The little town of Noto was probably the best surprise of our trip to East Sicily. It was also the best choice as a place to stay most of the days, acting as a base to visit the rest of the island (east side).
It is strategically convenient but also beautiful and calm. It really looks like a film set, and it is considered one of Sicily’s most beautiful historic centres.
It is also classified as a World Heritage of Humanity site by Unesco.
Main attractions in Noto
Noto’s attractions are mostly related to its baroque architecture, that flourished in Europe from the early 17th until the late 18th century. Churches and palaces are the starts of the town.
Walking along its main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuelle, is a very pleasant tour and comprises most of the best buildings and shops.
Cattedrale di San Nicolo (Noto’s Cathedral) is the main building and it is located in the centre of the town. It is an 18th-century Sicilian baroque cathedral that features a neoclassical dome. It was reconstructed after its dome collapsed during a 1996 thunderstorm
Opposite the cathedral, and separated by a long staircase and a narrow street, resides Noto’s town hall, Palazzo Ducezio. It is characterized by twenty arches supported by columns with Ionic capitals in the lower section. A €1 admission fee let you visit one of the reception rooms and the Sala degli Specchi (Hall of mirrors).
A few metres down the road you can find a convent called San Francesco d’Assisi all’Immacolata, which is simple but with an interesting inside.
Palazzo Castelluccio (Palace of Lorenzo del Castelluccio), is a private historical monument conserved by “Foundazione del Grand Tour”, and is open to the public for a €12 fee. A collection of Italian furniture, paintings, music room, chapel and ballroom are a testimony of the power and good taste of a large aristocratic Sicilian family.
Another well preserved baroque church is Chiesa di San Domenico. “The interior is structured on an elongated Greek cross plan with five domes richly decorated with stuccoes and side altars with eighteenth-century paintings.”
Best restaurants, coffee and ice-cream in Noto
Ristorante Manna is the best restaurant in town, recommended by locals with no doubt. It is slightly more sophisticated than the rest, which is reflected in the prices. The staff is competent and the wine list is large.
Ristorante Dammuso is opposite Manna and it is a great -and slightly cheaper- alternative. With a smart but relaxed interior, they offer a good range of wines and dishes. Portions are not generous all the time.
If you are looking for an affordable, tasty and local experience, Trattoria ‘Fontana d’Ercole’ could be your place. Delicious pasta and fish.
On the main street, there is a cool cocktail bar and restaurant called Cassaro Caffe Bistrot. It has a modern decoration and seems to be popular with locals. Good to have a starter and a cocktail or aperitivo.
Anche Gli Angeli was our favourite pub/resto. It is “urbane, sophisticated and irrefutably cool”. A very relaxed and chilled multi-space comprising lounge bar, eatery, concept store and live-music venue. Good variety of food and cocktails, including 5 beers on tap. The service was not as expected, but overall it was a quite enjoyable venue. Last but not least, it is actually located in a church crypt.
Caffe Sicilia is a traditional place, offering a variety of pastries and most popular for its granita (a Sicilian semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavourings, normally served with a brioche). The staff is friendly and the pastries homemade. Ricotta Gelato and Ricotta Cannolo are also recommended.
Caffe Costanzo is supposed to serve the best gelato (ice cream) in town. However, we can firmly say that we have tried much better gelato in Italy. It is also popular for its torrone (nougat), dolci di mandorla (almond sweets) and cassata (with ricotta, chocolate and candied fruit). It also seems to be a popular meeting point for locals.
Enoteca Regionale Siciliana was another great surprise. It has a beautiful open space at the front, calm and almost tourist free. I would suggest going just before the sunset, find a table outside and order a good Nero d’Avola (the most important red wine grape in Sicily and one of Italy’s most important indigenous varieties).
Where to stay in Noto?
We stayed in an amazing and authentic Italian Bed & Breakfast, so I strongly advise to stay there or at least consider it. It is called Notia Rooms, and it was also recommended by a Sicilian friend.
Their owners Giorgio and Carla make you feel at home, providing useful information and tips about Noto and the area. They also serve a delicious and fresh breakfast, explaining each piece of it in detail, especially the cheese, ham and salami. Ricotta cheese, homemade jam, croissants, fresh juice, fruit, yoghurt and a Bialetti Moka pot are part of the deal.
To sum up Notia Rooms’s style, I am going to use a paragraph by LonelyPlanet: “Crisp white interiors are accented with original artworks, Modernist Italian lamps and upcycled vintage finds. Rooms seduce with sublimely comfortable beds and polished modern bathrooms”.
Another two recommended accommodations are:
- Seven Rooms Villadorata. A former hilltop home of a prince, it retained relics of royalty: intricate tiled floors, frescoed ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. It feels more private home than a hotel, offering three meticulously decorated and stylish rooms.
- Gagliardi Boutique Hotel
- Ostello della Gioventù – Il Castello
Many thanks to our great Sicilian friend Alessia, for all her recommendations and advice.