From Palermo to Siracusa (Syracuse in English), Alex and I took a bus for about 12 Euros per person. The journey was roughly 3 hours across the island and we made one pitstop along the way. The bus dropped us off about a 20 minute walk from our hotel located on the island of Ortigia (Ortygia). Ortigia is a small island and also the historical center of Siracusa, where the majority of the city’s main historical landmarks and attractions can be found so it made the most sense for us to stay there.
Where to Stay
It was incredible being in Ortigia during the tourism off-season. It felt at times like we had the city to ourselves! Because it was off-season and lodging prices were much lower, it wasn’t unrealistic for us to spend our two nights, one of which being our 4th anniversary, at a beautiful hotel. We stayed at the Royal Maniace Hotel located right at the tip of the island. Our room on the 3rd floor of the hotel had the nicest view of anywhere I have ever stayed. There was a small balcony overlooking the sea with two chairs so we could go out and read in the sun and take in the glorious view of the sea.
Where to Eat
MOOON (Move Ortigia Out of Normality)
We stumbled upon this fancy yet light and inviting restaurant and it did not disappoint. MOON serves upscale vegan Italian food. I can easily say it is the best vegan meal I have ever had, and perhaps unlike most, I have had my fair share of vegan food. Our server was incredibly friendly and the food was prepared beautifully. I had a pasta with a bit of seaweed and Alex had carbonara-both were excellent choices! Half way through our meal a pianist came in to play some classical songs even though there was only one other occupied table in the restaurant. Whether you have a plant-based diet or not, this place is certainly worth a meal!
This wonderful restaurant is a Michelin Guide restaurant, meaning that while it does not have any Michelin stars (although it should have one!), the Michelin company recommends it as an excellent choice. Regina Lucia is where Alex and I ate for dinner on our 4th anniversary and we definitely did it big! The dining room, which is a combination of both very rustic and modern-chic in its decor, was entirely empty as it was January and off-season and a weekday. When we sat down we were greeted with some free champagne and a free appetizer. We ordered wine of course and what the menu said was a 5-cheese platter that ended up being 8 different cheeses. For our entrees I had ravioli stuffed with eggplant and Alex had linguine with a cream sauce and a lot of different seafood. Unfortunately we were physically unable to eat anything else after that so we had to skip dessert. Regina Lucia is a restaurant as well as an experience I will never forget!
This restaurant has delicious pizzas and a couple different beers on tap. The decor is zany with a lot of funky black and white patterns adorning the walls and tabletops. Because the pizzas were so cheap we just assumed that each one was individual-sized and ordered two. In reality we could have happily shared one but it was just as well to take the remaining almost entire pizza back to the hotel to eat the next day. All in all great pizza for a low price and some draft beer although the beer was nothing special.
At first Viola seemed like it might be a chain because their logo seemed so professionally designed and minimalistic. However, as far as I could tell it is a unique and local business to Siracusa. It was a perfect place to go for a glass of wine (or espresso) and sit in their primarily outdoor seating area. The house wine was about 3 or 3.50 Euros each and came with a large array of snacks including some spicy rice crackers, peanuts and some type of puff-pastries.
Day 1 in Siracusa
The first thing we did after walking from the bus area (there isn’t exactly a station) to Ortigia, was drop our bags off at the hotel and go straight towards Piazza Duomo for a cappuccino. The weather was amazing, it was difficult to believe it was January! It was sunny both days we were there and in the high 60s-low 70s. Sitting in the piazza was perfect. We just people-watched and looked across the square at the gorgeous cathedral. After sitting in the sun for a good while we headed to a vegan restaurant called MOON near our hotel. Definitely the best vegan meal I have ever had and one of the best meals I had in Italy.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking all around the Island and later we split a gelato brioche sandwich with coffee gelato. It’s basically an ice cream sandwich but inside a soft and lightly sweetened brioche roll. I definitely crave them all the time now, I guess that means I will have to go back to Sicily soon.
After relaxing at the hotel for a bit, reading etc. we went out that evening for aperitivi. I got a negroni with Prosecco and Alex ordered his usual- a standard negroni (Campari & Gin).
To celebrate our anniversary we had the fanciest dinner we have had thus far in Europe. The restaurant, Regina Lucia, was located right in the Piazza Duomo. We had the most fabulous night and we couldn’t have planned a more perfect way to celebrate our 4 year anniversary.
Day 2 in Siracusa
We woke up at a reasonable time the next morning and although the we hadn’t expected it, a free breakfast buffet was included with the hotel. Alex happened to check the reservation just before we were about to leave the hotel to explore.
After enjoying some cheese, fruit, pastries and a cappuccino from the buffet, we headed to a really cool outdoor market where we sampled a few things and made friends with the owner of a sandwich shop who gave us some homemade smoked mozzarella. All the people were so friendly and it was fun to hear the stall workers yelling and whistling to get people to buy their products.
Afterwards we went to tour the Castello Maniace where tickets were 2€ each. There were almost no tourists and the majority of the time we were by ourselves. The castle is on the very tip of the island so there are some beautiful views of the sea and of the bay looking back. Since the weather was so pleasant it was easy to spend a couple hours there just hanging out. We were hoping there would be a nice area to sit and watch the sea while we read, but most of the views required peering over the tall castle walls. Instead we left the castle and took our books down the coast line to an accessible rocky area where we joined some locals sitting on the rocks. We sat in the sun for a while reading our books while some others went swimming. It wasn’t quite hot enough for me to be convinced to swim because it was pretty cool in the shade.
On the way back to our hotel we picked up some beers and a baguette to eat with the leftover cheese we had taken home from the restaurant the night prior. The rest of the afternoon we took it easy, relaxing in our hotel. We were on vacation after all.
For a view of the sunset, we sat outside and had an espresso along the water at a bar/restaurant. With some time to kill before Italy’s late dinner time, we enjoyed a glass of wine outside at VIOLA, a small bar/coffeeshop. Then we walked around and looked at all the touristy shops. Most things were overpriced but I did buy some Sicilian pasta to take home.
Our last morning in Siracusa we enjoyed the buffet breakfast once more and then walked off of Ortigia and back to the mainland of Siracusa to catch the bus to Catania, the last stop of our vacation. The bus to Catania came every hour and the bus we caught at about 11am was not even a quarter full of passengers. The tickets were also less than 6€ each.
Siracusa/Ortigia was certainly the most relaxing place we visited on our Italian vacation. The weather was unbelievably pleasant and it was so difficult to leave. It was nice having the island practically to ourselves because the shops and restaurants were all still open but we could guarantee that there would be available tables at any restaurant we went to during prime meal times. It was difficult to imagine how differently Ortigia might look in the summer months with its narrow, winding streets teeming with tourists. The island is not very spacious so too many tourists could potentially make for a claustrophobic experience. I knew embarrassing little about Siracusa/Ortigia before visiting, but learning of its ancient history has been fascinating. In short, Siracusa was founded by the Ancient Greek Corinthians and Teneans and was the same size as Athens in the 5th century. The city saw many different periods of rule throghout its history and is mentioned in the Bible as Paul the Apostle stayed there.