Reviews

Legless on Holidays: Syracuse, Sicily

I went on a family holiday to Syracuse in Sicily last week for 7 seven days. We flew into Catania and we stayed in the four star Mercure Hotel, which I have reviewed below. As a holiday destination, its main attractions are sun (34 degrees most days), sea (not necessarily beaches but there was a grand marina to perv on expensive boats) and food. We spent the majority of the time on the island of Ortigia which has plenty of duomos, piazzas, cathedrals, museums, restaurants and quirky shops located throughout its winding streets.

Expensive boats

For a wheelchair user, Ortigia and Syracuse are difficult to get around. The streets are uphill, have rough pavements and the pathways tend to end abruptly. I couldn’t get too far without asking for a heave or a hup to get moving. Almost every shop or restaurant we went into had a step into it but some, luckily, had a moveable ramp so I could go in without assistance.  One very funny and unusual trait the restaurants and cafés had was that if they had a wheelchair bathroom, it could be up four or five steps or in a very tight space. Nonetheless, the staff were always incredibly helpful and if there were steps to climb, they’d be the first to help out.

Ortigia and Syrcause are lovely places to visit for a couple of days – you might find yourself struggling to find activities to fill a week – and if you don’t mind its hills, steps and cobbles, then don’t rule it out as a holiday destination.

Accommodation:

Hotel Mercure
Viale Teracati, 20, 96100, Syracuse
hotelmercuresiracusa.com

The location of the hotel wasn’t ideal but due to the hilly nature of Ortigia and Syracuse, this hotel was one of a few that was able to offer facilities for disabled guests. The decor was very modern and it has its own car park. My room was very big and there were handrails in the bathroom and there was walk-in shower with a seat. There was a phone with 24-hour assistance. There was a lift to all floors but one major fault with its facilities was that there were five steps up to the swimming pool and solarium area. Otherwise, the rooms for disabled guests were perfect for wheelchair users.

Restaurants/cafés:

Lungolanotte
Lungomare Alfeo, Syracuse, Sicily
This place was a hit for my dad as he’s an avid seafood fan. The views here are spectacular as it’s overlooking the sea and all of those expensive yachts. They had a wheelchair bathroom here but it was bizarrely up five steps. Two of the waiters had to lift me up. They have outdoor and indoor seating.

Caffé la Piazza
Piazza Duomo 16, 96100 Syracuse, Sicily
This place is grand for a quick lunch (pasta, ravioli, sandwiches, pizza) but its main attraction is its view of the cathedral and the newly wed couples doing their lap of victory for photographers. They had a wheelchair bathroom and there are two low steps in at the front door. They have outdoor and indoor seating.

Taverna Sveva
Piazza Federico di Svevia, 1, 96100 Syracuse, Sicily
There’s a bit of character to this family-run restaurant beside the castle. I had delicious lamb chops here but there’s a big range of sea food and pastas here. They have outdoor and indoor seating. They had a ramp in the front door and an incredibly tight wheelchair bathroom. Very little budge room in there so if you’re claustrophobic, it’s not the place for you.

Osteria da Mariano
Vicola Zuccolá, 9, 96100 Syracuse, Sicily
osteriadamariano.it
They boast a selection of rustic food in this restaurant down a crowded side street and their penne pasta with mint, parsley, fennel, pesto and basil was a hearty feed. The street it’s on is very narrow so you will have to ask people to move their chairs if you want to get through. There is one step up into the restaurant (there is outdoor seating) and even though it’s not a wheelchair bathroom, per se, it is very big and will fit a chair. You will, however, have to ask staff to move a few chairs to get through.

Le Vin de l’Assassin Bistrot
Via Roma, 115, 96100 Syracuse, Sicily
This was hands down the best restaurant we ate in. I had a breast of duck in honey sauce and I will never look at duck in the same way again. Again, it’s up a sloped side alley so you will need a hoosh up. They have a wheelchair bathroom too, which is a little tight, and you will have to ask the staff to move a table or two as you make your way in. Absolutely delicious food though.

La Foglia

Trattoria La Foglia
Via Capodica 29, Syracuse
lafoglia.it
This family-run joint is just so damn quaint and twee. With menus possibly designed by the 10-year-old running about the place and what looks like old school desks, they’d put any Dublin quirky joint to shame. All of their pasta is homemade and it’s a very decent portion. There is outdoor seating on a very slanted street but with one step inside, there is more level seating. They don’t officially have a wheelchair bathroom but they let me use their staff bathroom which fit my chair perfectly.

Vite & Vitello
Piazza Francesco Corpaci, 1-2 Angolo via Maestranza, 96100 Syracuse, Sicily
This place was a tad expensive but the food was good, not amazing, but good. Their meat and cheese platter definitely hit the spot though. They have a moveable ramp at the front the door, which is easy to use, and a wheelchair bathroom too.

Shops:

The majority of shops had at least one step into them – those damn hills – but here are two ceramic shops that you must visit.

Circo Fortuna
Via dei Tolomei, 20, 96100, Syracuse, Sicily
circofortuna.it
Caroline Van Riet designs the cutest pottery – not too different from Le Petit Prince illustrations. You can see her at work in the shop and pick out cups, plates, lamps or whatever you’d like for her to paint. She also runs a B&B, which I’m sure is the nicest place to stay. There was one large step into the shop but she is very helpful and this place is definitely worth a visit.

Fish House Art
Via Cavour, 29-31, 96100, Syracuse, Sicily
fishhouseart.it
Big fish, little fish, fish made out of an old rake. Never in your life would you think a shop made out of ceramic fish would be so interesting. Cod, salmon, sharks all there to hang on your wall. There’s even some sea monsters made out of leftover garden tools. They have one giant step into a shop and a ramp to connect the two levels.

Things to do:

Greek Theatre
We spent one afternoon in the ancient grounds of the Greek Theatre. The ground was very rough here but there was paved path through most of the site so that you could see the remains of the amphitheatre and the sacrificial altar.

River boatride

Boat Rides
We took two boat rides; one through the sea caves and one riverside lemon farms. You will see many stands for various boat rides around the island and even though their boats aren’t officially adapted for wheelchairs to get on and off, the staff have no problem with some heavy lifting. If you consider yourself a salty sea dog, don’t miss out on these trips.


Mount Etna
Other than eating and sunning oneself. there wasn’t a lot to do. However, we did visit Mount Etna which was amazing. You could see all of the lava tracks that the explosions have left over the years and you could hear the rumble of the volcano every now and again. It’s a long drive but definitely worth it. There are wheelchair bathrooms in a number of the restaurants there. It’s a very steep climb and it’s not for everyone but it’s worth it just to look at.

About the author

Louise Bruton

Reviewing Dublin, step by step, in terms of wheelchair accessibility. Freelance journalist and pop culture enthusiast.

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