Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns, with a medieval centre and spectacular baroque cathedral. However, our trip there, with friends Terry & Sue, wasn't to sample the cultural highlights of this UNESCO-listed city, we'll save that for another trip, it was to same the delights of its annual chocolate festival - Chocobarocco.
The Spanish first brought cocoa beans to Sicily and their method of cold grinding the beans with sugar rather than melting the chocolate and sugar together is still the method used today in Modica, resulting in a slightly grainy, crunchy texture.
For the festival, the main street was lined with booths of chocolatiers from all over Italy tempting us with their colourful and delicious displays. I defy anyone to have walked down the main street and not sucumb! As well as traditional chocolate items, there was also an array of more unusual chocolate items including hardware items like hinges, nuts and bolts, hammers, wrenches and pliers; household items like scissors, irons, coffee pots; and chocolate made to look like other foods such as sausages, cheese and bread. However, the most impressive item for me was the chocolate shoes. They were like dainty pieces of art, much too good to eat - really!
During our trip to Modica, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful butterfly house that had been erected for the chocolate festival. The 'house' was a giant greenhouse filled with potted plants and lots of colourful and exotic butterflies of every colour and size. They controlled how many people entered at a time but once you were inside, you could stay for as long as you wanted. We were able to get really close to the butterflies and see the magnificent detailing on their bodies. It was a very relaxing visit with gentle music playing in the background which provided a nice intermission before we headed back to the chocolate festival.
Against a backdrop of the Monti Iblei hills, southeast Sicily is home to some of the island's most beautiful towns including the sumptuous baroque architecture of Unesco-listed Ragusa and Modica. A visit from UK friends, Terry & Sue, seemed like the perfect excuse to do some exploring.
Sitting on top of a hill is the busy workaday town of Ragusa Superiore, the provinces capital. Further down the hill, and practically built into the hillside, is Ragusa Ibla (old town), the historic centre with twisting alleyways and baroque palazzi. Like every other town in the region, Ragusa Ibla was destroyed in the 1693 earthquake, and a new town, Ragusa Superiore, was built on a high plateau above the original town. But the local aristocracy was loathe to leave the tottering palazzi and rebuilt Ragusa Ibla on exactly the same spot. The two towns were subsequently merged in only 1927.
As you wander around Ragusa Ibla, it is easy to think that you are getting lost but sooner or later all streets seem to lead back to the Piazza Duomo with the beautiful Cattedrale di San Giorgio set high above a grand staircase. The extravagant facade rises up like a three-tiered wedding cake, very appropriate as a wedding party emerged from the Cattedrale just as we got there.
In the piazza we enjoyed sampling wine-flavoured ice cream from Gelati Di Vini before making our way down to the Giardino Ibleo, public gardens, which gave us a great view of the surrounding valleys and hills.
The marina opened for business just two years ago and this year is the first time that they have had such numbers overwintering here. Our friends, Dan & Judi, spent last winter here and really enjoyed it but there were only a handful of boats here, so not much atmosphere. They told their cruising friends about it and also wrote a great article on the marina for a USA cruising association magazine. The result is that there is a real international mixture of cruisers here this year - UK, Americans, Canadians, Dutch, Germans, New Zealanders and Australians.
The marina is next to the town of Marina di Ragusa (Ragusa-on-Sea, if you like, being 20kms from the town of Ragusa) and surrounded by long sandy beaches. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the local people must think that the United Nations have descended on them for the winter but they seem quite happy about it!
There are several shops within the marina, including a small supermarket, chandlers, fashion and homeware and a great café that are trying hard to accommodate the over-winters needs (happy hour prices and an affordable meal - we don't ask for much!). Together with two washing machines and a dryer and lovely toilet/shower facilities, the marina looks like it will be a great place to be this year.
First impressions of the town are very encouraging though having bikes is handy for getting to the supermarket and shops. There is a local market on a Tuesday morning and lots of restaurants, cafes and bars to try out.
More to follow once we've done some exploring.
After spending the summer exploring the Ionian, we finally decided that it was time to start making tracks over to our winter destination - Marina di Ragusa, on the south coast of Sicily.
The journey over to Sicily took just over 2 days and we didn't have the best of weather for the journey, but we did have a full moon at that time which lit the night sky so that it never got 'black' dark, more of a silvery shimmer everywhere. We arrived back to one of our favourite places, Syracusa where we dropped the hook. It was several days, however, before we could go ashore as a storm followed us in bringing with it strong winds and rain.
When the storm had finally passed over, we ventured out and met up with some Australians who had arrived 24hrs behind us. They too had come over from more or less the same place as us in Greece but they had been hit by the storm whilst they were still travelling and we thought we had it bad! However, it hadn't stopped them from putting the fishing line out and they had caught several fish on the way over, too much really, and they kindly gave us some of their fresh tuna. It lasted us several meals, though we can't say we would recommend Chinese black bean tuna! So, thanks to Karen & Neil and good luck getting to Oz for June! (Makes us look like real snails!!).
We made the journey from Syracusa to Marina di Ragusa in two hops, spending one night in Porto Palo, on the southeast tip, which seemed to be a major fishing port with some very large sea trawlers. The last leg of our 2011 cruising was spent getting drenched as a thunderstorm passed overhead. However, arriving in Marina di Ragusa and seeing our friends Krissy & Ni stood on the front of their boat, Finalement, waving to us made up for it all.
We tied up to the land, dried off, met up with other friends, Dan & Judi on KOA, to whom we are very grateful for convincing us to spend the winter here, and then headed off in search of pizza!
On 25th September, our first visitors of the year, Ronnie & Vikki, arrived in Preveza to join us for a week exploring parts of the Ionian.
Having both been used to being on boats prior to this trip, it didn't take them long to get to grips with life aboard including cooking a delicious dinner for Chris and I one evening. Our time together was filled with visiting Levkas, Meganisi and the mainland, snorkelling in crystal clear waters, having a beach BBQ and finishing off the week with a traditional Greek dish - Gyros (spit roasted pork with pita bread, tzatziki, chips and salad). Unfortunately, we didn't get much wind to sail but when we did, we had a great sail to Sivota in the south of Levkas and the extra crew made all the difference.
For photos, click HERE
We spent two nights at anchor, off the beach in Pera Pigadhi, SE Ithaca. The steep-to slope above is called Koraka, corresponding to Korax in the Odyssey. Together with Stephen and Barbara aboard Roma Gould III, fellow Brits & from Norfolk, we had a wonderful beach BBQ. It was a perfect, warm evening and we shared stories of our summer travels as the sun set. Another great snorkelling experience around the nearby caves capped off a great two days before both boats set off again.
We started our circumnavigation when we first visited the island last year and our stop in Sami completed our coastal tour of the island.
Sami was completely rebuilt after the 1953 earthquake and is surrounded by green wooded slopes. Parts of the town and adjacent coast were used during the filming of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. With no opportunity to anchor out, we tied to the town quay and then had to pay the Port Police a visit to have our paperwork stamped and pay for our stay.
We wanted to visit the nearby Drogarati Caves and so rented a scooter for a couple of days to do some exploring. The caves were very impressive and crammed with lots of stalagmites and stalagtites which would have been quite inkeeping on a sci-fi filmset. The calves were found by local children only a hundred years ago, used as a shelter by local people during WWII and only opened to the public in the 1960's.
Along the coastal road between Sami and Ayios Eufimia were numerous turquoise beaches that we just had to explore with our snorkels. Surprisingly, the water at the shoreline was quite cold by comparison to the water just 10 feet further out that was warm and so crystal clear.
Our last stop with the scooter was to the Olive Oil Museum located in Makriotika, a village in the hills behind Ayios Eufimia. The museum told the story of the importance of the 19th century oil press to the village and how to work there was a prestigious job. In the restored building, housing the mill stones, presses, troughs and urns, you watch a short film that tells the story of its history, told by local people who worked there.
With the purchase of a couple of bottles of Cephalonian wine, we said goodbye to one of our most favourite islands and headed over to our other favourite island, Ithaca.
Port Police patrol quay in the evening and ask you to report to office. Cost us 18 euros for 2 nights.
Water on quay.
Drogarati Caves - 5 euros pp but no information leaflet! Cafe opposite offers free use of swimming pool.
Orange supermarket in town is excellent!
With a nice NW wind forecast, we were looking forward to a good sail around the south of the island to the small harbour of Poros. However, we should have known - we got a SW wind instead, the complete opposite of what we were expecting, and so had to motorsail our way around.
The village is set in a spectacular position on a strip of flat land between a precipitous gorge and the sea. From here, ferries from Killini, on the Peloponese, come into the new ferry harbour, opposite the town quay, a couple of times a day and for 15 minutes there is a lot of coming and going with people, cars and lorries rushing to get off and on. Then, everyone disappears and all is calm again.
The town is only a 5 minute walk away, over the hill. It is small but has all the usual supermarkets, bakeries etc, as well as a beach. There are also taverns, bars and a supermarket right next to the harbour. Between the harbour and Poros town is a small, pebbly beach with a rocky islet just a few metres from the shore where we did some snorkellng in the crystal clear waters. It was as if we had our own private beach.
A 35-minute walk, through the gorge behind the town, took us to the Thoros Mycean Tombs. Only excavated in 1994, the archaeological finds from the tomb date it to 1350 BC. Originally built as a small tomb from local Poros stone, it was later enlarged and had a domed roof and unusual long, roofed entrance.
For photos, click HERE
Yachts can now use the whole length of the harbour wall, including the inner breakwater, as the ferries have their own quay and there is no longer any wash from them. There does seem to be a constant surge though, which dies down at night.
Free water and hosepipes on the quay.
Port Police but charging was sporadic.
Have a drink at the cafe at the end of the breakwater in the evening. There is a deck built into the rocks from where you can see the illuminated rock by the beach.
Thoros Tomb - free entrance
Cefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands, with mountain ranges, vineyards, coastal cliffs, golden beaches, caves, grottos and monasteries. We visited the east and northeast of the island last year and this year returned to explore the capital, Argostoli, in the southwest.
The town suffered enormous damage in the 1953 earthquake and was not rebuilt to its former Venetian splendour. Today however, the pedestrianised shopping streets, main square, waterfront and produce market make it a lively and interesting place to be. We did not know how long we would spend there but it turned out that a week was just right to fit everything in.
No sooner had we arrived and tied up to an almost empty town quay when we heard someone shout 'Hello, Deep Blue'. It turned out to be Jean Baptiste and Christine with their yacht Almaviva whom we had met in Italy and Croatia the previous year. We caught up with one another over dinner at an interesting local eatery. Ladolla is a very down-to-earth place that served some of the best suckling pork that Chris had ever had. Our food was served on disposable covers - no plates here! But for 10 euros a head, including wine, we were not complaining. The town quay was also the perfect place to watch the two resident loggerhead turtles.
After a couple of nights on the town quay, the Port Police asked us to move due to the '15th Greek Championship with Remote Control Speed Boats', as the poster said, taking place over the next few days. We moved to the Port Police/large boat dock and spent the rest of our time there, much to the annoyance of a local Ship Agent who thought our boat too small to be there especially when a very large boat arrived (more of that in a separate blog).
We did and saw lots of things during our stay and have separated the blog into several smaller ones rather than one long one. However, one thing that we did see, which was very sad for us to witness, was the arrival of a Turkish oil tanker on the quay in front of us. The area was cordoned off and the police and ambulances were on standby. Once docked, about 10, very weak and poorly looking guys were helped off the boat. They seemed to be Bangladeshi or Indian and we think they were stowaways. They were the lucky ones. We also saw two body bags being taken away and then later that evening, a Coast Guard boat came in and another body bag was taken away. You hear and read about these things happening but to actually see it was quite upsetting.
Apart from that instance, we had a great time in Argostoli and would definitely come back again. We took lots of photos and you can see them by clicking HERE.
Big town quay to tie to.
No electric but water is available, as are any other yacht services from the café next to Sunbird Rental Bikes including laundry, showers, book swap, internet, fuel delivery etc
Lidl & other big supermarkets out of town, towards the airport. You need a car.
Ladokolla - go to main square, take right off the main square and then second on the left. It is located on the right hand side, on a corner. Xarokopou 13.
Produce market to the south of the town quay. Excellent fruit & veg, fish mongers, butchers and good supermarkets.