South East Sicily boasts some of the most resplendent Baroque towns in the whole of Italy. The main towns mentioned below were all rebuilt in the baroque style after the terrible earthquake in 1693 that razed them to the ground. If Photographing architecture, bucolic scenes and street life inspires you, then go and discover these relatively little visited superb photogenic towns. Driving between the towns are superb landscapes with rolling mountains and valleys, planted with olive groves and beautiful dilapidated villas.
Leaving Syracuse the first port of call is the gorgeous Noto. It’s narrow streets are filled with exquisite facades opening onto a main street with several piazzas and churches. At dusk the many fine restaurants and bars were spilling over with people coming into town from the nearby beach resorts giving the place a festive feeling during the summer months. I like to use low shutter speeds with as as much depth of field as I can manage so that the buildings are sharp but the people blurred as they move. Many cameras can produce decent photos at fairly high ISO’s although there will be a little noise. I suggest carrying a monopod which is lighter and easier to carry than a tripod and is a useful tool in Sicily where these towns really come alive at night. A monopod is less intrusive, quicker to use and great for video too.
From Noto, which is really close to the coast we headed to Marzamemi, a wonderfully picturesque old fishing port on the Tyranean coast that used to be a famous place for catching tuna. Marzamemi offers numerous photo opportunities with its old fisherman’s cottages and pretty main square. It’s Tonarra (tuna processing plant) has been turned into an attractive store selling canned and bottled tuna and sauces and opens onto a highly rated fish restaurant offering seared fresh tuna overlooking the water. There are a number of ancient tonarras no longer in use, dotted all along the coast that make for interesting photos.
At the tip of Sicily we arrived at PortoPalo di Passocapero, quite a mouthful for a small place, and although the town is not particularly attractive, the coastline was pretty with it’s lighthouse and fishing boats drawn up on the sand, abandoned tonarra and small island across the bay. We left the Tyranean coast and headed back into the interior, where the superb baroque towns of, Scicli, Modica and Ragusa were waiting to be discovered.
It started raining heavily as we headed to Scicli which I think was perhaps my favourite of all and even the poor weather could not deny the beauty and exquisite stonework on some of its buildings. We defied the rain and decided to walk to the very top ofthe town, through narrow winding streets where behind many of the open doors were residents cooking, painting or even just sitting looking out. The people were very friendly and delighted that foreign visitors had come to visit their town and were happy to be photographed and told us where to go and what to see. There were some fantastic photographs to take from the top of Scicli, with all those rooftops shining after the rain.
Both Ragusa Superiore the upper town and provincial capital and Ragusa Ibla, the jaw dropping lower town make for wonderful photographs. It is here and in Scicli that many of the scenes of Inspector Montalbano were filmed. Take good shoes, water and carry your cameras comfortably as the towns are hilly and you will walk a lot!
These visits to the Baroque towns just fired me up to go further into central Sicily and see more, although we had yet to visit Modica. The Romans have always fascinated me so a visit to Villa Romana del Casale had to be made. We left early one morning and drove to Piazza de Armerina and onto Villa Casale. The views of the mountains and valleys were breathtaking, I kept wanting to stop and take pictures but we had much to see in a short time as we were returning to PortoPalo in the evening.
A photography tour could not encompass Villa Casale, as taking photographs was prohibited but it would certainly be worth the visit as this is one of the best examples of mosaiques in the whole Roman empire depicting wonderful scenes such as hunting and the ladies in bikinis that I tried to sneak a shot of with my I phone!
From Villa Romana del Casale we drove to Caltagirone, another lively Baroque town famous for its ceramics and extraordinary and extremely photogenic ceramic staircase. Any keen photographer could walk up and down it for hours waiting for the right ‘prop’ to walk by! Having taken a whole load of photos in minutes which is everything I tell others not to do, I realised that as the day wore on more locals were using the steps and there were heaps better pictures still to be taken. Do not run up to the top. The ceramics are such that to you need to shoot up or across but not down unless you just want a view.
On our way back to the south east corner where we were renting a small villa in an olive grove allowing us to relax from all our sight seeing and photography tours, we stopped in Modica, our last baroque town before heading across the straits of Messina to discover Reggio Calabria. Modica didn’t have the wow factor for me that the other towns had, but we did enjoy a fantastic dinner of local rabbit stew and the best cannoli I’ve ever eaten in a pretty restaurant opening onto the many steps of the old town.
Time to leave Sicily and cross the Straits of Messina to discover Reggio Calabria. I will be back!