Day 17: Siracusa Pirates & Tranquil Resorts

After breakfast this morning we checked out of the hotel and moved on, as we were faced with the realization our days in Sicily weren’t limitless and there were still many areas we wanted to get to.  I must say, it took a couple meltdowns and internal struggles between my structured side and well-hidden laissez-faire side but I was beginning to really enjoy this unplanned, seat-of-your-pants travel system.  Maybe Jim was right.  Shhh.

Laundry day in Siracusa

Laundry day in Siracusa

After taking a few laps around Marina di Ragusa one last time we loaded up the car and were off to the city of Siracusa, which is located along the eastern coast.  Siracusa comes in a couple of parts, and the one we were aiming to see was the historical town center on the island of Ortygia.  Siracusa/Ortygia was, in its heyday, the largest city in the ancient world and has had Corinthian colonists, a Carthaginian battle of some sort, invading Romans, then the Byzantines got involved, the Arabs nosed in, next up were the Normans, Archimedes lived there at some point, yada yada yada, and before too long Jim was found masterfully stick-shifting his way past the modern day traffic madness and into a parking lot at the top of the island.  Ok, we were ready to go.

The.  Duomo.

The. Duomo.

Ortygia is a beautiful part of town, with Baroque architecture, impressive fountains, clean, narrow streets, wide piazzas, and surrounded by the Ionian Sea.   We loved it.  We ogled the fountains at Piazza Archimede before strolling around for a while, armed with a map from the TI office.  The stroll brought us to the Piazza del Duomo, so named because of the gigantically impressive Duomo (cathedral) plopped in the middle, and to the cleverly named Gran Caffe del Duomo for a coffee stop.  We sat and watched the world go by, oohing and aahing the cathedral and enjoying yet another gloriously sunny day.

Descendents of the Ancients

Descendents of the Ancients

Our next move was to walk much of the island’s perimeter, where we fell in love with the beauty of this town even more.  One place we passed was the Fonte Aretusa, a place where fresh water has been bubbling up since ancient times.   Ducks and fish now frolic in the water, surely amid ancient duck and fish poo.

Next we headed a couple blocks inland to the former Jewish neighborhood, where a Mikveh (Jewish ritual bath) lies underneath the Residence Hotel Alla Giudecca.  What is especially remarkable about this mikveh is it was only discovered in the 1980s when renovation work was being done on the building, and word on the street is it had been boarded up since the late 1400s, when the Jews were expelled from Siracusa and hid it right before leaving.  We stopped by the hotel to arrange for a tour, as the TI said they were every hour, on the hour, but the woman at the front desk said the next one wasn’t until 15:00, an hour and a half away.  No worries, we thought we’d take a boat ride around the island and then come back.

Cheese arancini

Cheese arancini

We traipsed back across the island toward a small pier from which to get a tourist boat ride, stopping for not one, but two arancini along the way.  They can be difficult to track down, as it appeared places only made a set number per day and when they were sold out that was it, but we persevered and rustled up a couple.  Jim got the ubiquitous “meat” and I had a four cheese.  Delicious.

The pirate and his seaworthy prison

The pirate and his seaworthy prison

Next up was to get tickets for the island boat ride that would lazily take us around the perimeter of Ortygia.  The woman at Blue Marine Excursion tried her best to get us to buy the Combo Ticket, which included a trip to the nearby caves, as well, but we only had time for the 45-minute Island Tour because we wanted to get back to the Mikveh before we had to leave.  We told her sorry, we simply don’t have the time, just the Island Tour, please.  Ok then, she said, here are your tickets (€10/each).  Shortly thereafter it came time to board the small-but-full boat, and we were off.  Straight to the caves.  Huh?  We are pretty sure what happened is she had sold others the Combo Ticket, which is why she tried so hard with us, and since it wasn’t particularly busy she didn’t want to engage another boat just for the two of us to go on the Island Tour.  So she threw us onto the 1 ½ hour Combo Tour, in spite of her knowing we had no time.


There we sat, held hostage at sea.  By a pirate.

Siracusa by sea

Siracusa by sea

The caves were mildly interesting, the cruise around the island was so-so, and in the end, we wouldn’t recommend either because you can get the same island views by walking the perimeter.  Plus, when you buy a ticket you won’t know where you’ll wind up.

Because the boat ride took twice as long as expected, and because we had wanted to get farther up the coast for our overnight stop, we were unfortunately unable to return to the Jewish Mikveh for a tour.  It was a disappointment, but the show must go on and that meant getting back to the car before our parking time expired and the authorities came after us.

We set our sights on the town of Giardini-Naxos, located an hour and a half north of Siracusa, and headed out.  No lodging arrangements had been made but we’d casually looked online that morning for a short list of options.  In our minds, Giardini-Naxos was a sleepy little town along the Ionian Sea with a pedestrian walkway, stretches of beaches, and maybe even gulls that tied ribbons in our hair.  In reality, while it is a small town, it is a very busy, congested, somewhat loud, and not all that visually pleasing town.  Or, rather, it wasn’t what we were looking for.

We had to drive the length of town a couple of times before we could figure out where our number one hotel choice was located and, more challengingly, find a parking spot.  Eventually we did both and went in to inquire about a room.  This place had been especially appealing to us because they advertised balconies overlooking the sea, but one point they failed to mention was from your balcony you had to look over the town’s gas station across the street, giving caution to not having your retinas seared out by the station’s bright sign, before your gaze met the sea.  This was definitely not for us.  There were no hair-ribbon-tying gulls here.

Balcony view from our new resort-y crib, where the sea meets the sky

Balcony view from our new resort-y crib, where the sea meets the sky

It was time for Plan B, and that was to just drive away.  We headed back south and found an enclave of resort-type properties, one of which was named Atahotel Naxos Resort.  It was a sprawling, well-maintained property with lots and lots of trees, flowers, four pools, restaurants, a bar, tennis courts, oodles of parking, a private beach, and a fantastic room with a balcony overlooking the compound and the sea.  And because it was end of season, we got a great rate.  This was for us.

We dropped our gear before wandering the property for a while and going to a nearby restaurant row for dinner.  We had a pretty mediocre meal at Café Sikelia before returning to the resort for a limoncello nightcap at the bar.  It was official, we were now resortists.

Leave a comment


  1. You didn’t get to see the Mikveh!?! That’s like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower; like going to London and missing Big Ben. Next time you go with me. I’ll show you my Roma, my Milan. And I’ll show you my Naples 🙂

    • howieroll

       /  November 3, 2013

      I know! And we will travel with you anytime, that is kind of you to offer to take us. And pay.


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