There are worse ways to begin married life than in the searing Sicilian summer sun. Everything from here on is likely to be downhill. Not our stay at Le Lumie though – even with expectations as high as the city steps we’re struggling over. We’re halfway through a long-awaited Italian honeymoon and we’re lost for the second time this holiday. Once is forgivable, twice is vow-testing. Alas, the navigational gods have it in for us and, what on first impressions appeared to be a mildly calf-straining flight of steps, has morphed into a mountain. With every step I take, our abandoned chariot (left lonely on the main road) seems ever more desirable; Mr Smith ever less so. My new Greek husband is in dire need of strong coffee, strong whisky, a chair in the shade, an ice-cold shower and a 40-pack of George Karelia cigarettes – none of which look likely to appear soon.
Adding to the confusion is Modica’s architectural jostle of winding streets and nougat-coloured, carbon-copy houses. From the road, you can’t gauge how high this higgledy-piggledy city rises. Of course, there’s nothing as sensible as simple signs or numbers. A tiny three-bedroom bed and breakfast hidden among the terracotta rooftops of Modica, Le Lumie has only been open since March 2008, and it’s ensconced in a pristine private courtyard that’s all too easy to miss if you’re passing by, and is still undiscovered by all but a lucky few. When we eventually stumble up to the hotel, Mr Smith gets down on his knees, kisses the door and sings a song of celebration.
Mr Smith nearly gets a black eye when owner Annamaria throws the door wide open with an exclamation. Federica is close behind. This mother-daughter team are as fast-talking, eye-flashing and hand-waggling as you’d expect native Sicilians to be, and we couldn’t feel more welcome. Mamma doesn’t speak English, but she instantly takes a shine to Mr Smith. Taking in our crumpled clothes and puffy, luggage-ruined hands, Federica earns immediate access to our good books by detailing very clearly, very slowly, how best to access the hotel by car. For once, I put aside my default reaction – nodding, smiling and thinking of cannoli – and actually listen.
Simple, stylish, and double-take-inducingly cheap, Le Lumie has rooms starting at €100 a night. Yet we know we’re in good hands: the owners won their hospitality stripes running the nearby Torre d’Oriente – a romantic modern restaurant celebrated for its seafood and glorious views of the city. After Modica’s mediaeval architectural sprawl, a tour of the hotel’s contemporary good looks come as something of a surprise. Interiors are crisp, white and airy, and each of the three bedrooms is decorated around a different colour theme: purple, blue and brown. Design details for us include beamed ceilings and strips of patterned wallpaper, and a slick little ensuite bathroom.
Chocolatey as an Easter egg, our room is also so tranquil that a bed ‘inspection’ soon turns into slumber – cue loud snoring from this Mrs Smith. Obviously, because I am sleeping, I am unaware of this, Mr Smith who is busy brewing more fresh coffee (his fourth that day; a blood sample would reveal a most exciting Lavazza blend), gleefully reports back later. It’s the soundtrack to his swotting up on our city from a pocket library of guidebooks.
A neatly concealed power shower washes away post-nap weariness and I stroll onto the flowery patio to find Mr Smith sitting studiously at a little table in the sunshine. Mr Smith surreptitiously slides his crib notes under a sun hat, and starts casually dropping some Modica tips as though he’s a local. Where to find the best pizza? How to zip around on a Vespa? Where to gorge on tiramisù? Soon it’s time for Mr Smith to put his money where his mouth is, and we stroll into town, happy, hungry and headed for La Gazza Ladra.
Amid this Michelin-starred restaurant’s pill-white, black-chaired elegance, we embark on a culinary orgy. After a laboratory-worthy parade of espumas, froths, cubes, textures, clouds, test tubes and quenelles, this Mrs Smith and mum-to-be has soon enough eaten too much – either the baby is on its way or too many petits fours have been consumed. Slowly, we waddle back and clamber clumsily into bed, vowing never to eat again.
The next morning, we wake with an urgent lust for croissants, which must be satisfied immediately. Thankfully, Annamaria obliges, loading our table outside with fruit-filled pastries and buttery pains au chocolat plucked from the local bakery, along with a mini market stall of fruit and more steaming coffee, practically inhaled by Mr Smith. From our garden perch, we eye up Modica and try to outdo each other with stories of what sights these ancient stones have seen.
Mamma re-appears, and with one flash of his black eyes, Mr Smith catches her attention (Annamaria and Federica live just across the courtyard, so they’re always there for the asking). Soon they’re off again, absorbed in a conversational tennis match played out in Greek and Italian. The lovely expression ‘una faccia, una razza’ (‘one face, one race’) rings true. Lots of map-stabbing and ‘Gree-talian’ chatter results in a recommendation for the day: the riserva naturale at Pino d’Aleppo.
It’s about an hour’s drive to the nature reserve (well, it is when you’re good at getting lost), so it’s a relief when we finally stumble out of the car and stretch our legs in such scenic surroundings. Mr Smith and I go off-track and, after some sweaty walking, we stumble upon hiking gold: a human-less haven of white sand and glass-clear waters. Stretched out on our own private ‘beach’, Mr Smith and I are as content as newlyweds could be. Le Lumie’s prescription for a happy marriage? Simple: sun, sleep and a generous dose of coffee.