Sicily With La Rosa Works: Modica Chocolate
Sicily has been a travel destination for thousands of years, with successive cultures occupying this largest of Mediterranean islands. The result is that today’s visitors are regaled with a huge variety of sights and experiences to please every traveller. The southeastern corner of Sicily is most famous for Baroque architecture and chocolate, two very pleasing themes for any visit. The Baroque buildings can be attributed to a huge earthquake in 1693 that flattened the entire region, obliging resourceful residents to start over, rebuilding their cities in the style of the time. Thankfully, those buildings still stand today, gracing the historic centres of Catania, Siracusa, Noto, Ragusa, and Modica with a cultural patrimony that has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
Of these, Modica has the added attraction of being the epicentre of Sicilian chocolate. Connoisseurs expecting the smooth creams of northern Italy will be surprised by the gritty texture and robust flavours of Sicilian chocolate, which is based on Spanish tradition and is therefore comparable to Mexican chocolate (the grit comes from sugar crystals that remain undissolved in the chocolate). The Spanish influence comes thanks to the history of Modica as part of the Spanish Empire at the time when cacao was brought from the New World to Europe, which explains why Sicilian and Mexican chocolate are so similar. More explanations about Modica’s history of chocolate can be found in the Chocolate Museum administered by the local city council. Among the informative displays are chocolate sculptures and portraits as well as a map of Italy made of chocolate that fills an entire room.
Local chocolate producers go to great lengths to protect the legacy of Modica chocolate, which was almost lost in the 20th century due to the increased presence of manufactured chocolate in the market and a decline in interest in old ways. Today, those old ways are gaining new adherents, and such chocolate shops as Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (the Old Bonajuto Sweet Shop) take pride in maintaining the tradition. In Modica, it is possible to learn how to make chocolate in the traditional style; anyone wanting a chocolate experience can get in touch with Karen La Rosa of La Rosa Works, a tour operator specialising in Sicily and all the riches it offers its visitors. Working with local operators whose intimate knowledge provides invaluable insight, La Rosa Works brings Sicily to life in accordance with themes and preferences of the company’s clientele.
Culinary tours are especially popular and can be arranged across the island, with specific themes such as chocolate and cheese. A visit to a dairy farm outside Modica near the hilltop town of Ragusa can reveal the process for making the extraordinarily delicious ricotta produced in this region. Ms La Rosa‘s tireless efforts to increase cultural contact between locals and visitors through personalised, meaningful travel experiences have earned her company a devoted following, many of which return to Sicily to explore this fascinating island again and again.
Most tourists come to Modica only for a few hours before heading off to another Baroque town; they never even leave Corso Umberto I, the main street of Modica’s lower city, except perhaps to see the impressive Duomo di San Giorgio (St George Cathedral). This is unfortunate for them since the pedestrian laneways and staircases of Modica’s upper city are very atmospheric and almost devoid of tourists, allowing more adventurous travellers to experience the real Sicily. It is in the upper city that the noble Failla family has turned its ancestral home, Palazzo Failla, into a guesthouse. Under the high ceilings decorated in Sicilian style, the large bedrooms provide an evocative place to sleep after a day’s sightseeing. Rich ricotta from the Ragusa region is served every morning during breakfast; the in-house café serves food throughout the day. Signor Failla is a gracious host, supervising every detail of Palazzo Failla‘s operations.