Forget the flashy cities and tourist-bulging volcanoes and head east of Sicily where the streets are cobbled and the sweets are unforgettable.
It may be the largest island in the Mediterranean, but you can still drive the length of Sicily in three hours.
Despite this nugget of geographical trivia, when most people fly into Italy’s spicy sister, they flee to the capital of Palermo for its history and grandeur, Mt Etna for a bit of volcanic sightseeing, or Taorima for its picturesque seaside vibes. But hidden away in the region of Catania is Syracuse; a pretty town, once famous for housing Greek poets.
Its history, however, is just the beginning. What you’ll remember from a day there is the golden light, the baroque buildings, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat. Here’s how to spend a dream 24 hours in Syracuse.
8 am: Breakfast treats in Ortygia
You’re in Italy, which means sweets are not only acceptable for breakfast – they’re expected. Ortygia is a small, connected island in Syracuse which houses the historic centre. It’s just a short walk over the bridge to a romantic, stone-paved haven that has a similar vibe to Venice (but without the stink, and confusing streets). Here, you’ll want to head straight to Pasticceria Artale to order a breakfast cannoli with ricotta and pistachios. They’ll fill the shell with fresh ricotta while you wait/ drool and you’ll chase it down with an espresso, because, Italy.
9 am: Behold the baroque beauty
It wouldn’t be Italy if there weren’t a spectacular feat of architecture, and of course, a church. A short walk up from Artale, the grand piazza and Duomo in its distinctive baroque style will unfurl before your eyes, which looks particularly dreamy bathed in that distinctive Italian light. Wander around the square and admire the buildings (including the Palazzo Municipale and Palazzo Arcivescovile) that were once part of an ancient Greek acropolis, or head to the Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia to see an original Caravaggio.
12 pm: Stroll the markets and eat the best sandwich of your life
The daily produce market in Ortygia is exactly what you expect it to be: full of colour, smells and all the animated shouting and hand gestures. When you come to a small deli on the ocean side, with a long winding line of people you know you’ve arrived at Caseificio Borderi where the best sandwich of your life awaits. A Syracuse institution, it’s well worth the 15-minute wait, especially as the man behind the name – Andrea Borderi - feeds you delicious bites of deli-fresh handmade cheese while you queue.
1 pm: Take in a slice of history
Walk off that sandwich by heading down to the Temple of Apollo – the oldest in Sicily (dating back to 570 BC). If you haven’t had your fill with ancient ruins, the Archaeological Park on the main part of Syracuse is a 20-minute walk from here and houses the spectacularly preserved Greco Teatro. Built in 470 BC, you can still see parts of the stage where names like Sophocles showed their plays.
4 pm: Grab a granita
Sicily is the mother of many a delicious food, but visiting there without trying at least granita is a crime. Gelato you can have anywhere, but granita from the mothership is truly game-changing. Essentially, it’s like a creamy slushie; finely crushed ice mixed with real flavourings like pistachio, lemon, coffee or ricotta. Yes, it’s refreshing, and yes you totally deserve it after all that walking.
6 pm: Aperol, anyone?
Rest those weary feet with an Aperol Spritz, because, well you’re in Italy, and it’s aperitivo hour - it’d be rude not to. Back in Ortygia you’ll find Cortile Verga, set in the courtyard of an old palazzo, where you can drink, relax and enjoy a truly Italian moment.
8 pm: Eat like a Sicilian
Renowned for having some of the best quality cuisines in Syracuse, Don Camillo is a family-run institution which deserves its cult status. But, it’s not just a tourist trap either, as you’ll see by the many locals filling the seats. Housed in the remains of a collapsed church (destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1600’s) it not only has delicious food but an impressive list of (hundreds of) wines too.
10 pm: Roll back to your room at Musciara
Set on the oceanfront on the mainland of Syracuse, Musciara is a boutique hotel which was once a tuna fishery, but now has a modern Italian flavour and its own private beach. With each of the 17 rooms looking out to the sea, you can fall asleep to the sound of gentle waves lapping outside, and a new idea of what it means to have a full belly.