Modica – a city of two cities

The city of Modica is not the first choice and even ignored by many seasoned travellers when it comes to a holiday in Sicily, however that is one of the most common mistakes a traveller can make. Give this beautiful city a chance and you’ll understand why Modica should not be only on your day-trip list for a Sicilian holiday but can serve as an ideal base for a holiday in south/southeast Sicily. One of the eight UNESCO world heritage towns of Val di Noto, Modica is a city that has a lot more to offer than what meets the eye at the first glance.

It’s a city that neither flaunts its rich heritage beauty nor it’s affluence, but subtly slides it along its daily hustle and bustle, like – it is home to the one of the highest number of Ferrari’s in Sicily, yet it’s residents take pleasure in chilling at the steps of their beloved Suomo di San Pietro in the evenings; or that it’s home to multiple Michelin starred restaurants like the renowned Accursio while also being home to the forever famous and crowded humble Osteria Sapori dei Perduti that’s loved by the locals and Sicilians alike.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s home to the best chocolate you’ll ever find in Italy?! Chocolate lover or not, read on to find out why Modica has got to be on your list of cities to visit when visiting Sicily.

Modica – a city of two cities : history and geography

Before we take you through the city of Modica, we’d like to familiarise you a little with the history and geography of Modica and why it’s popularly known as a city of two cities. Modica Alta – the original settlement of Modica was ravaged by the devastating earthquake of 1693 that destroyed many towns in the southeast of Sicily, and later beautified by the flourishing of late Baroque architecture of the 16th and 17th century, along with the extension and development of its newer counterpart – Modica Bassa. And that’s how Modica fondly came to be known as “a city of two cities”.

Long ago, it was a deep gorge between the Iblei Mountains from which the town of Modica sprung, when it was not traffic that flowed down Corso Umberto but the two rivers, Ianni Mauro and Pozzo dei Prun. With the passing of centuries, these flood prone rivers were covered to what gave way to today’s Corso Umberto – the main road of Modica that connects the older Modica Alta (or the Upper Modica) and the newer Modica Bassa (or the Lower Modica). The names Upper and Lower Modica are indicative of the geography of the city, making it important to appreciate that the city is built on a rather steep landscape and that the climb up from Modica Bassa to Modica Alta can be a rather difficult one on a typical Sicilian summer day during the sunny hours of 1200 to 1800.

Having said that the city is built on rather steep slopes, exploring this city with an open heart is akin to a rewarding treasure hunt – where every wrong turn on your climb up or down the city will lead you to spectacular panoramic views over the city that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Trust us on this one, no guide book or Google will ever suggest you the panoramic views that you’ll discover yourself by exploring this beautiful city (blessed with distinctive geography) on foot!

For history buffs, architecture aficionados, city explorers and seekers of panoramic views:

Modica – the city of innumerable panoramic views:

Do you love and seek panoramic views wherever you go? Then Modica has definitely got to be on your bucket list of places to see. Modica’s steep geography dividing the city into Upper and Lower Modica is a blessing in disguise.

The emphasis on the countless spellbinding panoramic views that every wrong turn about town can bring you to is so understated, that you’ve got to witness it yourself to believe it. Take for instance this beautiful viewpoint we encountered at a wrong turn we took on our climb down from the Belvedere to Duomo di San Pietro; we’d never have encountered it had we not lost our way a bit, and no guidebook would have shown this magical place to us! And the best part about this viewpoint – it’s indeed not in any guidebook; so – pick a bench here and surprise your loved one with a perfect sunset date accompanied by an almond wine as you devour this mesmerising view with him/her! It can’t get any more romantic than this ❤.

Talking about viewpoints over Modica, two of the most popular ones that provide breathtaking panoramic views of Modica are Belvedere and Pizzo Belvedere. While the strategic location of Belvedere gives access to some of the best views overlooking Modica and Duomo di San Giorgio, Pizzo Belvedere is special for it overlooking the main street of Modica – Corso Umberto. Looking over Modica from Pizzo Belvedere, the striking similarity of today’s Corso Umberto to a winding river that once flowed through there is unmissable.

For fashionistas and shopaholicsAnd since Corso Umberto is the main street of Modica, it also happens to be a popular shopping destination. The street is dotted with countless boutiques and Italian brands selling the classy Italian fashion for men and women alike. So if you’re looking to splurge on Italian fashion, there are plenty of Italian brands and boutiques throughout the length of the street that can give you a complete Italian makeover 😉.

Modica for foodies at heart:

Shopaholic or not, foodie or not – the happening street of Corso Umberto shall not be missed for more reasons than one. Boutiques, bars or restaurants – you name it, and Corso Umberto has it; this street spanning the length of Modica is packed with goodness all along the way. It is here that you’ll find the locals unwinding themselves on a Friday evening sipping the delicious Campari or Prosecco at a local bar or enjoying a casual family dinner at Osteria Sapori dei Perduti. And so, here’s a list of our recommendations. Take your pick. depending on your mood or hour of the day.

Restaurants:

Osteria Sapori dei Perduti Are you in the mood for a finger-licking, hearty dinner coupled with an unforgettable hospitality? Then head over to this family run Osteria for a delightful experience. This Muriana family owned and run osteria specialises in Modican and Sicilian cuisine. We loved this osteria for the delicious and homely food, their warm hospitality and a breezy outdoor seating. On their menu, they have a wide variety of vegetarian, fish and meat dishes to choose from – appetizers, main courses and desserts, and you’ll be spoilt for choice. Everything that we tried was absolutely delicious, and our absolute favourites were starters of lentil soups and the main course dishes of ravioli in pork sauce and the juicy rabbit. Their red house wine priced at €4 per 0.5L is a great pairing for all kinds of dishes and actually a steal! From the moment you arrive, the hostess and family member Federica Muriana with their staff members like Franco instantly make you feel at home no matter how busy it is; and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s their unforgettable hospitality or the heavenly-homely food that brings people to their doorsteps time and again. The setting is casual but the osteria is almost always fully packed, so make sure to make a dinner reservation in advance as the locals and Sicilians from all around the island flock to this place during the summer months.

Accursio – are you in the mood for an unforgettable fine-dining experience? Then head over to this popular Michelin starred restaurant which is the brainchild of Accursio Craparo. Every dish by Accursio is an elaborate concoction of innovation and ingredients that will subtly awaken your senses visually and further arouse it with the explosion of flavours in your mouth, only to leave you with an everlasting thought. The head-chef and owner Accursio is extremely humble and the staff is highly attentive and eager to make your dining experience a memorable one. We loved their vegetarian and non-vegetarian tasting menu paired with a great selection of wines. Our absolute favourites were the main course dishes of Cipolla onions and bread crumbs and the pre-dessert custard in an egg. With the dish of Cipolla onions and bread crumbs, Accursio pays homage to his Sicilian roots and the land of Sicily. This marvellous creation by chef Accursio is so humble in its appearance but the contrasting sweet and savoury flavours explode in your mouth from the very first bite, leaving you with an long-lasting memory of the beautiful Sicily and the warm and lovely Sicilians that he pays a tribute to. All in all, a dinner at Accursio is highly recommended by us on your visit to Modica. However, if you’re looking for something rather informal and lighter on the wallet and user yet equally delicious, then head over to his Osteria – Radici, the flavours and dishes will not disappoint you.

For a quick bite:

Are you looking for a quick bite in the morning before you start exploring Modica on foot? Or are you already in the middle of your walking expedition and looking for a quick bite to re-energize yourself while you rest and get ready to conquer the city on foot again? Then head over to one of the below places:

  • Cioccolato di Modica at Bonajuto– the city of Modica is not only home to the beautiful Late Baroque architecture and the highest number of Ferrari’s in Sicily but also the chocolate capital of Italy! Yes, dear chocolate lovers – you heard it right. For many years, Sicily was a part of the Spanish Kingdom. And so when the Conquistadors ‘discovered’ cocoa on their voyages to Latin America, Modica was one of the first to receive this new bounty, alongside the ancient Aztec methods of chocolate making. 400 years later Modica retains this age-old method of chocolate making and is the very best place to enjoy authentic Sicilian and Italian chocolate. Cioccolato di Modica or the Modican chocolate is made up of minimal ingredients – ground cocoa paste and sugar plus the natural flavourings. That’s it – cocoa butter, no milk, no emulsifiers, vegetable oil or preservatives either! These minimal ingredients give the Modican chocolate its unique grainy texture, with the grittiness that makes the flavour explode inside the mouth, without the cloyingness of the sweet milk chocolate or the bitterness of some dark chocolates. And where better to try this scrumptious delicacy than at the oldest chocolate factory of the city – Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. If you’re a die-hard chocolate lover, then you can their informative chocolate making tour available in English and Italian; and if you’re short on time – then simply pop in to their shop on Corso Umberto to buy a few sweet souvenirs to treat yourself once you’re back home 🍫.
  • Granita at Caffé Adamo – head over to this cozy cafe just off the street of Corso Umberto for a quick coffee break or to try out the typical Sicilian summer breakfast – Brioche con Granita or a sweet bun with granita/ice slush. The cafe is considered to be the best in town for their artisan gelato/ice creams and granita’s. We tried their Pistacchio, almond and ricotta cheese granita’s and loved the almond ricotta cheese granita the most.

For history buffs and architecture aficionados – Baroque churches and buildings of Modica:

Modica is a city that doesn’t flaunt it’s rich heritage beauty or affluence, because it doesn’t need to. It’s a city that is confident in its own skin and effortlessly carries its rich heritage on its shoulders, without boasting about it. The city of Modica is a piece of paradise for any history buff or an architecture aficionado, for the abundant architectural beauties of historical importance that it is home to.

Take a stroll around the city and you’ll notice that the city is replete with Baroque architecture, magnificent churches that are masterpieces of Baroque architecture and ample of Baroque buildings, balconies and pillars that seamlessly adorn the streets of the city. Modica reflects the great, post-seismic rebuilding achievement of the decades following the catastrophic earthquake of 1693, which ravaged towns across south-eastern Sicily. The rebuilding, restoration and reconstruction of the city reflects the flourishing of Late Baroque architecture of the 17th century in all its forms and applications.

Originally introduced by the Catholic church, Baroque architecture is a highly decorative and theatrical architectural style which appeared in Italy in the early 17th century and gradually spread across Europe. It reached its peak in the High Baroque (1625–1675), when it was used in churches and palaces in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and Austria; and flourished till the Late Baroque period (1675–1750), to which the beauty of the architecture of Modica can be accredited to. With such a strong history up it’s sleeve, it should come as little surprise that the Baroque churches of Modica are undoubtedly the most beautiful buildings of the city. And while you may not want to visit them all, here are the two of our best recommendations that shall not be missed irrespective of whether you’re an architecture buff or not.

Duomo di San Pietro – this beautiful church is not only considered to be the most important historical building in Modica Bassa, but also a popular hang out spot among locals and visitors alike; here you’ll see the locals (teenagers and adults alike) hang out in the evenings till the wee hours of the mornings. The church sits atop an impressive stairway decorated with the statues of the 12 apostles and the interior of the church is filled with spectacular frescoes and artworks; some of the best ones we’ve ever seen in churches! The facade of the church houses the statues of Saint Cataldo, Saint Rosalia, Saint Peter, and Madonna.  The statue of Jesus is at the top. So whether you’re an architecture admirer in love with all buildings Baroque or a city explorer, make it point to hang out at the steps of this Duomo, people-watch and feel like a local 🙂.

Duomo di San Giorgiolocated in Modica Alta, this church is considered to be one of Sicily’s most impressive baroque churches and Rosario Gagliardi’s great masterpiece. The Duomo has a magnificent and an imposing presence in the city and is so wonderfully carved in the geography of the Modica that it can even be seen from the outskirts of the city or pretty much from every nook and corner of the city. Connecting Upper and Lower Modica, the celebrated and dramatic 250 steps that lead their way up to the church along with the highly decorative tall pillars on the outside give the church a rather theatrical appearance, with the interior of the church having walls and a high ceiling adorned by intricate and colourful frescoes to complete its look. Adore the church from the outside as you catch a breath while sitting on the steps of the church. And while you’re there, soak in the spectacular panoramic views over the city of Modica!

Walking along, a few other buildings that contribute to the Baroque architecture of the city are Teatro Garibaldi, Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista and the innumerable heritage buildings with balconies, pillars and doors depicting intricate and typical Baroque design on both the sides of Corso Umberto. Stroll through this street to revel in the flamboyant Baroque architecture that this city allures you with.

And, talking about Baroque architecture, it wouldn’t be fair to not mention the other cities/towns in the vicinity which are also recognised as the UNESCO world heritage sites of Val di Noto. So if Baroque architecture is your thing, the southeast of Sicily is a slice of heaven for you! Two of the towns closest to Modica famous for Baroque architecture and also recognised as the UNESCO world heritage sites are Ragusa Ibla and Scicli. Both of these are barely a 20 minutes drive from Modica and worth a day trip to soak in Baroque, Baroque and more Baroque. So if you’re a city explorer in love with history and architecture, we’d highly recommend you to visit at least one of these.

For leisure lovers and beach bums:

Sicily, being an island close the equator, is blessed with vast stretches of diverse and varied coastline that can be enjoyed almost all year round due to its tropical climate. As you travel across the island the coastline varies from pristine blue and golden sandy to rocky and pebbly. And due to this very blessing, it’s possible to reach the beautiful beaches vastly untouched by tourism from almost any part of the island – and Modica is no different! Modica is fortunate to be enviously close to the golden sandy beaches of southeast Sicily and there’s no dirth of numerous beaches to take your pick from. In fact, we loved the beaches in the southeast Sicily so much, that we ended up spending half of the days of our holiday exploring the vast stretches of coastline. And to do justice to this beautiful stretch of the Sicilian coastline, I’ll be keeping the discussion here brief and informative, because nothing less than a dedicated blog (coming up soon) will do justice to it! The closest sandy beaches to Modica are the beach towns of Marina di Modica, Pozzalo, Sampieri and Donnalucata; all of which are less than a 30 minutes drive from Modica. The coastline here offers a stretch of public beaches which are free, as well as the organised sections that are attached to resorts and beach shacks and are paid. If you’re looking for public sandy beaches coupled with great sea food, then head over to the fishermen’s town of Marzamemi a little further southeast. And if you’re in the mood for a sandy beach looking out at a lighthouse on an island that you can swim to and enjoy a magical sunset from – than look no further than Isola delle Correnti – the sunset here is mesmerising! Golden sandy, pebbly, private, public, perfect sunsets, sea food, beach promenades, and the list goes on – the southeast of Sicily truly has an enviable coastline with never ending beaches suited to everyone’s taste – you name it, they have it! So just grab your bikinis, bathing suits, start your car and let the divine coastline guide you to find exactly what you’re looking for – it’s meant to spoil you for choice! 😉

Santa Maria del Focallo

Tips to explore Modica on foot:

And so, before you set on to explore Modica on foot, here are a few handy tips that will make your experience of exploring Modica a comfortable and a memorable one. Like we said before, the geography of Modica is a steep one, and the roads and stairways connecting Upper and Lower Modica can be a challenging climb if not done with adequate preparation. Thus, it’s essential to:

  • Plan your walking expeditions well. We advise you to chalk out a walking route covering the things to do and see along the way on the map a night before in order to make the most of your time. And since we’ve done the work for you, all you need to do is pick the things of interest to you from the aforementioned ones and plot them onto the Modica map to create your own walking route 🙂.
  • As the sunny hours on a typical Sicilian summer day can get very hot, we advise you to avoid the 1200 to 1700 hours for the climb up Modica Alta/Upper Modica. Having said this, use these hours to spend your time exploring places either in Upper or Lower Modica. And – use the early mornings or late afternoons to catch the perfect sunrise or the perfect sunset as the sun’s rays illuminate the breathtaking Baroque structures of this city.
  • As some of the stairways connecting Modica Alta and Bassa are centuries old, it’s important to wear comfortable clothing and comfortable walking/sports shoes 👟 to navigate easily through the cobbled stone alleys and stairways.
  • And last but not the least, carry a water bottle to curb the thirst along the way.

Where to stay in Modica:

Given the geography we referred to earlier, we’d recommend considering how much walking you’d prefer to do up and down stairs before picking your accommodation. Modica Alta will mean breathtaking breakfast views from your balcony, but a damn good lower body workout on your way back home! However, if you want a rather chilled out holiday without having to hike up and down the city as a matter of compulsion, then we’d recommend you to stay on or just off the main street of Corso Umberto in Modica Bassa. Staying on or close to Corso Umberto in Modica Bassa is perfect due to its close proximity to many aforementioned major attractions, a selection of great restaurants and food joints/cafes and even supermarkets to laze around at, without having to work a lot to get there 😉. And the cherry on the cake here is its proximity to a large free car parking, which is a boon if you’re driving to Modica and prefer to use Modica as a base and use your car to drive around the neighbouring towns and beaches over the course of your holiday.

We stayed at this romantic AirBnB Casa del Vicolo Stretto that’s just off Corso Umberto and barely 100m away from the free parking. This stylish house owned by Giovanni and Giuseppina is spacious, squeaky clean and at the perfect location to explore the city of Modica. Everything in the house is stylish and thoughtful, the house is equipped with everything a couple/family would need, including a functional kitchen and a stylish, spacious bathroom. The couple and hosts Giovanni and Giuseppina are very hospitable and warm people and always available to help the guests out with a smile on their face. Their recommendations about things to see and do in and around Modica are spot on and helped us a great deal in exploring Modica to our fullest; in fact we couldn’t have experienced or written about some of our recommendations here had it not been for them suggesting those to us. And the best part about it – it’s highly affordable with less than €50/night. So book this place for your stay in Modica without second thoughts – it’s a steal! Also, Giovanni and Giuseppina have 3 other houses in the neighbourhood that are smaller and cheaper yet equally stylish and cozy – so you can also rent any of those with them if that fits your criteria better.

How to get to Modica:

The best way to reach Modica is to rent a car and drive down from the airport of Catania or Palermo depending on where you’re landing; Catania, being 125km away is the closest airport to Modica. We highly recommend renting a car during your holiday in Sicily for the convenience it offers to explore the island; and recommend to book your preferred car a few days in advance. However, if you’re relying on public transport, then it’s advised to take an AST bus instead of a train to Modica as the city is not best served by the trains. This TripAdvisor link provides valuable inputs on AST links, bus frequency, etc. Do check it out.

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