A taste of southeastern Sicily - fresh swordfish in Donnalucata

The sea was tempestuous. Folds of teal green reared up then fanned into frothy pleats. We ventured in, one tentative step at a time, dragged forward by the underwater current and slammed backwards by the feisty white horses. Seaweed tangled around our legs - the water was a cobweb of reeds and seagrass, all captured during the freak Mediterranean cyclone that hit yesterday. If the sea looked excited, the quaint fishing village of Donnalucata in southeastern Sicily in Italy, on the outskirts of which we were staying, was serene.

This compact cluster of cubic fishermen's houses in golden limestone must have seen worse than that before. We'd been on the Italian island for a few days enjoying warm weather and lazy afternoons at the beach. Our apartment (Pitagora by Case Vacanze Pomelia - look it up if you fancy an inexpensive treat for two) was a dream - it had a terrace larger than the living space itself, fronted by glass panels overlooking the sea and nothing more. It was advertised as being 10 metres from the beach, which was not a lie - it was perhaps even closer.

Donnalucata was charmingly traditional, with no intrusive resort high-rises. It had a fish market, with fresh daily local catch - it was mostly swordfish for us, as it was the only catch that didn't require filleting, and utterly delicious. Apparently the only times the fish is not fresh is when the weather has been too bad for the boats to go out. There were also fruit sellers in little vans overflowing with aubergines, melons, peaches, limes and figs. Indeed, upon arrival I'd been surprised by the verdant landscape - a patchwork of olive groves and meadows of lime and Indian fig trees, as well as Opuntia cacti decorated with "prickly pears"; swathes of coastal reeds; and colourful flowers like bougainvillea.

It's perhaps not surprising that we didn't venture far during our week in Donnalucata. Beach days were just the thing. The sands were long-reaching, meaning shallow water, and I didn't spot a single jellyfish (always a concern of mine). Locals mingled with tourists (we were several times privy to wedding photos being taken on the beach), and young played with old.

We did drag ourselves away from time to time. We spent an afternoon at the gloriously windswept beach of Sampieri - a buttery swathe of sand bookended by a disused brick factory and a pretty village of pale yellow houses with forest green shutters. Another day we drove to Syracuse, a historic city with Ancient Greek ruins, Baroque piazzas and medieval lanes. Sadly it was something of a washout - it was the day the storm hit - and we found ourselves indoors watching a dire 3D "recreation" of the city during Ancient Greek times. Can you believe that its famous Parco Archeologico della Neapolis archaeological park was "closed because of the rain"? Just imagine how silly that sounded to British ears!

A more fulfilling history fix came courtesy of Ragusa, a beautifully preserved Baroque town that straddles two sides of a gorge. It's made up of two parts - Ragusa Superiore, which sits atop the hill in an organised grid of straight streets, and Ragusa Ibla. Further down the hillside, the latter collapsed after a major earthquake in 1693 and was later rebuilt on the same spot. It was like a film set waiting to be used: russet and lemon-coloured facades stacked atop one another - it was difficult to say whether the city planners started at the top or bottom. There were churches at every corner, but sadly nothing much of Sicilian life - not many people live there now.

We bidded adieu to Donnalucata with lunch at the fabulous Aquamarina, a hotel and restaurant that specialises in mariner cuisine and gives onto the sea. I enjoyed sea bass that must have been swimming in the Med that morning, and it was the most melt-in-your-mouth fish I have ever eaten. The waiter dished it up whole (eyes and all) but meticulously removed all the bones for me and presented it in neat little flakes of fish. It's not hard to find negative reports of Sicily as a flawed beauty, a place of contrasts - and while some of it is accurate (we noticed terrifyingly bad driving, ugly unfinished building projects and sad signs of poverty), our first week there showed me that it is well worth a visit. Especially in late September, when the temperatures are cooler and the place is all but free of people.
© Emmy in Switzerland | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig