A Trip to the Island of Ortigia: 5 Cultural Highlights
Sicily has been circulated widely in news cycles as of late, with wildfires and heat creating havoc for those travelling to the country – or attempting to. Travellers have been warned, airports have closed and evacuations carried out.
Amidst the turbulence of flight cancellations and reroutes, we managed to travel to Ortigia – an idyllic island situated hours away from the wildfires – to make our debut at the music festival Ortigia Sound System. The event is a key highlight on the Trippin 50 (a cultural calendar that you can find here) chosen for the way it’s creating a hub for experimentalism in Sicily whilst maintaining a local presence amongst its quiet streets and tranquil shores. Hours of travel time stretched out far longer than planned, and belongings were lost along the way. However, moments from our trip were awash with the kind of magic that’s part of the island’s charm. Below, we list out the highlights.
Blissful boat parties
It’s been five years since the Ortigia Sound System team last hosted their boat parties and this year they’re back, thanks to the sponsor and Italian clothing brand K-Way. The line-up featured the festival team’s impeccable curation of pairings: a Príncipe boat party, for example, with Lisbon’s Nídia and DJ Danifox; or Melbourne’s DJ Plead with Miami’s Bitter Babe. A breadth of global underground sounds were showcased for this year’s 2023 edition, and the effect of dancing in the glistening Mediterranean Sea created a certain laissez-faire attitude onboard. Musically, this meant the sets were peppered with bangers throughout. But the cherry on top? Unlike most festivals, party-goers at Ortigia Sound System were given the option of plunging into the aquamarine waters below. We swam alongside the boat, surveying the Baroque architecture framing the coastline; the tiny peeling, pastel buildings lining the waters far away in the distance. Surrounded by an expanse of sea and panoramic views of greenery, this truly felt like a pocket of paradise in the warm depths of the Mediterranean.
Sea urchin linguine
There are a few hallmarks of a Sicilian summer, and sea urchin linguine – or triccoli al ricci – is one of them. A must-try in Ortigia, Trattoria Pesce Alzurro is a restaurant run by Sergio, who sources fresh sea urchins from the fish market each day. You’re more likely to get a spot if you go for lunch, when you can stroll up without a reservation and enjoy this famous dish outside under the sun. Otherwise, sea urchin is available elsewhere across a smattering of restaurants on the island. It's frequented by the festival team too, and recommended in the founder's guide. No sea urchins for the day? Try the trofie cozze e pistacchio – a twisted pasta dish with mussels and pistachio.
The location of Ortigia’s afterparties
Ortigia Sound System’s afterparties began from 3am and ran until 9am – a test of endurance and stamina. It wasn’t hard to soak up the energy of the afterparties though, with London’s finest at the decks this year via a Hyperdub takeover featuring Ikonika, Kode9 and Scratchclart. Aside from the programming, what stood out was the location of these afterparties. Last year, these took place in the countryside, the location so remote that it didn’t have a name. For the 2023 chapter, the afterparties were held at Bamboo Park. Upon entering the site, the sound of the stage was well-concealed in the darkness, and a trek down a dusty path lit only by the headlights of cars gave the event the thrill of entering the unknown, as though venturing into a free party.
A Sicilian breakfast
Sicily is famous for many things, but a Sicilian summer wouldn’t be complete without a sweet breakfast. Order the granita – a Sicilian drink that’s made up of water, sugar, ice and fruit – and pair it with a brioche, known as a brioscia.
The Lido OSS stage
Zen Siracusa is a beach resort that’s open to the public all year round. In July, it’s the crown jewel of the Ortigia programme, and this year we took over the stage. During the festival, a stage presented a lineup made up of local artists, combined with some international names. This year, the stage featured the likes of Radio Alhara affiliate Owais, breakthrough star Toumba and Cairo-based producer 3Phaz. Ortigia has breathtaking beaches, but if you’re looking for a more peaceful area filled with music and frequented by less tourists, head to the Lido stage where you can sunbathe, swim in the crystalline waters and feel any stressors ebb away.