Baroque and Chocolate
They make a strange sort of chocolate in Modica - not smooth and unctuous - the sugar granules are not smoothed out so it tends to trip the tongue up as opposed to rolling off it. But once you get used to that it's delicious - dark, dark and comes in orange, lemon and hot chilli flavours. On a sunny Sunday morning in early March, I'm sampling chocolate in a shop on Modica's main street.
Modica's main street was once a river. Two rivers met in the heart of the city - the town was called a little Venice. A great flood soon took the romance out of that notion and the good burghers of Modica decided to pave over the rivers in a massive engineering feat. So as I walk along the bustling Sunday morning-after church street, I'm walking over an enclosed river.
Modica, like the rest of the Noto Valley had already encountered natural disaster. The 1693 earthquake had destroyed most of the towns in the region. But it also resulted in their being rebuilt in the glorious romantic new Baroque style. Along with Ragusa and Noto, Modica is a wonderful little town in which to explore this extravagant, slightly delirious, building style.
Look out for the 'mascherone' or gargoyles that populate balconies and rooftops.
The countryside around these towns is surprising - drystone walls and kelly-green fields would have you believe for a moment that you have arrived in an Italian version of Yorkshire. Unlike many parts of Sicily, the beaches here are the real thing- long stretches of sand lapped by a turquoise blue sea. One almost science-fiction aspect of the landscape is the ubiquitous greenhouse. Or rather hundreds and hundreds of them. Agriculture is in sharp competition with tourism as an industry down here. For the time being agriculture, all the tomatoes, zucchini and oranges that grow here and head for our Northern European tables, has the upper hand.