What’s more romantic than being a newlywed? Potentially quite a few things as Mr Smith and I are rapidly discovering on our Italian honeymoon. We’re en route to a Sicilian seductress, Casa Talia, and our jaws – still aching from the posing, pouting and pontificating at our nuptials – are locked not in passion, but in strife.
Modica may indeed be a beautiful, ancient city, but it’s a devil where GPS systems are concerned. Looping round and round the city’s tangled tapestry of streets, arguing over directions in the stifling August heat, I start to wish I had a knuckle-duster on my finger, not a wedding ring. Table-planning and dress-hunting never seemed so enjoyable.
After much ‘passionate’ debate, we decide that the best course of action is to abandon the car and lug our suitcases up the seemingly endless flight of steps that separates us from our boutique B&B. It is thanks to a kind, hoary Sicilian (you have to love the Italians and their generosity of spirit) that we eventually make it to Casa Talia, luggage and marriage still intact.
Passing through the heavy wooden door of the hotel has a calming effect: we’re instantly wowed by the lush gardens and blossoming bougainvillea – a stark contrast to the sandstone-coloured city we were just driving through. Casa Talia is our own corner of calm. Its views are pretty special, too: the hotel’s lofty perch means it surveys the many basilicas and stairs that make up this Unesco-protected city. Accommodation is split between a cluster of properties dotted along a cobbled street in the old Jewish quarter, so guests here get to really live like locals.
As we walk down the plant-fringed paths, escorted by the stylish owner, we take in the design details with admiring eyes: original exposed stone walls; hand-painted blue Sicilian tiles from floor to ceiling; traditional thatched roof. The only mod cons come in the shape of flatscreen TVs perched like silver birds on the richly painted walls.
Casa Talia’s owners, Marco and Viviana, undoubtedly know style when they see it. Their hotel is elegant and simple, its traditional Baroque design draws upon the city’s great history, and personal, ornamental touches are dotted around the room. The end result is an affectionately achieved hodgepodge of old and new – it doesn’t surprise us when we learn that Viviana is an architect.
Along with the decor, we praise the perfectly judged temperature – this is a cool-as-a-cetriolo sanctuary (a rather warm Mr Smith is almost purring). After going on a tour of the hotel with Viviana, all that’s left for us to do is settle into our soothingly understated room, which we do – starting with a snooze on the bliss-inducing bed (we’re taking our hotel-inspector duties very seriously).
Several hours later, we’re busy discovering how magical Modica is by night. The city streets would make for an atmospheric film noir: the architecture is mysterious and exotic, with Greek, Spanish and Arab influences everywhere for the spotting. Judging by the pizzas – crusty, sauce-drenched calzone and a seductively simple margherita we sample at a cosy, candlelit café – the food in Modica is pretty enchanting as well. Add a bottle of local red into the mix and we’re soon pleasantly befuddled. (This is all well and good until you factor in the winding narrow cobbled streets and twisting staircases touched upon earlier. Try remember some sense of direction.)
Finally back ‘home’, Mr Smith and I feel as though we’re in our own private Sicilian stronghold. If there are other guests, we’re not aware of them. We stake out the lush, perfumed gardens with minibar-plucked tipples in hand and relax under the stars, mesmerised by the golden light twinkling through the city’s night sky. So far, so romantic. Those vows we made regarding wedded bliss seem very sensible right now.
The next morning, the good times continue. Breakfast at Casa Talia is a treat. We sit at a snug little table in the hotel’s secret second garden, a lush wonderland that can only be accessed by leaving the main entrance and going through another tucked-away door, a few buildings away. We linger over berry-boosted granola, gem-coloured preserves, breads in all shapes and sizes, and deliciously pulpy fresh fruit juice. Relaxing music softly plays through the faux-stone speakers: further proof of the owners’ needle-sharp attention to detail.
Marco and Viviana live on site, so they’re on hand to chat companionably to us as we crunch on cereal and slather jam on toast – it’s as though we’re staying with good friends. Compadrés who review our itinerary for the day and add in their own expert recommendations while their little boy flits happily around us. Pals who rustle up beach parasols for us to borrow. Dear chums who point us in the direction of the best locals-only beach.
As we prepare to hit the sand dunes, we can’t help congratulating ourselves on this start to married life. There’s a pleasing symmetry to the fact that the last time we were in Italy, we got engaged (Palazzo Barbarigo, Venice, should you be interested). Now we’re here as a Mr and Mrs in Sicily, in the sunshine, with wonderful food and generous hosts at our disposal. Perhaps being a newlywed isn’t so challenging, after all…