A visit to Sicily should not be complete without a visit to Modica. It may not be one of the largest or most famous cities on the island, but it is one of the most beautiful. After centuries of being a successful city-state, the 1693 earthquake destroyed much of the south side of the island giving rise to fantastic urban planning with Baroque architecture.
Things to do
With only 56,000 people, Modica may not be large but it's packed full of things to do. Take your time exploring the twisted and hilly streets passing some of the best examples of a unique subsection of Baroque architecture and taste a unique form of chocolate.
Castle of the Counts of Modica
Like many other castles, Castello Dei Modica is built on the foundations of other fortifications and sacred lands. Standing hundreds of feet over the town on a rock peninsula with sheer cliffs on each side, the site was the obvious choice to build the fortified House of the Counts. As the town was the centre of the important County of Modica during the 13th-16th centuries, the castle grew and was built stronger. Today, the 5 towers, the main gates, and much of the wall have been destroyed to allow the city to grow, leaving just the main residence and church. These host temporary exhibits showcasing anything from local art and history to winemaking while the permanent exhibit of Sicilian Puppets is a sight to see! New excavations under the castle have found pottery dating back to when the area was used as a Necropolis over 2500 years ago and a tunnel under the castle in case an escape route was needed. These will hopefully soon be added to the museums collection.
Central Sicily is probably one of the last places you would expect to have a unique form of chocolate. Roughly 500 years ago, the Spanish introduced raw cocoa beans to Modica, and their unique chocolate was slowly created. Unlike most other production methods, Modica's chocolate is produced by manual cold grinding of the beans which produced very little heat. In addition, no cocoa butter is added causing the added sugar to not melt leaving a grainy and "raw" taste. Many chocolatiers add local flavours ranging from citrus to spice to make it even more complex. Walking down the main streets of Modica, you will pass numerous chocolatiers, each perfecting their version of the chocolate. Some of the most famous are Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, and Cioccolato di Modica Sabadì.
Modica is one of the most stunning cities in Val de Noto. The entire town is built along the meeting point of two valleys. This "Y" shape gives lots of mountain side to build on allowing for some of the most amazing views from almost every building. The central axis of the town is the high peninsula that the Castle sits on with its amazing belltower at the tip. Lining the main streets of the city, spectacular Baroque-style churches stand with wide staircases leading to grand entrances. Looking the opposite way down the valley you have one of the grandest feats of mid 20th century Italian engineering. The Modica Bridge, and its nearby Irminio Bridge are some of the tallest in Europe reaching 400 and 500 feet from the valley respectively.
Baroque Churches of Modica
Along with the majority of Southeast Sicily, Modica was almost completely destroyed by the 1693 earthquake. What came after is a homogenous Late Baroque architectural style that evolved in the Vale Di Noto. Along with this style, many of the cities were redesigned to focus around churches and main squares. Some of the top churches from the area still remain and include the Church of Saint Peter and the Church of San Giorgio. Both of these baroque-style churches are prime examples of the style matching those in Noto and Ragusa.
Where to Stay
One of the best parts about Modica is the size and city layout. The compact design makes most Airbnbs and hotels well located to walk to all the main sights and chocolate shops. The city is also surprisingly well priced for its stunning views and amazing history. There are more than enough private Airbnbs or small hotels to support local owners.
How to get there and around
Sicily has a relatively good train system so it's not often much of a challenge to get around the island. Trains may be slow but we are hardly ever in a rush especially when you have such amazing views! Catania and Palermo are 3:20 and 5 hours away respectively with just 1 change and are less than 20 EUR. Syracuse is also just a quick 2 hour trip away for only 8 EUR allowing Modica to be a nice stopover in Southeastern Sicily. If you are driving or taking the bus, you have two of the most spectacular bridges on the edge of town that are part of the main highway.
Once in Modica, pretty much everything is within walking distance as long as you are willing to put in a few minutes of time! A bit of walking is perfect to burn off those calories from all the chocolate, gelato and canolis you will have eaten!
The top day trip from Modica would be the other historic town in Vale di Noto which includes Ragusa and Noto. Noto is easier to visit from Syracusa but if you don't have time in Syracuse for the day trip, you must do it from Modica! Noto is a spectacular town that is full of Late Baroque architecture and pretty much the main reason the area is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage area.
Cava Dei Servi
One of the more unique day trips is to the old homes and burial sites of the Bronze Age Sicilians. Roughly 4000 years ago the gorge was home to a small population of people who built dolmens- artificial caves formed by laying a large stone across two supports. These as well as several man-made caves have revealed all sorts of artifacts from pottery shards to human teeth.