My wife Sophie and I bought a ruin just outside Noto about 16 years ago, and now that it’s inhabitable it has become our family retreat. In summer, I wake with the light around five and go out onto the terrace to watch the sun creep its way down the triangular-shaped hill in front of us. Then I’ll go and pick some fruit for breakfast: we have blood oranges, figs and 600 lemon trees growing here.
The house is always full at the weekends – we have four daughters aged between 14 and 26 and there’s usually another family visiting – so I drive into Noto to do the shopping while everyone gets up. I buy vegetables from a truck at the side of the road; you can pick up the tiny, salty Pachino tomatoes the region is known for and enormous boxes of artichokes for a few euros. Then I’ll drop into Emporio di Pannuzzo Francesca, the hardware shop on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. It has that reassuring hardware shop smell, and the lovely Pannuzzo will happily sell you 200g of nails. I round off my shopping trip with an espresso at Caffè Costanzo. If it’s already very hot, I’ll accept their offer of a small beer containing a scoop of bitter lemon granita; a delicious local delicacy.
Back at home, I turn the artichokes and tomatoes into a tactile lunch, which we eat at a long wooden table shaded by bougainvillea. Then it’s off to Calamosche beach, detouring via the organic winery Tenuta La Favola. They produce really good wine, including a fruity Bianco IGP Terre Siciliane that is perfect with salads. Calamosche is a beautiful sandy bay, but the real joy of it is the restaurant Agriturismo Calamosche. It’s unprepossessing to look at – just a cluster of plastic tables and chairs with dogs and cats wandering through them – but the owners bring plates of sardines and orange and anchovy salad for us to share.
After we’ve eaten, we’ll all go to Anche Gli Angeli in Noto for Negroni Sbagliatos – a mix of sweet vermouth, Campari and prosecco – and sit outside in the honey-coloured dusk watching elderly men strolling arm-in-arm with their wives.
On Sunday mornings I walk down to the river that runs through our land; it was the lifeblood of the valley for millennia, and you can still see the irrigation channels carved out thousands of years ago. The sense of history is palpable.
Sophie is very big on excursions, so we’ll usually set off somewhere such as Villa Romana del Tellaro, south of Noto. You stumble across extraordinary architectural ruins all over Sicily, but seeing Roman mosaics in a museum means you really focus on the craftsmanship. Noto Antica, the site of the original Noto city that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, is another favourite. There is a proper road, but we prefer to drive our Fiat Panda up the 2,000-year-old track that zigzags its way precipitously up the hillside.
We’ll have lunch at Borgo Alveria. It’s sophisticated in a quirky, Italian way and the food deserves a star or two. Everything is sourced within a mile or so of the restaurant – herbs and vegetables from their own land; cheese and cured meat from local producers – and we eat what they recommend. Then it’s back to the house to read. I recently discovered John Julius Norwich’s book, Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History, which gets under the skin of the place.
The slow pace of life makes it easy to switch off, so the fact that it’s Sunday night doesn’t really register. We will probably have a barbecue, followed by a film projected onto the outside of the house; something atmospheric like Hal Ashby’s 1970s classic Harold and Maude. When it’s finished we wander into the lemon groves to look for shooting stars in the crystal-clear sky.