We are still in the south-eastern part of Sicily, and the next stop was Modica! A city where you can climb steps from dawn to dusk, find yourself on terraces with great views and eat chocolate made according to the secret recipes of the Aztecs…
Where is located and how to get there
Modica rises on slopes where the two rivers Pozzo dei Pruni and Janni Mauro once converged. They divide the plateau into four hills – Pizzo, Idria, Giganta and Monserrato. It is 120 km from Catania, and other interesting towns nearby are Ragusa (16 km), Scicli (10 km) and Noto (38 km). It was from the latter that we arrived, as the road between the two towns is one of the most picturesque we drove on in all of Sicily! We were accompanied by endless green hills with stone houses, olive groves and citrus trees…
We had planned to stay two nights so we could explore the area. We reserved an apartment with a beautiful view of the city, which was located above Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, but at the last minute we were informed of problems with the drainage, giving us the option of another accommodation, right next to the square. We agreed and thus ended up in a cold and inhospitable cave-like place (Agorà Rooms)… I don’t recommend it, but the area around the square is perfect to stay!
Modica also has a train station, which makes it possible to get there by train. It’s located at the end of the city, right next to the largest free parking Parcheggio gratuito. There are designated hourly parking spaces along the main street, and on our arrival on Sunday they were free and we managed to find one close to the house. In the following afternoon we had to pay for several hours, having to buy a coupon from some Tabacchi shops and place it on the dashboard of the car (maybe they have already modernized with machine payment).
First steps in Modica – Duomo di San Pietro Apostolo
We had two afternoons to explore Modica, and she definitely not the typical Italian town… In fact, it’s probably the most unique city I’ve visited in Italy. Apart from climbing until it takes your breath away, you won’t find the typical town plan dotted with piazzas here, but instead there are two main cathedrals (Duomos)!
We head to the Duomo di San Pietro Apostolo. The first temple on this site dates back to the 14th century, but like most buildings in the area, this one too has been subject to a lot of damage caused by earthquakes. It underwent several reconstructions, which added to it the typical late baroque forms and the wonderful staircase with statues of the twelve apostles. Inside, the church is no less impressive… The white columns are exquisitely decorated with colorful ornaments, and the ceiling, altar and organ are awesome.
Chocolate is the main association you can find for Modica! It’s believed he have been brought to the city by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The method of making is according to an ancient recipe from the Aztecs (this is how they prepared their cocoa drink xocolatl) – by coldpressing the cocoa, which preserves its main elements and gives the bitter taste of the local chocolate. The very consistency of the chocolate bars is much harder and grainy, it doesn’t break, but rather crumbles in your hands…
Right in front of the San Pietro church is the most popular place where you can try traditional Sicilian chocolate – Antica Dolceria Bonajuto! It’s the oldest chocolate producer in all of Italy! From 1880 to today, they make their chocolate products without deviating from the ancient artisanal method. She is exactly the reason why the chocolate in Modica gained world fame. We could have spent hours inside pampering our taste buds with all sorts of (strange to us) variations of chocolate – with cinnamon, vanilla, sea salt, hot peppers, lemon, cardamom and even marjoram… In addition to a huge amount of chocolates for gifts, we also left the store with cocoa beer!
Sweet view from Belvedere San Pietro
I’ve mentioned the climbs and stairs several times, so it’s time for take to them! Maybe because of the taste of chocolate left in our minds, but the “sweetest” view in Modica was the one from the terrace close to the store – Belvedere San Pietro. It looks directly opposite the church of the same name, with the clock tower of Castello dei Conti visible behind it, and the outline of the tower to the Duomo di San Giorgio can be seen to the left…
To Belvedere di San Benedetto
Our main goal was to watch the February sun change orange hues over the terraced city… So… straight up! “Modica is paradise… except for all the steps!”… You will hear this expression from many locals. Narrow streets and stairs lead us to the desired view… The distance between the two locations takes about 10 minutes… Arriving at the cacti, you are almost at the right place…
More about Modica
Modica is another of the towns in the Val di Noto valley that suffered from the great earthquake of 1693 and has been renovated anew in a beautiful late baroque style! It’s divided into upper (Alta) and lower (Bassa) town. Some of the hillside houses, literally side by side, are natural extensions of caves inhabited for millennia! For many years, the city was the 4th most populous city in Sicily, having a huge economic and cultural influence.
💡 This unique architectural appearance, where dwellings in prehistoric caves and exquisite baroque creations are intertwined in one, brings Modica a well-deserved place on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
To watch the hues of the city change from orange to purple until only the lights of the street lamps remain… a magical experience! The benches of the Belvedere di San Benedetto are the perfect place for that. Here you understand why Modica is called “the city of two cities” and how narrow the streets between them really are… Most of the buildings look like LEGO pieces, neatly arranged on the opposite hill and interrupted in places by wonderful baroque figures, such as the Duomo di San Giorgio. We had left her for a tomorrow visit, but we couldn’t wait to pass by her in the evening too…
Dinner at I Lupini
It was a long day… It started with heavy rain in Syracuse, passed through Noto and ended with a beautiful sunset in Modica… We couldn’t wait to enjoy something delicious for dinner! This time we were lucky and the place we had targeted worked. Right below our apartment, literally in a garage, it was I Lupini. It was a narrow space with many small tables and a large showcase with fresh fish (it’s now in a new location and more spacious).
A woman took fish home and it was our turn… The menu on the board wasn’t up to date, but the boy very kindly explained to us that he could cook us something from today’s catch, and we decided to trust him. We were alone all the time, he cooked for us at the moment and we felt perfect! So we got an improvised three-course menu – sandwich, risotto and fried fish. In addition with a glass of wine and beer, we paid about 20 euro!
The main street
After a flood in 1902, a decision was made to urbanize the beds of the two rivers, and this is how today’s favorite place for the city’s guests to walk – Corso Umberto I – appeared. It’s surrounded by wide sidewalks, numerous restaurants, gelaterias and various shops. After visiting Scicli and Ragusa, our second afternoon in the city started right here…
We didn’t get to try Cafe Adamo’s popular gelato, but from the day before we were convinced that one of the most enjoyable things to do in Modica is to taste chocolate! This led us to Antica Dolceria Rizza dal 1935 to taste more interesting flavors. The Cas del Formaggio cheese shop is another place to indulge your taste buds, browse a variety of local delicacies and try Sicily’s popular caciocavallo cheese.
Apparently the tasting amounts of chocolate weren’t enough for us, so we headed for a large dose of it and an afternoon coffee at Caffè dell’Arte. Very nice atmosphere, great service and fresh pastries. The price of a cappuccino was 1.50 euro! It’s another must-try in Modica!
The symbol of Modica – Duomo di San Giorgio
One of the most impressive baroque cathedrals in Sicily! This is how we can describe Modica’s Duomo di San Giorgio, an exquisite symbol of the Sicilian Baroque. And the facade, with its imposing 62-meter tower, detailed wavy elements and distinctive copper color, has become the most recognizable sight of the city. The picturesque staircase is a kind of connection between Bassa and Alta and leads to the five entrances of the temple. Admittedly, I was expecting simple and boring interiors from the cathedrals of Sicily, but what I have seen so far has fascinated me! Beautiful gold detailing adorns the 22 pillars of the interior and complements almost every other element of the interior…
A city with two patrons
The existence of two main cathedrals incredibly leads to the veneration of two saints, in this case St. Peter (San Pietro) and St. George (San Giorgio). We know very well that in Italy religion is something very sacred, leading at times to fanaticism… Especially in the South! So the city is divided into two communities, each claiming its own saint to be the official patron of the city. And even if they have learned over the centuries to live with their different views, the official celebrations on the days of the saints don’t pass without increased control to avoid possible clashes…
View of the roofs of Modica from Belvedere Pizzo
We decided to treat ourselves to another view of Modica’s rooftops… this one from Belvedere Pizzo. We head up through the alleys behind the Duomo and follow the signs for the popular terrace, but keep an eye on the phone. The mazes of the upper city can confound any GPS… There were times when we definitely had no idea where to go. Around 20 minutes later, we were already on the benches with a view of the entire city… It was blowing wildly and we barely got close to the railing, but you wouldn’t know that from the pictures! 😀
Dinner at La Contea
The descent was definitely easier… We were ready for wine and delicious pizza! We went to one of the preferred streets for spending the evening – Via C. Grimaldi. We had chosen the cozy restaurant La Contea. It’s popular with both locals and tourists. Arriving just before 8:00 PM, we found ourselves to be the first visitors of the evening. In many places in Sicily it struck us that the locals eat later. So… very hospitable attitude, delicious food and low prices. Pizzas range between 6-10 euro and a liter of draft wine is 6 euro!
For a final
Modica may not be to everyone’s taste… It’s different… but somehow pleasantly different! We didn’t regret choosing to settle here for two evenings to explore the surrounding area. One whole day is quite enough to be able to see everything more interesting. Now we were on our way to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and the west coast of Sicily…