On a recent trip to Sicily, I was looking forward to the fantastic selection of different flavours of ice cream that I knew awaited me there and I made sure to do my daily research - at least a double dose every day. It’s important to keep cool in the often stifling heat of the Mediterranean sun ;-) and, to my delight, I discovered that there was both gelato (ice cream) and granita to be sampled and, with so many flavours to get through, there was no time to be wasted!
The Sicilian speciality ‘granita’ being, generally speaking, less creamy than ice cream makes a deliciously refreshing treat at any time of the day. This traditional Italian confectionary is usually made with just fruit, sugar and water although pistachio and almond are two very popular flavours, made with these locally grown ingredients.
The picturesque town of Noto in Southeastern Sicily is famous for its ice cream and granita and claims to have the two best ice cream and granita parlours respectively in the world! So of course this was a must on my list of itinerary where these two stops had to be tried out and tested for their authenticity.
Not wanting to experience ice cream anticlimax, my travel companion and I made sure however to work our way up to the best in the world by making some stops along the way in places such as Ortygia in Syracuse where we tried ‘gelsi’ granita - the much anticipated mulberry fruit whose seasonality my trip luckily coincided with!
Everywhere we went, we encountered this delicious Italian speciality, often handmade on a small scale by the local establishment where it was on offer. The texture and consistency varied from place to place, parlour to parlour, from the creamy and delectable pistachio granita sampled in the town of Acireale to the cooling, sorbet-like lemon flavour from a roadside van at Noto seafront Lido.
Later on we stopped in Modica, the town famous for its Italian chocolate, but memorable for its steps which take you from the upper town (Modica Alta) in a fairly steep and winding descent down to the lower town (Modica Alta). I’m pretty sure all of these steps keep the ice cream and granita parlours in business with tourists and locals alike in need of some refreshment following their descent from the top or preceding the arduous climb back up (in my case)!
Back to Noto and finally time to get to the essence of the matter! This small but stunning baroque town and UNESCO World Heritage Site is a mesmerisingly beautiful example of a planned town, having been built following an earthquake in 1693, which destroyed the original town.
It’s a place which seems to come alive at night when families with children, groups of teenagers, loved-up couples and tourists alike all descend on the main strip (Corso Vittorio Emanuele), to amble along the streets - ‘fare la passeggiata’ - and enjoy what this little gem of a town has to offer in the relative coolness of the evening air: restaurants aplenty with ice cream and Italian confectionery galore!
On a map of the town, which has a modestly-sized population of less than 25,000, I counted 19 churches and 2 basilicas! So it was good to see that the majestic steps leading up to the cathedral were put to good use in the evenings when you would find them teeming with people enjoying their post-dinner Italian ice cream. Of course we had to experience this for ourselves and try to blend in with the locals. I’m pretty sure the architect who designed the town was making allowances for this custom in his design back in the 1700’s.
Our palates having now become pretty expert in the designer confectionary handmade in Italy, Cafe Costanzo was the first on our list of parlours claiming to be the ‘best in the world’ to be visited where, seated outside at a table on a quiet back street, we discovered a buzzing atmosphere.
This super friendly spot, popular with a young crowd, had a whole host of flavours on offer and, faced with the dilemma of having to choose between gelato and granita, I was proposed a rather alluring combination of both! My choice of a zesty lemon ice cream topped with the deliciously sweet summer flavours of strawberry granita was an absolute winner and my new favourite Italian dessert!
Next on our list was Caffè Sicilia, established in 1892, situated on the main Corso and, perhaps wisely, specialising in granita! Here we were presented with innovative flavour combinations such as strawberry & tomato or the gorgeously tart grapefruit, and these people had yet another solution for indecisive epicures such as my companion: a platter with three different flavours so that you didn’t have to choose just one! Some eye-catching and irresistible Italian pasticceria (Italian small cakes) was also on display and happily turned out to be tastebud-tantalising to boot - the gorgeous confection I tried (after the granita mind you) was made with pistachios and was the perfect accompaniment to a cappuccino. They had more delicious temptations like orange zest and saffron. I was delighted to find a matching flavour to our very own Lavolio Decadent Spiced confectionery!
To summarise, Sicily certainly doesn’t disappoint on the gelato or granita front and it’s not easy to decide which you prefer. For that reason, Cafe Costanzo with its refreshing combination of both lemon ice cream topped with strawberry granita enjoyed at this atmospheric spot gets my vote :-)