Our first sight of Ragusa Ibla, the ancient heart of a town that is split in two halves, was breathtaking. The spectacular collection of tightly packed houses, churches and 17th century palaces cling impossibly to the sides of a steep hill. The baroque architecture, bathed in the early morning sunlight, is a magnificent sight. If there’s one thing the old town of Ragusa doesn’t lack, it’s a dramatic location. This extends to the hairpin bends of the road that plunges into the deep valley below, where the town’s car park is found.
This first sight of Ragusa is seared into my memory, yet in twenty-years time it isn’t the thing that I’ll most remember about the town. No, that accolade goes to the donkey salami we were served along with a glass of local white wine while we sat admiring the exquisite Cathedral of San Giorgio. Please don’t ask what it tasted like, I’m still trying to forget that I ate burro. Donkey features regularly on the menus of Ragusa, I drew the line at one restaurant which was serving a daily special of roasted donkey ribs.
Ragusa has an outstanding collection of restaurants, ranging from the Michelin-starred Duomo Ristorante to the more humble Enoteca Il Barocco, which is a wine shop with a good line in platters of local cheeses, meats and pickles. I would go as far as to say that Ragusa is worth visiting just to sample some of its restaurants. The €190 tasting menu at Duomo Ristorante was a bit pricey, but the chef has a second restaurant, I Banchi, which doesn’t require such deep pockets. The prize for ‘best pizza of the holiday’ goes to Ragusa’s Ristorante ll Barocco. Delicious.
We arrived in Ragusa Ibla after driving through the workaday modern town of Ragusa Superiore, which involved daredevil driving during Sicilian rush hour and a reasonable amount of ‘course correction’. This is a town of two halves, and after the dreary streets of Ragusa Superiore the sight of Ragusa Ibla, crowned by the dome of the Duomo di San Giorgio and the massive Universitario Della Provincia Di Ragusa, was special. Our next task was to locate our B&B amongst the maze of streets and steep stairways.
No one who isn’t Sicilian would ever want to try to drive in the streets of Ragusa Ibla, it is a terrifying prospect. So we abandoned our hire car in the municipal car park and set off to search out the Giardino Di Pietra, our B&B in a restored 18th century house run by the most recent generation of an old Ragusa family. We found it with relative ease, and had the delight of being driven back down to the car park in the owner’s tiny 1948 Fiat 500 to collect our bags.
I don’t typically make recommendations on this blog, but Giardino Di Pietra is so good it deserves a mention. Our room at the top of the house had fantastic views over the tiled roofs of the town towards the 18th century part of Ragusa Superiore, and was furnished with original art nouveau furniture. Better still, the breakfast of homemade jams and other local delicacies was the best of our trip. Elena, who runs the place, was fabulous. Infomercial ends.
Map in hand, we headed into the warren of streets to find lunch. A little like the Grand Old Duke of York of nursery rhyme fame, we marched up to the top of the hill, and then marched back down again, went around and around for a while, before eventually, and unexpectedly, landing in the Piazza Duomo, dominated by the magnificent cathedral and surrounded by baroque buildings. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be our first (and possibly last) encounter with donkey-based delicacies.
The exploration of the rest of Ragusa would have to wait for the afternoon.