So here we are, writing about Noto. This one about the beautiful Baroque town of Noto comes straight from the heart! One of the eight UNESCO world heritage towns of Val di Noto, Noto is the most beautiful Baroque town of Val di Noto. And moreover, Noto is a feeling – you either get it or you don’t!
Noto – a magical feeling!
Be it the devastating earthquake of 1693 that obliterated the lives, livelihoods and towns across southeast of Sicily, or the COVID-19 pandemic of today’s times, the Italians know how to tackle anything and everything life throws at them and emerge stronger! And they embrace it all with a big smile on their face – that’s the Italian spirit!
While the earthquake of 1693 wreaked havoc throughout the southeast of Sicily, it also provided a blank canvas upon which the Sicilian architects, many of whom – trained by the Baroque masters in Rome, could paint their dreams.
And paint they did!
Palaces, churches, cathedrals. Entire cities and towns not only rebuilt, but reborn – and none of these more beautiful than the town of Noto, the undisputed jewel in the Val di Noto crown. As you stroll through the town of Noto, exploring the beautiful Baroque jewels, it’s easy to forget that this is not an open-air museum, but a thriving town where you can transit back in time in the blink of an eye.
It’s a town where at the turn of a street you’ll find humble Sicilian bungalows adorned by lemon and grape trees in their gardens, while at the next turn you’ll find the Baroque masterpiece of Nicolaci Palace with it’s intricately decorated Baroque doors, windows and balconies. It’s a town which is grand enough to host the wedding of the first and the most popular influencer of today’s times – Chiara Ferragni at the Noto Cathedral and yet preserves its humility to welcome every regular traveller like us and make them feel at home. Noto, is not just a town, it’s a magical feeling!
And so, while it’s absolutely possible to explore the Baroque wonders of this town in a day, read on to know why you should base yourself in Noto for at least a few nights and let it’s effortlessly classy and humble beauty mesmerise you.
Noto, the town that symbolises slow living and slow tourism:
The enviable proximity of Noto to the best beaches of southeast Sicily – sandy, natural and unorganised, coupled with the finest masterpieces of Baroque architecture that make up the old town of Noto and the nearby Baroque towns, makes it the perfect base to explore the sandy beaches of southeast Sicily and the stunning Baroque towns/villages in the vicinity like Palazzolo Acreide, Modica, Ragusa Ibla and Scicli (all within the range of 35-55 km).
You can out and about and explore during the day and then be back by late afternoon to enjoy Noto at its finest! It’s a town best explored as the sun begins to fall, and the sandstone walls of the Baroque masterpieces glow ochre and Noto comes alive. It’s a town meant to be enjoyed in the late afternoon over countless cups of granita and gelato, while observing the steps of Rosario Gagliardi’s Cathedral gradually turn into a meeting point for the young, the piazza’s a resting place for the old, and all around you, the air fills with rapid and heavily accented Italian.
For leisure lovers and beach bums, the beaches around Noto:
Starting from Siracusa and heading down south all the way up to Marina di Ragusa, southeast of Sicily offers an enviable coastline with long uninterrupted stretches of golden sandy beaches through and through. To say that there are so many beautiful beaches in the vicinity of Noto that you may fall short of holi-days but not of the beaches to explore, will be an understatement.
Golden sandy, pebbly, private, public, perfect sunsets, sea food, beach promenades, and the list goes on – the southeast of Sicily truly has an enviable coastline with never ending beaches suited to everyone’s taste – you name it, they have it! So just grab your bikinis, bathing suits, start your car and let the divine coastline guide you to find exactly what you’re looking for – it’s meant to spoil you for choice!
Lido di Noto – the closest sandy beach to the town of Noto, all within a comfortable biking/jogging distance of 8 km. Whether you’re in the mood for a morning workout followed by a dip in the ocean or just want to drive there for a lazy beach day – this one’s a perfect option. The golden sandy beach has great calm waters for a swim and is very family friendly, as the locals from the town flock to this beach during the sunny summer months. The beach has both – organised and unorganised/public sections. The organised part has a handful of shacks offering sunbeds and a pair of umbrellas at affordable prices of about €25, during September. We loved this beach particularly for its humble vibe. Note – these prices are merely indicative and the actual prices may vary depending on the month, day of the week/weekend, amount of crowds and the time of the day you arrive.
Agua beach resort – this is the place for the who’s who of Noto and the neighbouring towns. The resort is highly chic and frequented by the region’s rich and famous. The best part about the resort is the mellow beach with aqua blue waters that it gives you access to. The beach is private/paid and only accessible to the resort visitors. It has great amenities and is impeccably clean for the price you pay. While it is strictly prohibited to bring your own food inside the resort, it does offer a wide selection of food to choose from – appetizers, finger food, main courses, ice creams, juices and of course granita and coffee. A sunbed with 2 or 4 umbrellas is priced at about €50. So if you’re in the mood to splurge or looking to throw a birthday bash, Agua beach resort is the place to head to! And, if you’re looking for a care-free, lazy beach holiday with a wonderful beach to wake up to and without having to drive around a lot, they also have apartments to rent out. Note – these prices are merely indicative and the actual prices may vary depending on the month, day of the week/weekend, amount of crowds, weather that day and the time of the day you arrive.
Spiaggia di Calamosche – a virgin unorganised beach with crystal clear waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. This beautiful beach is perfect for people looking for virgin beaches and not in search of beach shacks for refreshments or umbrellas and sunbeds. The beach is a part of the natural reserve of Vendicari. If you visit this beach, it’s advised to come prepared with your refreshments, umbrellas and towels.
Marzamemi – If you’re looking for public sandy beaches coupled with great sea food, then head over to the cute fishermen’s town of Marzamemi a little further southeast. The town is famous for its blue fish delicacies and also hosts a blue fish festival in August for the sea food lovers. This cute fishermen town bears a striking resemblance to the Cyclades islands of Greece, with the taverna’s making up the central square/piazza of the town. Whether you’re in the mood to laze around at its public beach or just enjoy its blue fish delicacies, Marzamemi makes for a perfect day trip from Noto or Modica!
Punto più a Sud della Sicilia – this spectacular beach with a light house is a part of the town of Portopalo di Capo Passero and forms the southern most tip of Sicily! Most of the beach is a public beach, however there’s one fancy shack with shamiana’s as beach beds. On a clear day with calm waters, you can swim to the lighthouse 🙂. Since this beach is the southern most tip of Sicily, it offers mesmerising sunset views, so if you’re a stickler for sunsets just like us, make it a point to visit this one. We assure you that you won’t be disappointed!
Noto for foodies at heart:
The best thing about Noto is it’s homely vibe – the warmth of the locals who welcome you inside their shops, cafes, restaurants or the roadside fruits and vegetable vendors enticing you with their fresh local produce – all of it instantly makes you at home, no matter where you’re coming from. This town frequented by the who’s who of Sicily and Italy for their annual summer holiday, effortlessly combines history, classy-chic and humility all at once.
After you’re back from a refreshing dip in the ocean and before you set on to explore this beautiful Baroque town, it’s the perfect time to enjoy some delectable Sicilian delicacies and beat the scorching heat of a typical sunny Sicilian summer day.
Caffè Sicilia – the name itself is enough! While the town of Noto is a Baroque legend, Caffè Sicilia is a legend of its own. Headed by the renowned pastry chef Assenza Corrado, Caffè Sicilia epitomises two of the most famous Sicilian desserts/sweet dishes – granita and gelato, and a visit to Noto is incomplete without having visited this mecca of gelato and granita. And while you’re there, you may also want to try out the lip smacking cakes by Corrado. The Caffè is located on the main street of Noto and is unmissable due to the long queues of people waiting to be seated during the rush hours. Unfortunately for us, when we visited Noto in the summer of 2020, it was closed due to renovation and we couldn’t savour Corrado’s iconic granita and gelato, leaving our visit to Noto rather incomplete and giving us a reason to visit Noto again. They plan to complete the renovation by spring of 2021 and so, we’re already making plans to visit Noto again😉. And till you can’t visit the caffè, you may want to get by with its sweet memories, by buying their cookies, spreads, jams and the famous Sicilian Romana almonds via their website. After devouring those delicious almond cookies and licking the bronte pistachio spread off our plates, we’re convinced that we ought to visit Noto again, just to visit Caffè Sicilia. And we can’t recommend it enough to you!
Caffè Constanzo – a typical Italian bar (cafe) on a street parallel to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, this caffè whips up authentic and delicious granita and gelato. The staff and their service is delightful and the terrace seating gives you a nice opportunity to people watch and adore the Noto Cathedral from a short distance. And, what we liked the most about this place – their fluffy gluten free brioche! That had us at the word go 🙂.
The socialising street, for dining and drinks – via Rocco Piri
Via Rocco Piri, a tiny street just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele, is The place to be and be seen at, in Noto. The street dotted with cool bars and restaurants comes alive at night, as it is frequented by the locals and tourists alike. So, if you want to have a fun night out in Noto, this is the street to head to. While staying in Noto, we went out drinking for 2 nights in row at the bar Il Libertyno on this street. This is a really cool bar/bistro with terrace seating, great service and reasonably priced cocktails that you can enjoy while people watching from one of its terrace tables.
When it comes to dining out in Noto, Ristorante Manna Noto and Ristorante Dammuso are considered to be the best restaurants for Sicilian cuisine in town, both of which are located on via Rocco Piri. Unfortunately we couldn’t dine at either one of them but will definitely want to visit them on our next trip to Noto. It is advisable to book a table at both of these places a couple of days advance to avoid disappointment, as both of these restaurants are fully booked during the peak hours of dinner.
Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon L’ Assiette Baroque just a few steps away from our Airbnb. This one turned out to be a great find, offering delicious Sicilian cuisine with gluten free options in pizza and pasta, varieties of paella and great hospitality! We highly recommend dining here when in Noto.
Noto for city explorers:
Corso Vittorio Emanuele – To experience the artsy, chic vibe of Noto, it’s important to stroll around the town. The old town of Noto is fairly small and can comfortably be covered on foot. We’d highly recommend you to start your walking expedition from Statua di San Corrado and walk towards the main street of town – Corso Vittorio Emanuele to discover the town. While the Statua di San Corrado is nothing special from a touristic perspective, it’s location is what makes it worth visiting. The statue is positioned in an open public terrace that is blessed with marvellous panoramic views overlooking the Ionian sea. And the best part about this place – it is just off the touristic map, thus giving you the perfect opportunity to soak in the fantastic views over the sea as you enjoy your brioche con gelato, and take pictures to your heart’s content without anyone photobombing them 😉.
For history buffs, art and architecture aficionados – Baroque churches and palaces of Noto:
Porta Reale – As you walk from the statue towards the main street of Noto – Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you’ll pass through the unmissable Porto Reale, the gateway to the historic centre. This beautiful creme coloured historic gate gives you a glimpse of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a wide elegant walkway flanked by iconic Baroque piazza’s, palaces, their balconies and churches. As you walk through this street, take time to stop and gaze up in wonder, photograph everything and enter whatever takes your fancy – churches, palaces, piazza’s, etc. (provided they’re open, of course!), as you immerse yourself in the magnificent Baroque architecture of Noto.
Originally introduced by the Catholic church, Baroque architecture is a highly decorative and theatrical architectural style which appeared in Italy in the early 17th century and gradually spread across Europe. It reached its peak in the High Baroque (1625–1675), when it was used in churches and palaces in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and Austria; and flourished till the Late Baroque period (1675–1750), to which the beauty of the architecture of Noto can be accredited to.
Noto, epitomising the definition of Sicilian Baroque architecture, it should come as little surprise that the beautiful Baroque churches and palaces of Noto feature at the top of places to see in town. And while you may not want to visit them all, here are some of our best recommendations that shall not be missed irrespective of whether you’re an architecture or a history buff or not.
The churches of Noto
There are plenty of impressive Baroque churches in Noto, and while we didn’t enter them all, some are truly worthy of punctuating your wanderings through Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and along its many off-shoots. The ones to save in your Google Maps are:
Noto cathedral – the Cathedral is inarguably the showstopper of Noto, and a visit to Noto won’t be complete without having visited the Cathedral. We’ve got to give it to the Sicilian Baroque architects of the time for having chosen the perfect strategic position of the Noto Cathedral that makes it so timeless! And to all the town planners and city architects that came after – take a bow, for preserving the spectacular views to the Cathedral till date. The magnificent Noto Cathedral has such an imposing presence in the town and is so wonderfully carved in the geography of the Noto that it can even be seen from the highways of the valley leading upto to the town. Symbolic of the Baroque architecture, the grandeur of the Cathedral is characterised by the tall creme coloured, decorative pillars adorning the gigantic front facade on the outside and giving the Cathedral a rather theatrical appearance, with its interior having impeccable white walls and a high ceiling adorned by neat colourful frescoes to complete its look. In the late afternoons and evenings, the flight of stairs leading up to the Cathedral are a popular hang out spot for locals and tourists alike. So grab a granita to-go and cool off at the steps of the Cathedral as you admire it’s magnificent beauty from the outside and indulge in some people-watching 🙂. The setting sun’s rays hitting the dramatic pillars and the front facade of Cathedral in the evenings give it a fabulous golden yellow glow that will create an everlasting memory in your mind!
Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo – this one has two terraces and is our favourite for unparalleled views of the Noto Cathedral that’s diagonally opposite to it across the street. The highest terrace of this church offers inarguably the best panoramic views of the Noto Cathedral and the entire old town of Noto. We highly recommend you to visit this church just before the sunset and experience the sunset from it’s highest terrace. As you witness the setting sun’s rays illuminate the creme Baroque of the Noto Cathedral, let yourself be mesmerised by the Cathedral bathing in golden yellow sunlight and have this picture postcard view etched in your memory forever.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara – another church along the street also with fabulous views of the Noto Cathedral and the old town from its terrace. While we liked the panoramic views from Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo more, when it comes to the interiors of the church – this one has more beautiful and elaborate frescoes adorning its ceiling.
Chiesa di San Domenico – this church with a particularly beautiful and intricately decorated front facade is worth a visit inside for the tombs of the monks in the basement floor underneath the main floor of the church. On this basement floor, you can see the chair/bench like structures believed to be the place where the monks would sit and drain themselves out to death to attain salvation.
Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata – another beautiful Baroque church along the main street of Noto – Corso Vittorio Emanuele, with an impressive staircase leading up to front facade featuring Baroque columns and marble statues. While this church is beautiful, if you’re short on time, we’d recommend you to just stop here for a picture or two as you stroll through the main street, instead of visiting it from the inside.
Chiesa Parrocchiale della Madonna del Carmine – this church in a street parallel to the main street is of interest particularly for architecture lovers for its beautifully curved front facade with decorated with intricate Baroque figurines and carvings, and thus worth a small detour.
The palaces of Noto
Palazzo Ducezio – this palace inspired by the palaces of 17th century France, standing exactly opposite the majestic Noto Cathedral makes itself worthy of that position with its grand front decorated with numerous mighty pillars. It is now converted into Noto’s Town Hall. The upper level offers a chance for visitors to enjoy the panoramic views, at eye-level with the cathedral. It costs €3 to enter the palace, but this is a combination ticket also allowing entry into Sala degli Specchi (the ‘Salon of Mirrors’ on the ground floor and the nearby Teatro Tina Di Lorenzo). While the palace is grand and it’s interiors beautiful, we’d certainly say that its exterior is three most impressive part, the best pictures of which can be shot from the stairs of the Noto Cathedral. So if you’re short on time, we’d recommend you to pass the visit inside.
Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata – Located on Via Corrado Nicolaci, this beautiful 18th century palace with the prettiest balconies, was built as a residence for the Nicolaci family (hence the name) and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Sicilian Baroque architecture in Noto. Open daily from 10 am – 6.30 pm, a visit inside costs €4 per person and can be passed. However, the balconies of the palace as seen from the outside as you stroll through the street of Via Corrado Nicilaci, are the prettiest ones we’ve ever seen in the southeast of Sicily depicting the most intricate designs of Baroque architecture and shall not be missed!
Villa Romana del Tellaro – if you’re an art and archaeology buff in search for something unusual, this villa is a must visit. Located just outside Noto and close the natural reserve of Vendicari, this ancient Roman villa is home to a beautiful collection of mosaics adorning its floors, walls and ceilings. The mosaics here depict intricate works of art and are a must visit for art and mosaic lovers.
Noto for nature lovers:
Are you looking to explore the surroundings of Noto by being one with the nature? Then look no further than Noto Antica and the Natural Reserve of Cavagrande del Cassibile.
Noto Antica – if you’re looking for a well preserved open air museum amidst lush greenery, head to Noto Antica. This is the site of the ancient town of Noto before the earthquake of 1693 ravaged the town. It is now home to the archaeological remains of the ancient Noto. And whilst we don’t recommend this place as one of the must-visits, it’s a good one to visit for nature lovers and if you have some spare time at hand.
Natural Reserve of Cavagrande del Cassibile – this one’s a must visit in Sicily for nature and hike lovers and makes up for a perfect day trip from Noto. The descend down is easy and the climb up is moderate, but make sure to wear your sports shoes for a comfortable hike and don’t forget to carry a water bottle along as there are no organised facilities once you’re down at the lakes. The water is clear and fresh and perfect for a dip on a warm sunny day, so be sure to bring along/wear your swimsuits 😉.
Where to stay in Noto:
The best place to stay in Noto is in the historic city centre, in a street just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele or one of the streets parallel to it. We stayed in this cute mezzanine Airbnb A Due Passi del Centro hosted by Nunzia. Nunzia’s house is a perfect place for couples or solo travellers with a fully equipped kitchen, a washing machine and a really cute bedroom. It’s in a street two streets parallel to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, thus a short walk from all the major attractions of Noto, and with a supermarket 500m away from the house. And, the icing on the cake is the free parking on the street just outside the house! She’s a great host, always available to answer all your questions. We’d highly recommend you to base yourself in Noto to explore the southeast of Sicily, and book Nunzia’s place while you’re there.
How to get to Noto:
The best way to reach Noto is to rent a car and drive down from the airport of Catania or Palermo depending on where you’re landing; Catania, being barely 100km away is the closest airport to Noto. We highly recommend renting a car during your holiday in Sicily for the convenience it offers to explore the island; and recommend to book your preferred car a few days in advance. However, if you’re relying on public transport, then it’s advised to take an AST or Interbus from the Catania airport to Noto. This TripAdvisor link provides valuable inputs on AST links, bus frequency, etc. Do check it out.