Beauty lies all around

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - FIONA HARARI

There are myr­iad ways to ap­pre­ci­ate Or­ti­gia. You might take in the old seafront on a stroll around the Si­cil­ian shore­line; ad­mire a Car­avag­gio mas­ter­piece at a lo­cal church; or ex­plore a cen­turies-old Jewish rit­ual bath­house ac­ci­den­tally dis­cov­ered 18m be­low a lo­cal inn.

Or you could sim­ply en­sconce your­self on your ho­tel’s sunny ter­race, sur­rounded by pot­ted lemon trees and ab­sorb gen­er­a­tions of his­tory while do­ing noth­ing more stren­u­ous than raise a glass of Cam­pari. An­tiq­ui­ties linger around many cor­ners of this UNESCO-listed Ital­ian city, founded 2700 years by the Corinthi­ans and birth­place of the Greek math­e­ma­ti­cian and in­ven­tor Archimedes. And while many vis­i­tors to Or­ti­gia, the small is­land that is Syra­cuse’s his­toric cen­tre, favour the sea views af­forded by sev­eral of its ho­tels, it’s worth a look in­wards. Be­cause sit­ting out­side An­tico Ho­tel Roma 1880, a pink palazzo in the cen­tre of the old town and streets away from the wa­ter­front, it’s clear beauty can also come from within.

The view here is all about life, to­day and cen­turies ago. It is teem­ing on all sides of the ho­tel, si­t­u­ated on the cor­ner of two of Or­ti­gia’s most pop­u­lar streets, from the an­tiq­uity on one side, of Syra­cuse’s Duomo and the car-free Pi­azza Minerva with pavers shiny from years of use, to the bustling Via Roma shop­ping street on the other.

Built in the 19th cen­tury, as its name her­alds, An­tico Ho­tel Roma 1880, is Or­ti­gia’s old­est, al­though it has an even greater claim as the world’s only ho­tel at­tached to a Greek tem­ple. Erected 2500 years ago, the Doric tem­ple ded­i­cated to Athena was sup­planted by a cathe­dral in the sev­enth cen­tury and in­cor­po­rated some of the tem­ple’s an­cient col­umns, which can still be seen from the ho­tel.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion ranges from sin­gles to com­fort­able dou­bles, in­ter­con­nect­ing gue­strooms for fam­i­lies and suites with liv­ing ar­eas and even one with a sauna. All have wooden floors and bal­conies, and many have views on to the sur­round­ing streets. But it is the com­mu­nal ar­eas, with their ex­pan­sive use of lime­stone, that are es­pe­cially stun­ning, from an in­ter­nal court­yard that is ideal for read­ing, to the vaulted lobby and care­fully re­stored meet­ing rooms. Rates in­clude break­fast, a lav­ish spread fea­tur­ing lo­cally sun-dried to­ma­toes, fresh ri­cotta and lus­cious can­noli, served be­neath aged arch­ways in the slickly ren­o­vated ground-floor restau­rant.

If the weather is even mod­er­ately warm, as it is for much of the year, an even bet­ter op­tion is to take your freshly squeezed or­ange juice out­side and ab­sorb the lo­cal cul­ture. The flow of passers-by head­ing for the ad­join­ing Duomo and its pi­azza be­gins early, pro­gress­ing from a few lo­cals to a steady line of shop­pers, tour groups, and oc­ca­sion­ally a har­ried out-of-town driver who has de­fied mul­ti­ple re­views and warn­ings and opted to drive through Or­ti­gia’s en­chant­ing but nar­row streets.

In the late af­ter­noon, from your ta­ble on the ter­race, you might spot the bar­ber as he re­opens on Via Roma af­ter the long lunch break, while the pi­azza fills with vis­i­tors and fam­i­lies hap­pily ex­it­ing some of the count­less lo­cal gela­te­ria. By the time night falls, and the sky turns an in­tense in­digo, the evening passeg­giata is un­der­way. On the time­worn streets of Or­ti­gia you could join count­less lo­cals on their evening stroll. Or just stay right where you are, at the cen­tre of this charm­ing old town, and ob­serve it all over an­other Cam­pari or Aperol spritz.

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