They tell of the immense effort of a people, their pride and victory over the disaster of the 1693 earthquake, with their yellow stone, brazen and seductive, turning golden in the blinding Sicilian sun, silhouetted against the cobalt blue sky.
This city seduces and bewitches – it preserves an ancient whiteness and a soft beauty, from white sheets, still warm from the flesh that has been wrapped in them, facing the golden hills that envelop the city, now interrupted here and there by the green patches of carob trees, by deep valleys grooved by torrents that on cool summer nights, perfumed with Mediterranean essences, send back the chattering of the waters with the croaking of the frogs that echo up to the halls of the great sandstone buildings.
The old state road crosses valleys and hairpin bends, climbs Ibla’s hills and encounters beautiful green woods, full of streams and farms, cliffs and quarries, ancient rock hypogea, such as the caves of the Santi and the Denari, the source of ancient legends of buried treasures.
A stop in delightful Monterosso Almo is a must. Already among one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, this town impressed the film director Tornatore so much that he set his “Man of the Stars” there.
The heart of the small town is a beautiful, well-kept square where life flows placidly and sleepily and people linger to talk with friends, as if it were an extension of the entrance to their homes, where the most deafening noise is made by the bells of the Church of San Giovanni, with its characteristic bell tower façade, and by the swallows.
Guided by the aroma of coffee and freshly baked cakes, we stop in one of the small bars in the centre. It’s impossible to resist the ricotta and cinnamon ravioli, capable of giving meaning to any distracted palate.
Leaving Monterosso, we find ourselves at a crossroads: on the right, the main road turns off towards the town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, known as the “Balcony of Italy” due to its perched position. The town, of ancient origins, owes its name to the feudal lord who had it as a fief in the 13th century, the then Count of Modica Manfredi Chiaramonte. The centre has a rich gastronomic tradition, ranging from the typical products of the peasant tradition to rich menus of delicious meats, served in small “masseria” restaurants or in small houses in the centre.
After lunch, of necessity virtue, it is possible to take a digestive stroll through the heart of the historic centre with its many historic churches and small museums.
The other street, the one on the left, instead takes us to the small town of Giarratana, a nativity scene town, whose characteristic historic centre, known as Cuozzu, comes alive with life, colours, sounds and flavours during the Christmas period, while the rest of the year it hosts a route of house museums of rural life.
The town is so small that we come through it in a couple of minutes. Here we stop at a bakery, inebriated by the scent of bread and homemade cakes. A few metres away is the entrance to the Calaforno Forest Park, a true prefiguration of Eden, with its forest of plane and pine trees, rivers, streams and waterfalls, mills and even a picnic area.
A few kilometres further on, we suddenly find ourselves on a small bridge between the blue of the sky and the blue of the lake! Here a characteristic reservoir called Lake Santa Rosalia, from a small country church nearby, has given some people the excuse to turn small country houses and farms into small agritourisms or restaurants, so this option would not have left me dry!
Through small gorges, sleepy old villas and luxuriant nurseries of Mediterranean essences and here, after a wide bend, we reach Ibla at last – Ragusa’s first district, almost a town in itself, an important part of the open-air set of the Il Commissario Montalbano TV series.
The dome of the Duomo towers over the roofs of the surrounding houses, its wide, gargantuan façade forming the backdrop to the square, which is reached after a maze of imposing and opulent palazzi.
Here we find the Circolo di Conversazione, an traditional elegant meeting place of the Ragusan nobility, then, to the right of the cathedral, Palazzo Donnafugata, still owned by the famous Arezzo family, with its small 19th-century theatre.
Then again, we admire the elegant architecture, at times excessive and “flamboyant”, of Palazzo Cosentini, with its “speaking” Baroque style, from which one of the ancient streets linking the old and more “modern” parts of Ragusa Superiore branches off.
But there are also the narrow streets, the low houses, the courtyards, the tangles of deserted dusty neighbourhoods with shuttered windows and patches of soapy water, pots of fragrant basil and geranium in front of doors, all basking in the sun. There is a stairway trail that, crossing the entire city, opens up to a broad sunny square and the composed grandeur of the staircase of the Chiesa del Purgatorio, or the Arab-Norman colours and forms of the Chiesa dell’Itria, with a dome whose shape and colours vaguely resemble a minaret. In every alley, never featureless, you can discover a small church or oratory, such as the ancient Santa Petronilla, or a Gothic portal, the last vestige of the ancient Church of St. George.
Then there are the airy Hyblean Gardens, which retain the ancient charm of the belle époque, where the appearance of ladies with dazzling parasols could appear at any moment in a natural trompe l’oeil, such as those adorning the rooms of the sumptuous and eclectic residence of the Arezzo family, an important local family related to the Paternò Castello family of the fief of Biscari, now named Acate. The summer residence of the Arezzo family, the Castello di Donnafugata, will soon come alive in the Costume Museum of its former inhabitants.
The province of Ragusa is varied, its plateaus, with green pastures in winter, dotted with deep karst valleys, sloping down to form a wide coastline of beaches with crystal clear waters. Its coastline extends seamlessly from Sampieri to Scoglitti, passing through Donnalucata and Puntasecca, renowned as the location of the famous Commissario’s house and the Caucana, an ancient Sicilian-Greek port, and Kamarina, an important Syracusan colony destroyed by the Arabs, bordered by an important archaeological museum that also enjoys a splendid view of the sea.
On the same splendid coast, the Randello Forest Reserve is bordered by Aleppo pine woods and Mediterranean scrub. Warm, crystal-clear waters and rich woodland vegetation, the sea can be reached almost by chance, crossing high dunes of fine sand.
The other two historic towns that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites (and home to Commissioner Montalbano) are Modica and Scicli.
In Modica, the spectacular stairway of the Church of St. Peter and the Cathedral of St. George, with its 250 steps, await us! At the top of which, after catching your breath, you can enjoy a splendid view of the city as far as the sea. Typical gastronomic specialities range from the renowned chocolate to the famous meat and chocolate impanatigghi sweets, the cinnamon biancomangiare, pistachio liqueur and freshly roasted Modican coffee! An explosion of flavours and fragrances.
Two other populous towns in the province of Ragusa are Comiso and Vittoria, the former home to a new airport, the latter famous for its vegetables. Both are worth a visit. Vittoria, with its chessboard layout, is the most recent in the province, reborn, like the others, after the great earthquake.
Here we begin our itinerary with a walk through the seaside village of Scoglitti, the sky clear over a sea that is often placid even in winter. We visit the archaeological museum, full of underwater treasures, which stands on a promontory of the ancient Greco-Roman colony.
In the evening, we return to the past in the art nouveau heart of the town, via Cavour and Piazza del Popolo, with its theatre, an extraordinary jewel of neoclassical art, named after Vittoria Colonna, the town’s founder.
In nearby Comiso, we discover its beautiful late-baroque churches, rich in works of art: San Biagio, Santa Maria delle Stelle. The mosaics of Roman baths have been found under Piazza Fonte Diana, testifying to the continuity of its history. Comiso is also worth a visit to get to know the places of a worthy representative of the “Southerness“, Gesualdo Bufalino, with whom we began this journey.