Everything in the complex has unique symbolism and historical significance, I hoped to hire a local guide. Knowing the history and culture of countries makes travel more fulfilling. There weren’t any groups, and Noto private tours are expensive – €120 or more for 1 to 2 hours. Although I’m sure a guide would provide vast information, I’d probably forget most of it, so I decided to do research and guide myself.
There’s something to be said for well-crafted smartphone tours. The tours and lead you step-by-step from point A to Z allowing you to stop, start, and go back to points of interest at your leisure.
Like Modica, Noto is a small city in southeastern Sicily. It’s part of Siracusa Province in the Valley of Sicilian Baroque known for captivating architecture. There are about 50 buildings of major interest, mostly churches and palaces.
Conquered by Arabs in 866 and ruled by Muslims for two centuries, Noto became a “highly armed stronghold”. Later it fell to Christians and Normans. Destroyed by the 1693 Sicilian earthquake, Noto was rebuilt to become “a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque“. Known as Giardino di Pietra – The Stone Garden – it’s listed among UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
“Noto is built as if it were a scenography, studying and putting up perspective in a singular way, playing with the lines and curvatures of the façades, with the decorations of the shelves, curls and volutes, masks, cherubs, and balconies from parapets in wrought iron that fold into graceful, bulging shapes.”
Porta Reale and Corso Vittorio Emanuele
You enter the city center through Porta Reale (Royal Gate) Arco di Trionfo. Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the main thoroughfare leading to the three main squares. All three are brilliantly “oriented from east to the west for illumination by the sun”. Each Baroque piazza has its own glorious church:
- Piazza Immacolata – overlooked by La Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata
- Piazza Municipio – with majestic La Cattedrale Di San Nicolò
- Piazza XVI Maggio – featuring elegant Chiesa di San Domenico
The churches and palaces were built with local golden-yellow limestone. A flexible stone “enabling elaborate cutting of the monuments and giving off a strong light.”
“At sunset the warm color of local limestone used to build Noto’s palaces and churches mixes with sunlight, creating an atmosphere that grabs your heart.”
Like Modico, there’s much to learn and experience in Noto, a day trip isn’t enough. Even the side streets are a special adventure. In addition to the architecture, there were distractions like almond sweets, pistachio crème brulée, street musicians, and an art exhibit with paintings by Klee, Dali, Picasso, Mirò, and Giorgio de Chirico. Entitled The Impossible Is Noto, the modern art exhibition “exposes the principle artists of experimental art movements” that seemed “impossible”.
La Cattedrale Di San Nicolò
Designed by architect Vincenzo Sinatra, the reconstructed eighteenth-century Noto Cathedral is near the entrance. It’s magnificent! Dedicated to San Nicolò of Mira the cathedral is the “most important place of worship in Noto”.
The Cathedral is across the street from Noto Town Hall – Palazzo Ducezio. Construction began in 1694 and completed in 1703. The façade and interior have undergone alterations, including a neoclassical dome built after the original collapsed during a violent storm in 1996.
Works of art inside the cathedral were a highlight of my visit. Beautiful art in the three naves is considered “one of the last great sites of contemporary sacred art”. The paintings are indescribably beautiful.
Via Nicolaci, near Cathedral of San Nicolò, is famous for its May Infiorata (flower festival). This floral exhibition is dedicated to the world. Every year the theme features a different country.
Palazzo Nicolaci was built in 1731. It has 90 rooms, frescoed vaulted ceilings, and eighteenth-century paintings. Balconies adorned with forms of animals, spirals, and arabesques surround the palace, the residence of the Princes of Villadorata.
Chiesa San Francesco
The Church of Saint Francis – also designed by Sicilian architect Vincenzo Sinatra – stands atop an “impressive staircase”. A Franciscan monastery is attached to the church. The inside has a single nave with rococo stucco walls.
Church of Santa Chiara
Designed by architect Rosario Gagliardi around 1730 the Church of Santa Chiara – known as the church of Santa Maria Assunta – is noted for its “delicate baroque style”. The interior has works of art including walls with stuccoes and cherubs and a nave surrounded by 12 stone columns topped by statues of the Apostles. There’s an adjoining cloistered convent with a beautiful view.
Nature Reserves in Siracusa Province
There are interesting nature reserves, islands, and beaches near Noto. Some are described below. I didn’t find a group hike, but these more isolated areas are on my list for the next visit.
Oriented Nature Reserve Cavagrande is renowned for its canyon and small mountain lakes created by the Cassabile River. The reserve is a natural quarry surrounded by steep rock walls and known for hiking trails and fantastic panoramic views.
Cavagrande Natural Reserve is wild and untouched with hiking paths though Mediterranean woods “thick with berry patches and flowers”. The hiking trails lead to a canyon and pass the remains of villages and a stone necropolis. At the bottom of the canyon there are ponds, lakes, waterfalls, and beaches.
Vendicari Nature Reserve hugs the coastline along the southeast tip of Sicily. It dates back to the 5th century BC. The undisturbed ecosystem is known for migrating flamingos and some of Sicily’s best beaches.
Vindicari has famous beaches including Eloro, Marianelli, Marianeddi, Cittadella dei Maccari, and Calamosche. Popular Calamosche is on a sandy cove bounded by rocky headlands that provide shelter from the currents and a “calm and crystalline sea” perfect for swimming.
Romans, Byzantines, Normans, and Saracens conquered the area “leaving their mark by constructing a necropolis, catacombs, and forts”. Remains of the 2500-year-old Greek city of Eloro are hidden beneath Vindicari.
Isola delle Correnti at the southern point of Sicily is where two seas, the Ionian and Mediterranean, meet. The exotic landscape is “made of wild and rugged dunes, in a rarefied atmosphere that bewilders visitors”.