Scicli, the lesser known of Sicily’s Unesco World Heritage baroque towns, on a first weekend of spring was sheer joy. Locals and the scarce tourists like ourselves out and about enjoying the sun’s warmth after what seems like a month of non-stop rain in Sicily, and here in Malta too; a real ‘diluvio’ as our landlord Guglielmo said. We were barely a night in this find of a town but as the photos here show, it was a real delight to discover. I’ll let them do the talking and pick up my narrative further down, but suffice to say that this trip, a mere one-hour hop for us from Malta to our neighbouring island and country, is one I will repeat, spring, summer or even in ‘diluvio’ season. Even though I have a baroque church within eyeballing distance as I write this, somehow Sicilian towns, for all their familiarity and similarity to ours in Malta, do seem different. Scicli was a weekend world away!
All images © Liz Ayling 2015
While well-known Noto further up the coast to the North gets the tour buses all year round, and Modica and Ragusa Ibla also their fair share of visitors, smaller, quieter, and somewhat simpler-for-it Scicli is off the radar in low season. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in its vignettes of pure Sicilian life – think lots of washing lines in your face (literally in our case as we ducked under three to make it to our ‘Dammuso’ door at the end of the alley). And also lots of old men in flat caps gesticulating and chatting animatedly in the piazza!
We’ve toured a good few Sicilian town and hilltop villages in the interior and many do have a lost, desolate feel. Scicli in contrast, even on an average weekend at the end of February, was quite bustling with a ‘movimento’ all its own. Nothing flash or fancy, just a nice busy feel with locals out popping into shops, making pit stops for an obligatory espresso or pacing slowly up and down the main square on Saturday night and Sunday morning for their passeggiata.
Scicli is famed for its role as a backdrop to various scenes in the long-running Italian TV drama ‘Commissario Montalbano‘, filmed for Rai and also syndicated on the BBC for several years. Montalbano’s ‘headquarters’ in the imaginary town of Vigata are shot in Scicli. I’ve not seen the series but now intend to attempt to read the novels (in the original Italian) by Andrea Camilleri on which it’s based. Nothing like a reason to practice my Italian!
Where to Eat in Scicli
As you’re here for foodie reasons, you’re probably wondering what we ate and where. The first night we were so tired having been up since 4am – and awake long earlier – to catch the catamaran from Malta, that we didn’t have more than an average pizza at the first place we came across. Sicilian cuisine is of course amazing but not that particular pizza and steak. The next day, we discovered Busacca, even closer to our holiday home door! It is set in a square overlooking the huge and beautiful Chiesa del Carmine. The caffe’ cum pizzeria seems to the mainstay of life in Scicli judging by the throngs, and it holds literary events too. Next time…!
I will mention the two places we just about had time to eat at and well. The first shot of sunshine meant we were more inclined to roam around than huddle in restaurants. If you do chance upon Scicli in any Sicilian travels, then don’t miss Pasticceria Basile on the outskirts of town, around a 10 minute walk straight up Corso Garibaldi (every Italian town has one of those!) from Piazza Italia, the main square. Basile has delectable cannoli, tiramisu and cassata, along with an array of piped, almond biscuits dotted with cherries or laced with almond essence and sometimes chocolate too. The pasticceria is a take-away but you can prop yourself at a bar table with a cappuccino. I bought local honeys of thyme, bitter orange and carob as well as a Basile speciality of dried orange peel which is only slightly sweet and intended to go with coffees after dinner. It was so flavoursome and I far prefer it to candied fruits.
As a family, we can’t resist Sicilian sweets but I will give equal weighting to the fish restaurant we dined at on the Saturday evening, Baqqala’, Drunken Fish (Baqqala’ means ‘salt cod. Photo of outside, above). As we have a similar fish-oriented cuisine here in Malta, I was surprised and delighted to see that Baqqala’ managed to surprise even me as a regular eater of Mediterranean fish dishes.
I chose the chef’s special starter which was a medley of little packets and pockets of fishy things from whitebait to incredibly tasty fish cakes. More than enough to eat even before my ‘Involtini di Pesce Spada’ (stuffed fillet swordfish). But there again, Baqqala’ twisted the traditional to add Caciocavallo cheese, a special hard sheep’s cheese of the Ragusa region. Fish and cheese were strong in combination but actually worked well together. Hubby had a seafood spaghetti with squid ink which was beyond the usual even if the dish is traditional. For ‘secondo’, hubby had stuffed monkfish, which was in a rich but totally palatable cream sauce. Again, flavour-packed fish. Baqqala’ is to return to Scicli for, and sometime soon I hope!
Another small eatery worth mentioning for snacks and that compulsory Italian-style shot of coffee standing at the bar, is Bar Sicilia just opposite the end of Pizza Italia, near the cinema, on Corso Garibaldi. It’s a no-frills place with decent pasta, toasts and focaccie, as well as amazing Suppli’ – rice balls filled with mozzarella and bolognese; one of these is lunch! Now, to trying to make them myself! Watch this space….
My verdict on Scicli as a place to stay, not just whiz through en passant? Definitely do stay a couple of days in the town itself and soak up the atmosphere, whatever the season. It’s a great base for those other towns, but restful to return to after day trips. Parking seems reasonable. We were foot passengers and had lifts but it’s not far from Pozzallo where our catamaran docks. We stayed in a small traditional house in an alley in the town centre – Dammuso nel Vicolo. It was part of the Albergo Diffuso network offered under the local initiative Ospitalita’ Diffusa which markets independent holiday rentals from small homes and flats to bed and breakfasts. The network comprises places that offer authenticity of above average standard at good prices. The network also includes some places in the countryside and 8km away on the coast. If you’re Bed n’ Breakfast, room only, then you take breakfast at Cafe Millennium in the town centre.