The Val di Noto – The Jewel in Sicily’s Crown
The Val di Noto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in the Province of Syracuse in the southeast of Sicily. The primary reason for its elevated status is the eight charmingly beautiful towns in the region, namely Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo Acreide, Ragusa Ibla and Scicli. These towns contain some of the best examples of late Baroque architecture in Europe.
In 1693 Sicily, Italy and Malta were struck by an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale (the largest in Italy’s history). The epicentre of the quake was – almost certainly – the Val di Noto or offshore, close by. Naturally, the damage was enormous with almost two thirds of the population of Catania killed, and the eight towns of the Val di Noto reduced, almost in their entirety, to rubble.
Subsequently, an extensive rebuilding programme began for the towns and cities of southeastern Sicily. The towns of the Val di Noto employed architecture in the late Baroque (also called the Sicilian Baroque) style which has been described by UNESCO as “the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe”.
The Architecture of The Val di Noto
One of the consequences of the earthquake and subsequent rebuilding is the almost unique homogeneity of the architecture in the eight towns of The Val di Noto. The rebuilding took place over a period of only two decades and, as a collective undertaking, employed the services of the same masons and architects. The buildings show an exuberance uncommon in the Mediterranean and an imagination and flamboyance that is unusual across Europe as a whole in this period.
The town of Noto itself, sometimes known as the ‘Stone Garden’ of Sicily, is a particular favourite amongst tourists. It’s open squares and promenades are quite stunning. There are numerous small churches with gorgeous facades and towers that can be climbed and explored. The Palazzo Nicolaci is well worth visiting with its very flamboyant design and vistas over the rooftops of the town. We would suggest that you book a guide and take a walking tour around the town to appreciate the true beauty of the Sicilian Baroque.
We would also recommend a visit to Ragusa Ibla, particularly the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, and the Church of the Souls of the Purgatory, the facade of which is illuminated at night and looks quite spectacular.
Scicli, also is a fabulous place to visit, particularly in the summer months. The Palazzo Spadaro and the Palazzo Beneventano are great examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture. Palazzo Fava wasone of the first and largest Baroque palaces in the town and is a favoured spot for tourists. Some of the churches too are well worth a visit, including the Church of San Matteo and the Mother Church of St Ignatz.
L’Infiorata Festival In the Val di Noto
The Infiorata festival translates literally into ‘Carpet of Flowers’. It is an Italian celebration but the inhabitants of the Val di Noto take the festival very seriously. If you are to visit Noto in late May/June you’ll see the town n it’s very best light – with the incredible ‘flower art’ displayed amongst the beautiful architecture of the town. Various sideshows and parades also take place during ‘L’Infiorata’.
Cuisine of the Val di Noto
Similar to the rest of Sicily – the cuisine of the Val di Noto region shows influences of the many cultures that have dwelt here. There is a strong Italian, Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean feel to many of the dishes. This area, however, is proud of its almonds, olives, cheeses and its fresh fish and these ingredients feature strongly on local menus. As an aside – the local peaches are gorgeous!
Restaurants and Dining in the Val di Noto
Some of Sicily’s best restaurants can be found in the 8 towns of the Val di Noto. The Cantina Modica offers very high quality antipasto and lunches and is situated on Via Corrado Nicolaci in Noto. For traditional fare Le Mangiatoie de Re Giordano in Avola, has some great reviews and is a favourite of the locals, which is always a good sign. Il Cantuccio, (Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour) offers a more contemporary touch and is highly regarded.
If you have a sweet tooth, the deserts and ice creams at the Caffe Siciliana in Corso Vittorio Emanuele have been described simply as “Oh, My God, Wow!”
That said, there are numerous eateries in the Val di Noto to fit everyone’s taste. It is not necessarily the cheapest part of Sicily to dine out in, but the food can be of the very highest quality.
Parks and Beaches
To the south and east of Noto lies the Vendicari Nature Reserve, one of many that can be found on Sicily. Vendicari is somewhere that really shouldn’t be missed if you visit the Val di Noto, primarily as it has some of the most beautiful, and less-frequently visited, beaches in the whole of the Island. Calamosche beach in particular is stunningly beautiful. The whole area is a haven for wildfowl and migrating species – so if flora and fauna are areas of interest Vendicari is a must for you. There are a number of standing archaeological remains and abandoned historic buildings to visit too.
Further south is the beautiful fishing village of Marzememi with its excellent roadside cafes and bars. In July it sometimes hosts a film festival when films are projected directly on the walls of the buildings around the village square.