Agrigento, San Leone & the Valley of Temples
Sicily, November 2009
The Hotel della Valle has a 15m outdoor pool and a health spa. Internet costs €3 for 30 mins. Rooms at the end of the corridor, e.g. 114 and 115, are larger and have nicer views than the rooms on the side. There was the odd mozzie about in November. If you turn right out of the hotel and go a few doors down you will find a supermarket on the right. There is a small cafe on the way which does decent salads.
Trattoria dei Templi (B+), 15 via Panoramica dei Templi (right out of the hotel, first left, it’s immediately on the left), 0922 403110, not Thursdays.
This is the best place near the hotel and is mentioned in Ristorante d’Italia. A mid-range eatery that attracts families and passing tourists, the decor and ambience is nothing special but the food is very good. Antipasti dishes are €8-10, pasta courses €6-10 and mains (mainly seafood, their speciality) are €11-20. I had Zuppe di Cozze (B+) with huge plump mussels in a tomato, garlic and parsley stock which I soaked up with their lovely soft bread, Taglioline con Gamberoni Rossi e Pisachio (B+) , a mixed salad and a half bottle of ‘Chiaramonte’, an excellent Nero d’Avola (Firriato ’07) which all came to €32 with water and cover. The house specialities mentioned by the guide are Casarecce al Ragu di Triglia (pasta in a mullet sauce with fennel and toasted breadcrumbs), Sarago (a fish) in Crosta di Patate al Forno and for dessert, Lo Spumone all’Arancia con Salsa Frutti di Bosco (an orange cake? with a sauce of forest berries).
Up the hill:
It takes about 15 mins to walk up the hill to the main promenade on Viale della Vittoria in town. This is probably the best place for a run on the flat, (20 min circuit) and from the small adjoining park you can get amazing views of the coastline and the temples in the foreground. Ficus bar at #109 is a nice modern bar that plays world music.
Pizzeria Nobel (C), 13 Viale delle Vittoria.
This is a popular pizzeria with seating for one hundred, so the noise is pretty deafening. I ended up here when I found Gennaro’s above to be inexplicably closed on a Saturday night. My Pizza Siciliana (mozzarella, tomatoes, capers, olives, onions, chillies, anchovies, oregano) was edible enough but no great shakes. Personally I found the crust too thick and rather tasteless, but the locals seemed to enjoy it. With a Birra Moretti and (friendly) service it came to €12.50. Pizzas are €4.50-7, antipasti €6-8, big salads €6, pasta €6.50-9 and mains €7-13.50. Cheap and cheerful.
Trattoria Giovanni (C), Piazzetta Vadula (turn right at the western end of Viale delle Vittoria, it’s the second small square you come to on the right, before you get to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele), Tel. 0922 21110, closed Sundays.
Listed in Ristoranti di Italia, this is a formal restaurant with old stone walls, pink flowery tablecloths, antique cutlery and dodgy still life paintings. There were only two other customers when I visited on a Monday. Although the twelve dishes on the antipasti buffet looked pretty decent, I was still full from lunch, so only had a pasta course, Orecchiette Vadala (C), with prawns, swordfish and tomatoes for €14. After several attempts I have come to the conclusion that swordfish is best as a steak or smoked in thin slices and the lumps of fish in my pasta did nothing for me. The best thing about the meal was the local Fiano (Mandrarossa ’08) (B+) which was the cheapest wine on the list at €14. Bread and cover was a hefty €4, resulting in a bill of €32 for very little. Generally a short menu is a good thing I think but all the dishes on the single page were overpriced (antipasti €12-15, pasta €11-14, mains €12-30). This, along with the sickly decor, is reason enough to give this place a miss. The staff had their coats on and were waiting for me to leave at 10pm.
Via Atenea is a pleasant shopping street with lots of eateries and bars that’s worth a wander. Cafe Girasole at #68/70 does great sandwiches. I got a caprese on olive bread for €2. There’s also a famous cake shop at #94.
Trattoria Concordia (B+), 8 via Porcello (second or third right? off via Atenea as you go up. You will see a sign on the street.) Tel. 0922 22668
A pleasant unpretentious little place with rustic decor that seats about 30. It was the one of the only places off via Atenea that was open on a Monday and had any customers. We had the Antipasti Rustica; caponata, pecorino (both A), potato tortilla, olives (both B), fish cake and involtini di melanzane (both C) with a large salad on the side (B+). Both the house red and white were good quality (B). The mixed grill consisted of veal dusted in polenta flour, sausage (both A) and a disappointing pork chop (C). To finish an excellent amaro (A) from Salemi in Trapani province. The bill came to a paltry €26 each. Would definitely go again if I was in the area.
About half way along via Atenea on the right you will find via Fodera (becoming via Spirito Santo), which dog legs back up the hill, leading to the Spirito Santo monastery at the end. The nuns here are famous for their pastries, especially their almond cake (dolce di mandorle) which is made to a secret recipe apparently kept secret for centuries. If you press the door bell at #8 S.Santo Cortile and say ‘Vorrei comprare qualche dolce’ they may sell you some. They aren’t cheap (€10 for a half kilo, about €1 a biscuit) but it’s worth it for the experience. They also sell (takeaway?) couscous but I was told to come back on Wednesday at 1pm as they didn’t have it that day. The monastery was founded in 1299 and is probably the most venerable medieval building in town. Go through the door to the left of #8 and even if it isn’t open, you will still be able to see the beautiful archways.
Coming back from Spirito Santo, if you go up one of the staircases on the right and keep going upwards you should eventually get to the steep but relatively wide via S.Girolamo. At #63 on the left you can see a beautiful old doorway with a plaque which reads ‘Consulate of the British Empire’, a relic of the sulphur trade from the late 1700’s. If you continue up via S.Girolamo to via San Vincenzo you are in the alleys which formed the heart of the Arab city over a thousand years ago. Go up via Duomo and you will pick up signs for Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Grecia (or go up from Piazza Lena at the end of via Atenea). You can still see the foundations of the Greek temple on which is was built through the glass floor.
Down the hill:
Turning right and walking down the hill from the hotel, it will take about 90 mins to get down to the sea at San Leone (no pavements after the temples, but you can catch the #2 bus from outside the Hotel della Valle), or several hours longer if you want to take in the ruins of the Quartiere Ellenistico-Romano (lots of old house walls and a few mosaics), the Museum (lots of old pottery, some quite amusing, and one of the original colossal statues from the Temple of Jupiter), and of course the five Greek temples. The Tempio della Concordia is the most intact and has a nice view from the ridge. There is a necropolis by the side of the path leading up to it. You have to pay in at all these places but I don’t know how much as we got lucky and went when it was free.
Leon d’Oro (A/B), 102 viale Emporium, (on the way to the beach at San Leone, about 40 mins walk from Piazzale dei Templei or catch the #2 bus and get off at the camping ground), not open Mondays.
This place is unremarkable for its ambience but is known for its seafood and the staff were very friendly. Two of us started with the Grande Antipasti Misto which consisted of marinated anchovies on a slice of green lemon (A), smoked swordfish on polenta (A), a fish patty, marinated white and pink fish, pumpkin and red onion chutney (all B) and sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs (C). I followed this with Spaghetti alle Vongole Verace con Pomodoro Ciliegino (cherry toms) e Spolverata di Bottarga (sprinkled with tuna eggs) which seemed to give it a bit of a kick (B+). Nicky had a fantastic Grigliata Mista del Mediterraneo of char-grilled calamari, large red prawns and a wonderful grilled fish of the day (sarago?) (A). This was accompanied by a mezzo of house white (€3) (B) and a bottle of excellent white ‘Grecanico’ (A) from Cantina Mandarossa in nearby Menfi. We finished with the unusual Semifreddo al Basilico di Sicilia (basil ice cream with pistachio) (A), Panacotta al Frutti di Bosco) (B) and two glasses of Marsala. Our bill came to €93 but we were treating ourselves to a special Sunday lunch after a hard day viewing the temples. You can of course eat more cheaply than we did (antipasti €7-10, pasta €7-12, seafood mains €8-18).
From here it’s about 15 mins walk to the seafront in San Leone. There is no beach as such, just rocks and the whole place has a strong feel of decay. After walking off lunch we had a coffee and got straight on the #2 bus back. It costs 1 euro, supposedly runs every 20 mins and drops you right outside the Hotel della Valle. The local taxi number is 0922 26670.
Another good place (recommended in Ristoranti di Italia 2009) that we didn’t get to try on the seafront in San Leone is Al Porticciolo at 26 Lungomare Falcone e Borsellino, which I think has a terrace. Specialities include Frittura di Pesce and Ricciola n Umido. Closed Tuesdays. Tel. 0922 413631.