Escape to Noto, a sundrenched corner of Southern Italy, where baroque palaces sit alongside charming osterias serving up the best Sicilian cuisine. Here are our recommendations on how to best spend your time in this Italian city.
Interested in visiting? Noto is one of many fantastic destinations included as part of Culture Trip’s specially curated 10-day Sicily adventure, led by our local insider.
A devastating earthquake hit Noto in 1693. Much of the city was destroyed, but from its greatest tragedy came a lasting legacy of grand architecture and an exquisitely cohesive beauty that, eventually, attracted the attention of Unesco. At the end of each day, the sun-kissed limestone buildings in the city take on a rich, honeyed glow. While there’s no shortage of things to see in Noto, its nearby beaches and the Vendicari Nature Reserve provide compelling reasons to get out of town.
Work on the Palazzo Ducezio, the Town Hall in Noto, started in the mid-18th century. The ground floor was the work of Sicilian architect Vincenzo Sinatra, but the upper level was a much later project designed to complement the original building. Its oval hall had an extravagant makeover at the end of the 19th century, and the result is reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles. The lavish Hall of Mirrors is filled with Louis XV-style furniture, gold decor and the fabulous mirrors that give the room its name.
Caffè Sicilia has been a fixture on this Noto street since 1892. These days, it’s in the capable hands of Corrado Assenza – as a child, he watched his aunt run the place, but now he calls the shots. The cafe’s speciality is its granita. Some call this semi-frozen sweet treat a dessert, but, here, it’s served for breakfast. The cafe’s signature serve is made with almond milk, though the menu also lists sour cherry and lemon flavours. Provi ad assaggiare, as they say here – “try it, and see what it tastes like.”
Turquoise waters gently lap this secluded strip of sand, flanked by a rocky headland, just 9km (5.6mi) from Noto. Eloro Beach shelves gently, making it ideal for swimmers. As it forms part of the Vendicari Nature Reserve, there are few facilities within walking distance, aside from a small car park, a bar and some showers. As you stroll to the beach, you’ll pass the ruins of the Greek settlement of Helorus. Archaeologists have excavated the footprints of a temple and a theatre at this coastal site.
Cantina Palmeri is a winery, just a 10-minute drive from Noto. Its history can be traced back to the 15th century, though, since 2002, it’s been run by a Swiss couple with a passion for organic viticulture. Grapes thrive in this place: the soil is the ideal balance of clay, lime and sand, while the dry, sunny climate ripens the fruit perfectly. The result is a collection of exceptional wines, which you can taste on a visit to Cantina Palmeri’s cellars.
Thousands of migrating birds come to the Vendicari Nature Reserve each year, particularly in spring and autumn. The saltwater lagoons (known locally as pantani), sand dunes and rocky coastline provide the ideal stopover as the birds rest on their way to and from North Africa. Waders like curlews and marsh sandpipers are regular visitors during nesting season. You’ll also see herons, egrets, spoonbills and terns. The most eagerly anticipated, however, are the flamingos that potter in the shallows and raise fluffy chicks.
Ristorante Manna Noto occupies what was once the wine cellar of the Palazzo Nicolaci. Here, Manna Noto’s talented kitchen chefs turn simple recipes into culinary works of art. Enjoy a seasonal menu of delicious Sicilian food that reflects local tastes and traditions. The decor is fun and whimsical. As much thought has gone into the presentation of each dish as in the sourcing of the fresh, local ingredients used to create them.
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