Ragusa is the regional capital of Sicily’s sleepiest province. It is surrounded by a unique landscape that features canyons and a dry but somewhat gentle countryside. Characteristic for the region of the Hyblaean Plateau are the dry-stone walls which divide swaths of land. In summer it can become extremely hot, and in July and August the dry heat is so intense that in the afternoons life grinds completely to a standstill – you will only see some tourists wandering the town. This - a bit remote - province hums along to its own tune, clinging to local cuisine, traditions and customs. It is a great spot for relaxing holidays. The area around Ragusa offers some of the best red wines of Sicily and wonderful cheeses which are still made by hand. The old Ragusa was destroyed like the other towns of the Val di Noto by the tremendous earthquake in 1693, and has been rebuilt in a somewhat dramatic Sicilian Baroque style. The town is divided into three parts: the modern Ragusa, the upper town Ragusa Superiore and the oldest part, Ragusa Ibla, which is the most interesting for visitors.
The latter is a treasure box made of stone, an amazing mixture of Medieval and Baroque “grandeur”, bursting with charm, soft colours and Baroque curlicues, exuding a slightly fuddy-duddy romantic atmosphere. Ragusa Ibla towers between two valleys on a limestone hill, so pack comfortable footwear and prepare yourself for steep streets and stairways layered one atop the other. If you have only time to visit one Baroque city, Ragusa Ibla is (second to My Destination Sicily) the best choice, as it is not as static and museum-like as Noto. Wandering this charming stony jewel one imagines offset by 300 years to the times of Sicilian lords and noblemen, stands in awe of Baroque palazzos and churches, and admires skill and imagination of architects and stonemasons. Ragusa Ibla was quite deserted until the year 2002, when this part of the town was listed amongst UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Since then people are coming back, hotels, B&Bs, bars and restaurants abound.
The popular Italian detective series “Inspector Montalbano” was filmed throughout the province of Ragusa including Punta Secca, Donnalucata, the castle of Donnafugata, Scicli and Sampieri. In Ragusa Ibla, Salvo Montalbano-fans will recognize the Cathedral of San Giorgio and the piazza. In fact the whole town seems to be a movie set.
Things to do and see in Ragusa
The best place to visit in the upper town is the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista. The ornate church is the main monument in this part of the town and the Baroque interior is worth exploring. However, you should save most of your time to explore Ragusa Ibla. For a view of the old town, and indeed one of the best views in all Sicily, head to the terrace of the 15th century church “Santa Maria della Scala”. From here, and the amazing winding stairs below, are phenomenal vistas of its pancake style streets – something that has to be seen to be believed. Get a good look because you’ll soon be puffing through them.
There is so much to see in Ragusa Ibla that you could simply wander around and stumble at will upon town mansions, quiet gardens, pleasant squares, good cafés, excellent restaurants and Baroque churches. There are some sights you absolutely must tick off. The first is the Chiesa del Purgatorio, then the sloping palm-lined Piazza del Duomo, the magnificient three-tiered facade of the Cattedrale di San Giorgio and the superb town park Giardino Ibleo at the eastern end of the city – wonderful for an evening stroll or to rest during the heat of the day.
The public garden at the end of the main road “Corso XXV. Aprile” is a green and shady refuge on hot Sicilian summer days. It features high palm trees, Mediterranean plants, the church Chiesa dei Cappucini (church of the capuchins) with a 17th century wing altar, and stunning views of the valley of the river Irminio and its surrounding canyons. Some steps south of the garden you can see the “Portale di San Giorgio”, the last remnant of the otherwise completely destroyed Gothic predecessor of today’s Cathedral.
Cheese & Wine
Wander the town, relax in the beautiful Giardino Ibleo, taste cheese at the “Casa del Formaggio”, Corso Italia 387: try their Caciocavallo Ragusano – the less seasoned is best with a glass of Marsala wine, the seasoned with the red wines Etna Rosso, Cerasuolo di Vittoria and Nerello Mascalese. By the way: one of Sicily’s best red wines, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, is produced in the area of the town Vittoria, a short 40 minute drive from Ragusa – so we also highly recommend some wine tasting in a winery or an enoteca!
Restaurants in Ragusa
While in town make sure you try “focaccia di ricotta e salsiccia” - the famous and delicious local bread filled with ricotta and sausage, which makes a great snack or lunch. All restaurants in Ragusa are good – the absolute highlight is the Michelin-starred Ristorante al Duomo: Chef Ciccio doesn’t just cook, he composes creative dishes and excellent desserts. The restaurants offers fine wines and three degustation menus (apart from the a-la-carte menu).
The Locanda Don Serafino's elegant and atmospheric hotel and restaurant are both immaculate and an experience in themselves. The hotel is cut right into the rocks of the town. For those who do not want to spend a fortune for one meal we recommend Ristorante Orfeo. The ambience is not really attractive, but many locals appreciate the fine dining and the good service (menu starting at c. € 20,00).
See more at Restaurants
Accommodation in Ragusa
Our first choice would be Locanda Don Serafino. We also recommend the guesthouse “Le Stanze del Sole”, located in a mini-palazzo, and for families the B&B “Il Giardino di Pietra”.
Outside of the city you can embed your head in one of the most exclusive, if not the most exclusive, agriturismo of Sicily – the five star “Eremo della Giubiliana”: The former monastery and manor features an excellent biological cuisine, a private beach, mountain bikes for all guests, as well as rooms, suites and cottages, all exquisitely and individually decorated – no room resembles the other. If you are planning to come with your own airplane, no problem: Eremo della Giubiliana offers a runway and a hangar.
More suitable accommodation in and around Ragusa at Accommodation
Events in Ragusa
“Ibla Buskers” takes place beginning of October – it is the last festival of the year of all European street artists festivals. More annual events in Sicily you'll find here
Castello di Donnafugata
When you are in the area of Ragusa you should make a detour for the Castle of Donnafugata, which dates back to the 17th century. It is the giant palace of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel “The Leopard”, boasting 122 rooms! It is also the “house” of the Mafia boss Balduccio Sinagra in the Commissario Montalbano series. The building is actually a palatial mansion. Have a look at the ever so luxurious life Sicily’s noble families once lived - part of the magnificently furnished and decorated rooms can be visited. The castle is surrounded by a huge park full of very ancient trees and rare plants. During the summer season concerts take place in the park – programs are available at the Tourist Information of Ragusa. Even if you see tourist buses parked near the Trattoria Al Castello – the restaurant is not a tourist trap, they serve very good local cuisine at reasonable prices - friendly service.
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About 20 kilometres north of Ragusa lies Sicily's “Mecca of Olive Oil” – Chiaramonte Gulfi is the cradle of some of the best olive oils in the world. The little town is also famous in Sicily for its pork sausages. If you are interested in the history and production of olive oil you should pay a visit to the Olive Oil Museum. And even if you are not a pork meat-aficionado: a meal at Ristorante Majore could change your mind (it definitely did to one of the My Destination Sicily ladies, she finally ate pork meat after more than 25 years – and enjoyed it ....). This restaurant is a classic which opened in the year 1896. Majore’s motto: “The Glorification of the Pig”. Quick and efficient service, swinish-good and sow-delicious menus. And if you still don’t have enough: Ristorante Majore sells its homemade sausages – which make a special and tasty souvenir.
Marina di Ragusa
Marina di Ragusa is Ragusa’s beachfront resort, c. 24 kilometres from town. There are several restaurants serving superb seafood all year round and there are good campsites open in summer.The touristic harbour of Marina di Ragusa is one of the best in the whole of Sicily. Good facilities and also a great place for wintering.
Some of Sicily's best wines are vinified in the Baroque town of Vittoria, which is a short 40 minutes drive from Ragusa. Try the famous red Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
You could also combine a visit to the Donnafugata Castle with a tasting at their winery.
All about our great Sicilian wines you will find here
How to get to Ragusa
Nearest airport is Comiso (17 km), which is served mainly by low-cost airlines such as Ryanair.
From Trapani, Palermo, and Enna follow A 19, then SS 115. From Messina and Taormina take the A 18 to Catania, then follow SS 194 and SS 514. From Agrigento SS 115.
Local buses in Ragusa are operated by AST and run from the train station in Piazza del Popolo all the way up to Giardino Ibleo in Ragusa Ibla, saving you am exhausting hike. Buses from Via Zama (outside the centre) connect Ragusa to Syracuse and Noto seven times daily, to Modica 15 times daily, Agrigento (via Gela) 2 times daily. ETNA Trasporti runs to Catania via Catania Airport 11 times daily and TUMINO buses are bringing you to the beach of Marina di Ragusa 14 times a day.
There are quite good train connections to Noto, Ispica, Syracuse, Modica, Vittoria and Gela – the train station is located in the new town of Ragusa, from here local AST buses to Giardino Ibleo in Ragusa Ibla.
From June to October the historical train driven by an old steam engine Treno del Barocco connects Syracuse to Ragusa – with stops at Noto, Scicli and Modica.
Marina di Ragusa features a nice touristic port which is also suitable for wintering - please see more here