Monday 18 June 2012

La Ragusa

From San Leone we now have 100 miles to travel down the coast to Syracuse, where we will leave Juno to return to the UK. We leave the marina early and spend most of the day motoring as the wind has died away and there is barely a ripple on the glassy surface of the sea. However it makes for a relaxing day as the engine hums away quietly, pushing Juno along at seven knots and by four in the afternoon we have covered over 50 miles and we dock at the brand new marina of La Ragusa with modern facilities, English speaking staff but not many boats. We wonder if this is a sign of the economic conditions or maybe it is still just early in the season.

We have ordered a taxi to take us to Ragusa Ibla, where the guide book has promised baroque architecture and sun drenched piazzas. Our driver Gianni, has a diamond earring and an Alfa Romeo which he guns up the road out of the port and on to the wide country roads, slip-streaming slower cars, inches from their rear bumper, and then overtakes with a flourish and always with his arm hanging languidly out of the window. Kim tries to engage him in conversation but they are somewhat hampered by the absence of a common language. Kim wants to know who has built the new marina and he tries a form of Franco-Italian while Gianni furrows his brow and strains to decipher phrases such as 'qui est le Grande del porto?' delivered in Kim's Australian accent. In desperation Gianni grasps at a syllable that he vaguely recognises and responds in Italian to an entirely unrelated question; but Kim is very determined and he probes with another tortured linguistic construct and this disjointed exchange continues while Tina, Caroline and I giggle in the back seat.

Half an hour later we sweep into a rather ugly town of modern apartment blocks and factories and we begin to regret leaving the port; but then the road drops down into the valley and we are surrounded by little old houses seemingly cut into the hillside. The road winds further down the valley and the streets become narrower. Gianni seems to know everyone and waves and greets passers-by with the occasional 'Ciao', but he doesn't feel any need to slow our breakneck pace even as we squeeze down labyrinthine lanes which weave between grey stone houses with only inches to spare until suddenly the road opens out into the centre of the old town and we are dumbstruck by its beauty.

Ragusa Ibla collapsed after the 1693 earthquake and the new town of Ragusa was built on a high plateau above the original settlement. However the local aristocracy was loathe to leave the palazzo and rebuilt Ragusa Ibla on exactly the same spot. Today an important wedding is taking place in the town and the grandees are out in their finest Italian couture, walking slowly through the streets deep in conversation, converging at the Piazza Duomo, Ragusa's sublime central square where the towns pride and joy, the Cattedrale di San Giorgio, sits high above up a steep flight of stone steps. Unsurprisingly, the bride and groom roar into view in a cream vintage convertible, and disappear up the cobbled street to the cathedral while we are deposited by Gianni at a restaurant set into one of the old building with tables outside screened by a hedge of green laurels.

After dinner we walk up to the Piazza Duomo, stopping to buy ice creams and joining the other locals who are promenading in the warm yellow glow of the lights which illuminate this glorious square. Our only surprise is that a place of such remarkable beauty is tucked away so far from the major cities of Sicily. Gianni arrives on time and whisks us away back to La Ragusa, but by now we are mellow and sleepy and we doze off, only to awake when we roar back into the port which glows with blue lights on the pontoon.

The following morning we leave early because we have to cover another 50 miles to Syracuse, on the East Coast of Sicily. However as we are rounding the Southern-most tip of this huge island at Porto Paulo, we see an anchorage, protected from the forecasted Northerly wind, and we ghost in and drop our anchor in a patch of white sand in 5 metres of still clear water. We delight in the fact that we can change our plan at short notice and we spend the afternoon swimming and exploring the bay in the dinghy. It is another beautiful evening and we have barbecued steaks in the cockpit serenaded by Dean Martin singing Gentle on my Mind which reminds me and Kim of our childhood and our parents playing sixties music on a record player.

This morning we awake to hot sun and not a breath of air. The water is like glass and the boats in the anchorage lie glued to the surface in complete silence. After a quick swim we raise the anchor on the windlass and slip quietly out of the anchorage and motor the final 25 miles up the coast to Syracuse from where Kim and Tina are flying back to the UK later today.

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