Noto is a small yet stunning town in southeast Sicily. Ravaged by an earthquake in 1693, Noto was rebuilt in its entirety in the 18th century in an architectural style that is now the definition of Sicilian Baroque architecture. The influence of Noto’s unique architecture can be felt throughout southeast Sicily in the neighbouring towns. Every building in the historic centre of Noto is made of beautiful golden stone in this style. The new town was carefully planned and built for structural harmony, earning its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main tourist attraction in Noto is simply walking through the winding, cobbled streets and admiring the town’s beauty. The best way to experience Noto is to let yourself get lost. There are plenty of secluded bars and cafés hidden away down narrow side streets that you would miss unless you accidentally stumbled upon them. One sight worth seeing is Noto’s 18th century Duomo. Across the Piazza from the Duomo you’ll find the Palazzo Ducezio, the seat of the town’s council. The Hall of Mirrors within the Palazzo is filled with intricate 19th-century fresco paintings. Noto is popular year-round with tourists, especially couples and older generations, thanks to a mild Mediterranean climate. The town is conveniently situated near other tourist hotspots in Sicily, so makes a great base for exploring the rest of the island.
Scicli is another UNESCO-listed Baroque town, but is slightly more off the beaten track than Noto so is not as crowded in the holiday season. Tourist developments are beginning to grow in the area, so make sure to visit Scicli now if you want to experience authentic Sicilian life. Scicli was founded around two valleys in the Sicilian countryside in 300 BC, but the town was devastated by the 1693 earthquake and was rebuilt as a Baroque masterpiece. Throughout the centuries, the town has been under various cultural rulers from Arabs to Normans, and some remnants of its diverse history remain today in exhibitions around the town. Until 1950, some citizens still lived in cave settlements surrounding the ancient church, but these caves are now open to the public as museums. Some of Scicli’s finest Baroque architecture is seen in the elegant Piazza Italia square, or the bold intricacies of the Palazzo Beneventano.
Another UNESCO-listed town, Modica is famous for its Baroque architecture but also for its gourmet Modican Chocolate. The town rests high in the Monti Iblei mountain range and has incredible views over the Sicilian countryside throughout. Public transport from Noto to Modica runs throughout the day and the journey is only 40 minutes long. Modica’s two cathedrals are the most popular tourist hotspots. The Duomo di San Pietro was initially built in the 14th century but was rebuilt in the Baroque style after the 1963 earthquake. The Duomo di San Giorgio on the other side of town has been described as one of the seven wonders of the Baroque world and is the town’s most famous structure. Smaller churches throughout the town are also worth a visit for their beautiful architecture and decorations. The Chiesa Rupestre di San Nicoló is particular noteworthy, built into a cave and decorated with 2000-year-old wall paintings. For a taste of Cioccolata di Modica, visit Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the town’s most famous chocolatier that was founded in 1880. There are plenty of other chocolate shops around the town, all specialising in the Aztec-style chocolate that makes Modica so famous.
Siracusa, or Syracuse, was once one of the most powerful cities in the western world after it was founded by the ancient Greeks around 700 BC. Siracusa was not affected as much by the 1693 earthquake as other towns in the south-east, so remarkably still has an intact historical centre on the island of Ortigia. The most impressive sight in Siracusa is the Neapolis archaeological park which is filled with ancient Greek monuments. The Greek Theatre is also a site to behold, an amphitheatre built right into the rock where Greek plays are still performed in summer. A similar sight is the Roman Amphitheatre, nowadays overgrown and missed by most tourists. To see some of the incredible artefacts discovered in digs around the area, the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum has an extensive collection with exhibits ranging from fossilised dwarf elephants to Bronze Age homeware.
Admire the ruins at Noto Antica
The original town of Noto was ruined by an earthquake, but the ruins still stand today a few miles from the modern settlement. Entry to the site is free and offers a great perspective of Medieval Sicily, making it a must-see for history fans. The ruins are set among white limestone rocks and deep green vegetation, creating a fairytale-like and memorable experience.
Relax on Agua Beach
Noto’s most popular beach, Agua has silky-soft sands and is modernised so you can really get the most of your relaxing trip to the coast. The beach has sun loungers and parasols for hire, perfect for escaping the Sicilian sun. Agua also has a small beach bar serving light refreshments such as granita throughout the day. Lifeguards are posted along the coast, making the beach particularly popular with families. Alternatively, try the quieter Spiagga di Eloro. Unlike other beaches in Sicily, Spiagga di Eloro is completely untouched in terms of tourist developments, so you can enjoy the natural beauty of the shoreline.
Sicilian cuisine is all about fresh vegetables and locally-caught seafood. Sicily’s diverse ancestry means that its cuisine exhibits a unique blend of cultural influences- think an Italian-Mediterranean base with Greek, Arab and French twists. A particular traditional favourite is arancini, fried rice balls filled with meat and cheese. For a sweeter treat, try cannoli, pastry tubes stuffed with ricotta cheese.
Noto’s location near the coast means that its restaurants serve delicious, authentic Sicilian food with a special emphasis on seafood dishes. Sabbinirica is a popular restaurant with casual diners serving incredible, affordable Sicilian dishes. For a classier dining experience, Ristorante Manna’s Michelin-star menu is based on traditional Sicilian cuisine with an elegant touch, inspired by the recipes of France- be sure to pair your meal with a local Sicilian wine.
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