Nothing can prepare you for the first view of Ragusa. The oldest part of the
city, Ibla, was spilt in two by the earthquake and part of it rebuilt in the
baroque style, but hints of the old town still sit alluringly cheek-by-jowl with
such formal perfection.

As you round the bend on the road from Modica, up
the town rises like a giant sandcastle, a thing of part-dilapidated
magnificence conceived in a moment of delirium. Ragusa is secretive,
mysterious. Walking around, you feel weirdly high up. Even the squares are
on a rake – at all times there’s this sense of being on a hill, of walking on air
surrounded by silence. Or perhaps the sound is muffled because your eyes
are working overtime. In the streets radiating from the immaculate Piazza
Duomo, tiny, hidden orange gardens give on to palazzos nuzzling more
palazzos with guest rooms and state rooms and saddle-rooms now turned
into a ticket office in which a guide clock-watches and counts change, sitting
on a tatty 19th- century cushion the colour of velvety moss. The highly
polished marble floors in the piazza's neoclassical Circolo di Conversazione –
a handsome social club where 18th-century Ragusan gentry gathered to talk
and drink – throw up a brooding haze in the late afternoon, if you manage to