The enchanting town of Noto, found stepping up the sun-kissed Ionian coastline in Italy’s southern island Sicily, is a pure gem of Baroque art, yet still quite undiscovered.
In recent years, the resounding success of the hit Sicilian detective series Inspector Montalbano and the huge media impact generated by Italian influencer and entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni’s wedding at Dimora delle Balze, a beautifully restored 19th-century masseria in Noto, inspired a significant increase in tourism to this part of the island, but it is still far from being a mainstream destination. Part of the appeal of the south-eastern edge of Sicily is that it is, almost literally, off-the-beaten-track and still very much unspoilt by mass tourism.
With its Baroque richness, metaphysical dimension and unspoiled authenticity, the bijou town of Noto is really worth visiting now, before it might get too popular. Here are some good reasons why this Baroque pearl in Sicily’s southeast corner should top your travel bucket list.
Flamboyant Baroque architecture
Rebuilt in exuberant fashion after a terrible earthquake that devastated much of the island’s south-eastern tip in 1693, the fascinating town of Noto is a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque architecture and town planning, which savvy travellers dare not share for fear that it might be invaded by hordes of tourists as the most sought-after Italian destinations, like Rome, Florence and the Cinque Terre.
UNESCO concurred with this protectionist view in the early 2000s, slapping a World Heritage listing on the late-Baroque towns of the breath-taking Noto Valley in Sicily’s southeast, as historic sites of ‘outstanding universal value’‘
A charming blending of Italian, French and Spanish influences, Noto contains many pre-eminent examples of Sicilian Baroque. The atmospheric cobbled streets of this impossibly picturesque town are lined with around forty world-class Baroque buildings, including the 18th-century Nicolaci Palace, worth visiting for a glimpse of the luxurious lifestyle of Sicilian aristocrats in past centuries, and the majestic Cathedral of San Nicolò, astoundingly beautiful especially at sunset, when the Sicilian sunshine casts the locally quarried honey-coloured limestone façade with a pinkish golden glow.
Wander around Noto’s stone-paved streets at a languorous gelato-eating pace, admiring the amber-coloured cathedrals, the sumptuous Baroque palaces decorated with lavish details and the fanciful balconies supported by mythical creatures, mermaids, nymphs, lions and winged horses. It is easy to cover this fabled town on foot along its two main arteries, the pedestrian-only Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Cavour.
Or just take a seat at a café in town and watch the world go by, while lingering over a lemon granita, sipping on a glass of Nero D’Avola wine, or having an espresso as the well-toned Detective Salvo Montalbano, played by award-winning Italian actor Luca Zingaretti, would do.
Sweeping beaches and off-the-radar sights
If you are a sea lover, there’s plenty of splendid beaches to choose from along the unspoilt south-eastern shores of this Mediterranean island just off the coast of boot-shaped Italy. Within five to ten miles of central Noto are some of the prettiest golden-sand beaches in Sicily, which are great at this time of year – far quieter than in July and August.
The closest to the centro storico is Marina di Noto, which had a starring role as a backdrop in Malena, a 2001 romantic comedy-drama film starring stunningly beautiful Monica Bellucci. Remember?
Just five miles south of Noto is the gorgeous beach of Calamosche, a tiny inlet in the peaceful Vendicari Coastal Nature Reserve, which stretches for 1500 acres across the south-eastern edge of the island. Recognisable from Inspector Montalbano, the reserve is a haven for migrating birds en route to Africa, including flamingos, cormorants and herons.
For a sense of complete seclusion, head a few miles north to the crystal-clear lakes and freshwater pools at the spectacular Cavagrande del Cassibile Natural Reserve, set in a dramatic limestone canyon formed by the River Cassibile. Undeniably striking, this really is one of Sicily’s best-kept secrets.
Sicily’s charming towns, luscious beaches and scenic UNESCO World Heritage sites are best visited from September to mid-November and from the end of March to mid-May, when temperatures hover around a balmy 20ºC.
This sun-kissed island in the middle of the Mediterranean is a great choice for Autumn getaways and low season holidays, not just because you can visit historic sites and monuments without crowds, but also because you can avoid the intense summer heat that a lot of people find absolutely stifling. Dodge high August temperatures, then, and visit Sicily in Autumn or plan a Spring trip.
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