Beauty lies all around
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.