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Modica

Sicily

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Pips on the wedge opposite

Picture a pomegranate chopped clean down the middle and the halves wedged apart. That’s Modica. 

 

My particular pip was perched on the western ridge, with juicy views from its balcony across to the wedge opposite.

 

At least there would have been views, but cool fog from the Hyblaen Mountains had rolled in overnight, cloaking everything. With the first glimmer of morning sun, Modica gradually began to loom out of the haze. The transient mist was no match for the piercing sun and soon houses high up in Modica Alta were glistening like pomegranate jewels. Within minutes, only a few whisps lingered down in the valley, one smudging the Duomo di San Pietro Apostolo. Old Saint Peter was having none of it, sending out a reverberating peel of bells to shoo away the last of the vapours and usher Modica to morning prayer.

Modica entirely ignored the call and carried on peacefully with its morning, the stillness punctuated only by the sharp rasp of a distant scooter and the grumble of cement mixers revving up reluctantly for the day’s toil. (Well, more like half a day, Guvnor).

I took my breakfast under the serene shade of an olive tree, in a sliver of garden perched high up amongst the pomegranate seeds, commanding hard-to-believe views of the townscape. Today’s juice, appropriately, was pomegranate and melon, home-made with fruit that had fallen in the garden, accompanied by a slice of tomato and ricotta pie, also home-made. The bread and jam was, you’ve guessed it, fatta in casa, as was the apple cake. And no Nespresso pods were harmed in the making of my cappuccino. The whole experience encapsulated slow-living.

 

In case you haven’t realised it yet, you need to wake up in Modica. And you need to experience Casa Talia. Not so much a hotel as a cluster of rescued and re-imagined stone dwellings. My modest lodging had once housed a whole family, with space for their donkey too. Those four sturdy legs, by the way, marked the family out as distinctly upmarket, affording them easy access to the market below, and more importantly, back up again. Today the room is all rustic chic; rust and cyan patterned tiles, mixed with rusting steel and polished 

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Slow-living encapsulated

concrete (of course).

Marco, owner and architect of this whole conception sits under the same olive tree in his garden, savouring the same breakfast spread. I never saw him anywhere else. (Never saw him move, in fact). If you’re lucky he’ll tell you the story of his little project, arriving on the bus with nothing, slowly and artfully piecing his home together from the seeds of an idea to a blossoming boutique business. Soon there’s to be a wellness room and an infinity pool. Although, even without them, I’ve never felt so well or so infinitely happy. 

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The Duomo di San Pietro being roundly ignored

My one and only frustration was that I simply couldn’t capture the perfection of the view with my deficient watercolour sketches. Must try harder (and stay longer).

 

Time slid by like honey here. It felt sweet and languorous. But soon it was late, and I had a whole pomegranate to explore!

 

Modica is the historical capital of the Province of Ragusa.  Many more people visit nearby Ragusa, and so they should, for its gravity defying aspect, its Mediterranean hued accents, it’s majestic Duomo and its 2* Michelin restaurant. That leaves Modica and its special charms less well trodden.

 

Modica’s two claims to fame are, incongruously: chocolate and Quasimodo. Not Victor Hugo’s celebrated Notre Dame hunchback, but Nobel Prize winning Italian poet Salavatore. And certainly not the proverbial Dairy Milk: Modica chocolate deserves a full paragraph all to itself.

If you’re particular to something chocolatey, you’ll love this particular treat. Even if not, it’s worth knowing that Modica’s unusual recipe contains no added fat, only the cocoa butter found naturally in cocoa beans. It’s cold-worked so sugar crystals remain whole, adding texture and retaining all the bean’s benefits. Dark and flavoured with citrus fruits, spices and modern marketing concoctions like salt, chilli and espresso, the result is somewhere between a Toblerone in texture, Lindt in darkness and Old Jamaica (remember that?) in flavour. If you can’t manage a trip to Modica any time soon, a click or two online can deliver you a taste.

It turns out chocolate came to Modica in the sixteenth century, during the 200-year Spanish occupation (the original recipe is Aztek). That reign was ended by those notorious marauders, the Austrians. (History at school never had this many surprising twists!).  

 

Not that there’s much lasting Spanish influence, beyond the cocoa concoction. Modica was decimated in an earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in Baroque style. This lends it a mixure of imposing and ornate, with the humble and unpretentious. With a UNESCO listing to boot. 

 

Lower down in the valley is more Baroque, but make the climb up the slopes to Modica Alta and it all becomes distinctly rudimentary. Both styles are ripe for restauration and boutique-ification, hence a proliferation of cement mixers, mini-diggers and those snaking, yellow pipe things. Time lingers poignantly here, along with the ochre textures and fine details, so whilst there’s progress afoot, there isn’t dramatic change.

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Humble and unpretentious, ripe for boutique-ification

On foot is the only way to head for dinner. There’s a particular pleasure in descending (without donkey) through the twisting steps, tapering lanes and improbable archways to be deposited amongst the buzz of the high street, just in time for aperitivos. The food options range from faithful to fancy, with a recent proliferation of ‘street food’ – Italy being traditionally renowned for its street food!

 

I’ll be back in a year or two to check on developments.

 

I imagine Marco will still be found holding court in his breakfast spot.

The Breakfast Spot

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Ragusa and Modica snippets

Green door

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In Balance

A Few Links and Practicalities

(Just sharing the love. I absolutely don’t get paid for these.)

 

Casa Talia; www.casatalia.it/en/

 

Accursio; www.accursioristorante.it/en/

Modica’s Michelin starred restaurant. An experience more than just a meal. Definitely recommended if your budget will stretch.

 

Radicci; www.accursioradici.it

This is Accursio’s diffusion line osteria. Less pricey and less petit fours, just honest Sicilian cooking. On balance I think I enjoyed it more than Accursio, if that were even possible.

 

Rappa; really cool wine bar in Modica Alta.  Fortunately, after a couple of glasses of crisp white from the Etna slopes, it’s all downhill from there.

 

Raro; www.raromodica.it/#/

Just a run of steps up from Casa Talia, this place was closed for holidays the week I was there, unfortunately, but it certainly looks the part.

 

Temperatures were in the upper twenties, pushing 30 in mid to late October, which was a delight. If you came closer to full summer you might never leave that pool Marco is promising.

 

Modica is about a two hour drive from Catania and its airport. Good in combination with other stops, like Syracuse or Noto. 

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Don’t miss;

Ragusa warrants a write up on its own, but I only visited on day trips, which breaks my unwritten rule of full immersion. Besides, the best Ragusa hotel is in Modica (see above). Ragusa’s a short but dramatic drive from Modica. Be careful though, when you turn the last hairpin and catch your first glimpse of Ragusa’s vertiginous sprawl, you may struggle to stay on the road.

 

Associazione FIAT 500 Modican Club.

You certainly won’t miss this convoy of brightly coloured Cinquecentos thundering past. Well, as much as their 500cc engines can thunder. Better still, join a tour yourself. Thankfully, someone does the driving for you.

e-mail: tour500@modican-club.com

 

The climb up to Modica Alta. Most people don’t do this. There are buses, and those silly tourist train things. But picking your way up random steps to the Belvedere Pizzo, helps you experience the bones of the place.  And the sense of reward at the top is priceless.

 

Granite. Not the rock. The sorbet. (Pronounced graaa-knee-tay).

But this is so much more than a sorbet (to paraphrase Rowan Atkinson’s wrapping patter in Love Actually). It's whipped until it's creamy. To be fair, granite isn’t exclusive to Modica, but it’s as essential to the Italian experience as good cappuccino. Both thankfully are readily available.

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