We succeeded to escape south from the rain in Syracuse to visit Sicily’s baroque treasure – Noto. Like a home to many civilizations, you might expect to see a mix of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Aragonese culture, but due to a devastating earthquake in 1693, Noto was built from the ashes… in exquisite late baroque!
Where is located and how to get there
Set high in a valley of olive groves and almond trees, Noto is one of the preferred day-trip destinations from the nearby major cities of Syracuse (37 km) and Catania (92 km). There is an option to get there by bus or train, but I would recommend the travelling with car around Sicily.
See car rental options in Sicily.
It turned out that off-season parking isn’t too difficult. The biggest and most popular place for this is Parcheggio Centrale, where the price is €2 per hour. We decided to try a small car park on Largo Pantheon with a rate of €1 per hour, but it turned out that on Sundays it was free!
See places to stay in Noto
The entrance to the city – Porta Reale and Corso Vittorio Emanuele
The perfect place to start exploring Noto is Porta Reale! The arch built in the 19th century, on the occasion of the visit of Ferdinand II (King of Sicily), is a kind of entrance to the central part of the city.
It, in turn, is structured by three main parallel streets, the most eastern one being where the aristocrates lived (it is where most of the palaces are located), the second one where the clergy was located (today’s main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where the most beautiful churches are located) and the third was allotted to the ordinary residents.
The charming Piazzetta 3 ottobre 1920 is the first striking thing on the pedestrian promenade, and just above it towers the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata.
More about Noto
The remains of the ancient city (Noto Antica) are located about 10 km inland in the Iblean mountain, with almost nothing left of it. The destruction of the terrible earthquake gave Sicilian architects a chance to show off. Trained by the best Baroque artists of Rome, they choose a more gracious terrain towards the seashore and develop their potential to such an extent that they build an entirely new masterpiece city… The local limestone rock gives it the delicate color of honey, and its softness allows the creation of the wonderful details on the facades.
Noto is the epitome of Sicilian Baroque – elegant and so perfect! Along with seven other towns that have risen from the ashes in the Val di Noto valley, it’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Cathedral – Cattedrale di San Nicolò
As soon as you step into Noto, you get the feeling that you are in a grand open-air museum, but this feeling reaches its climax in the central square – Piazza del Duomo. There, a major role is given to the majestic Cathedral of Noto (Cattedrale di San Nicolò)! The wide staircase creates the illusion of she being raised on a pedestal to become the iconic landscape of each photos from Noto…
Inspired by Roman palaces, it took Sicilian Baroque architects around 80 years to complete the temple in the 18th century. Her history is accompanied by another earthquake and periodic collapse of parts of her, so elements of different styles can be noticed, such as the neoclassical dome. We didn’t get to go inside, but the exterior is definitely much more impressive than the interior.
The spaces of the cathedral stairs are so large that they resemble small squares! And they are high enough to reveal a nice view of the rest of the city…
The City Hall – Palazzo Ducezio
Directly opposite is the imposing former palace Palazzo Ducezio. Most likely, the Sicilian architect Vincenzo Sinatra was inspired by the French palaces to create the building that today houses Noto’s town hall. For an entrance fee of around 3 euro you can enter, and inside the main attractions are the famous Hall of Mirrors (Sala degli Specchi) and the panoramic terrace.
On via Nicolaci
In the month of May every year, this steep street turns into one of the most colorful places on the island of Sicily! I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the colorful carpet of flowers spread across the length of the street… From 1980 to the present, Noto hosts the annual flower festival – Infiorata di Noto.
It was definitely not so colorful in February, but there was no way we not to walk along this famous street… Some of the most exquisite baroque balconies in the city are based there! Such are those of Palazzo Nicolaci di Valldorata, home of Sicilian aristocrats. In addition to the terraces having perfectly shaped wrought iron fences, their ethereal ornaments are inspired by mythology and the daily life of the architects at the time. Looking up, you will see the figures of mermaids, swinks, winged horses and other creatures, combined with the images of villagers with distorted faces, naked female bodies and more.
The view from Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso
Another baroque church in Noto… there are about 35 of them! But this one is a little more special… As well as exploring the interior of the Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso, with its simple columns and painted ceiling, a €2 ticket to climb up to the terrace is a must. This is the most stunning panoramic view of the city! Walk around the ancient bells to enjoy the view of the rooftops… And to get a feel Noto… just look at Piazza del Duomo for a while… Wow!
Piazza XVI Maggio – church, fountain and theater
The main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele is almost at its end when the green oasis of Piazza XVI Maggio appears. This square houses another baroque church (Chiesa di San Domenico) located behind a palm-fringed fountain, and in the opposite corner is nestled the town theater (Teatro Comunale “Tina di Lorenzo”). The inside is more than impressive, but unfortunately we weren’t able to visit it…
Light lunch and coffee with cannoli
We weren’t very hungry, so we decided to have something light to eat. One of the most popular and common fast food in Sicily is arancina! The fried orange specialty, which got its name from its resemblance to an orange, can be seen in an oval or pear shape. Their main ingredient, hidden under the crispy crust, is rice! They are available everywhere in variants with added flavors typical of Italian cuisine, such as spinach, prosciutto, cheese, eggplant, tomatoes and what not…
Right in this part of Noto there is a nondescript place, more like an old canteen, where they make great arancini – Rosticceria Palermitana Arancina Planet. We ate quickly with a big appetite and crossed the street to sit in the opposite cafe – Pasticceria Mangiafico Mandolfiore. The place has the typical Sicilian atmosphere, and we complemented it with cappuccino and fresh Sicilian cannoli…
For a final
It remained for us to cross the main street again and enjoy the beautiful baroque city for the last time. Noto is definitely among the most impressive places in Sicily! It’s beautiful even outside of the summer season, when mostly locals stay. We spent around two hours which were enough for looking at it.