Ah, Sicilia. The soccer ball to Italy's boot is an island rich with history, from the crumbling mosaics of Piazza Armerina to sky-high Taormina. But on a recent trip, we skipped the museums and temples for some traditional R&R. Our home base was Modica, an ancient, church-filled city that teeters between two hills, about half an hour from the coast. In between day trips to the towns of Palazzolo Acreide and Ragusa, we spent our time trekking up (and down) Modica's endless stone steps, taste-testing in its signature laboratori del cioccolato, and spying vintage Fiats. What more could an Italophile ask for?
Below, a few highlights from our trip.
Parked on a side street in sunny Palazzolo, we spied this cute two-wheeler awaiting its owner. Considering how hilly the towns are here, a Vespa (or, if you have to be all American about it, a rental car) is practically a necessity for getting around.
In Palazzolo's main square, the piazza municipale, St. Sebastian's Church looms above, while, to the left, the town hall has a colonnaded walkway with small shops and a cafe.
There's rarely a dull moment in Modica's central piazza – on the morning this photo was taken, a marching band appeared magically out of nowhere, terminating at this monument, where a trumpet call resounded through the town.
Modica is nothing if not a workout: the city is wedged between two steep hills, and, as a result, staircases like this one help link the many, many strata of close-packed houses and narrow streets...
...see what we mean about those narrow streets?
After a busy morning poking in and out of Modica's decent array of shops, we could barely wait to get back to our terrazza and dig into a plate of arancini.
Caffes like this one can be found on every street corner around Modica. Park yourself at one of the outdoor tables, sip an almond milk-sweetened granita (a crushed ice beverage), and watch the world go by.
A three-minute walk from downtown Modica, Le Magnolie (from $67 per night) is an adorable 7-room boutique hotel housed inside an old palazzo. As the name suggests, flowers are the central motif, reflected in the room names (Il Soffione; La Gerbera) and this staircase mural found in the lobby.
Like in the rest of Italy (and much of Europe), farm-fresh produce is the norm here. We visited this tiny grocer, located off the main Corso Umberto I, almost every day to stock up on plump tomatoes, snap peas, eggplant, and, as the sign points out, yellow apples.
Chiesa di San Giorgio, a stunning Baroque masterpiece, sits way up on one of Modica's two hills; meanwhile, this equally-impressive structure, Chiesa di San Pietro, faces out onto the main street, and its broad stone steps are a popular hang-out spot for local teens.
Just two and a half miles outside Modica, Quartarella (singles from $55 per night) is a converted farmhouse bed-and-breakfast with five rooms (each capable of sleeping up to four people), a banquet hall-esque dining room, and lush green meadows everywhere you turn.
Fiat may have made a big splash with their 2012 commercial depicting the new Cinquecento models swimming their way to America, but nothing beats the classic 1950s version, seen here during an impromptu Fiat parade one day in Modica.
During a week-long festival held during our stay in Modica, mandala-style sand paintings decorated the steps outside of Chiesa di San Giorgio, including this one of a cherub playing the accordion.