Conversazione, the aristocrats’ club, and try to get inside for a look-see. Right across the way is the fishermen’s club. (Sicily is still quite divided along class lines.)
We browse through the lace shop and stroll through the palm-lined Ibla Gardens.
8pm Chef Ciccio Sultano, seen here with his bunch of parsley, is perhaps Sicily’s most famous of chef. We splurge at his 2-Michelin-star restaurant, Il Duomo , ordering one of the amazing tasting menus. When we trip out three or four hours later, the village is magically lit up.
Where to stay in Ragusa Ibla:
For a hotel, check out the Locanda Don Serafino, an upscale grotto. I can also recommend two B&Bs: Caelum Hyblae—a pretty place with a rooftop terrace (ask for the room with the view of the cupola) or for a real deal, there’s Le Chicche next door, where a single with a certain Old World charm, big breakfast, and use of a kitchen won’t exceed €35 euro (bargain and refuse the room on the ground floor).
Grazie Jann – I’m ready to pack my bags!