Exquisite Baroque architecture, impressive Greek temples, bustling markets, luxury retreats and hands-down the best food in Italy… the beautiful, sun-kissed island of Sicily, the largest in the Mediterranean Sea, truly has it all. It’s a big, mountainous island, though, and difficult to visit in one trip. The Ionian coast with the fabled towns of Syracuse and Noto is an ideal start.
In recent years, the success of the popular TV series Inspector Montalbano, based on the detective novels by the celebrated Italian author Andrea Camilleri, brought visitors to Sicily’s less-travelled south-east corner, but it is still untouched by mass tourism. It still feels like a hidden gem.
Here you can really get the perfect trifecta of amazing architecture, delicious food made of the best ingredients of the Mediterranean and truly relaxing beach time, without hordes of tourists. That’s why Syracuse and the Baroque pearl of Noto should top your wanderlust list for 2021.
Syracuse, the Gem of the Mediterranean
Ancient Greek ruins, winding cobbled streets, elegant piazzas and crystalline waves define Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian), a UNESCO-protected gem on the south-eastern coast of Sicily, overlooking the marvellously azure waters of the Ionian Sea. Known for its rich, multicultural history that dates back 3000 years, Syracuse offers a seductive mixture of ancient cultures and architecture, much of it on display on the small and densely built-up island of Ortygia (Ortigia), the oldest part of town, linked to the mainland by two road bridges.
Once the most powerful city-state in ancient Greece, Syracuse is simply breathtaking. Don’t miss a chance to explore its Neapolis Archeological Park, home to well-preserved Greek and Roman remains. If you are an early riser, be up by 7am to visit the historic, loud and bustling outdoor food market of Ortygia, held every morning but Sunday. Wander around an array of colorful stands and stalls selling authentic regional produce, including lemons, tomatoes, herbs, spices, eggplants and ripe blood-red oranges.
In summer, Siracusa is boiling hot. Geographically, it is actually closer to Tunisia than the Italian mainland. When the temperatures soar, head for the beach like the locals do. The long, sandy beach of Aranella is only about 5 miles south of the historic district. The popular beach of Fontane Bianche, offering sandy shorelines, lidos and small, rustic tavernas serving the freshest of fish, is a short drive south of Syracuse.
Noto, the Limestone Capital of Sicilian Baroque
Just 20 minutes south-west of Syracuse, Noto is widely considered one of the most charming towns in Sicily, if not Italy. Often dubbed the capital of Sicilian Baroque architecture, Noto is an integral part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Val di Noto.
Reduced to rubble by the devastating 1693 earthquake that destroyed the whole south-east of Sicily, Noto was totally rebuilt in beautiful Baroque style 10 miles south of its original location. The result is a Baroque masterpiece of town planning that will leave you speechless.
The sight of Noto as you enter the town is dreamy. The focal point of the skyline is the Roman Catholic Cathedral of San Nicolò, a Baroque beauty especially stunning in the early evening, when the Sicilian sunshine casts the majestic, honey-hued limestone façade with a peachy glow.
Enjoy people-watching while seated at one of the many cafés in town, lingering over a delicious, artisanal granita or sipping an espresso as the grouchy and muscular Police Inspector Salvo Montalbano would do.
Head to the picture-perfect beaches along the Gulf of Noto to escape the early-afternoon intense heat. The closest to the centro storico is Eloro Beach, which boasts a vast expanse of pretty much deserted golden sand. A few minutes’ drive from Noto is the fabulous Vendicari Nature Reserve, a mixture of salt water lagoons, rocky coves, sand dunes and sun-drenched beaches, the perfect antidote to a year spent indoors, longing to escape from our four walls and travel the world again. Just a little bit further south is San Lorenzo Beach with iridescent aquamarine water and beach cafés for food and drinks.
Visiting south-eastern Sicily soon? Renting a stand-alone luxury villa with private swimming pool is a much safer choice than staying in a busy hotel, resort, B&B or guesthouse. Vacation rentals offer the reassurance of crowd-free privacy, no shared facilities and no face-to-face contact with others so many of us are seeking. They are also ideal for multi-generational family holidays and longer stays, which are a growing trend.
For lodging in this area, check out Villa Orizzonte (pictured above), a contemporary-design luxury retreat in Noto, and Villa Sciutìa, a ten-bedroom estate immersed in the lush Sicilian countryside hugging the ancient town of Scordia, some 15 miles north-west of Syracuse. These two and many other equally luxe properties are available to rent right now through Select Sicily, one of the island’s leading holiday home rental agencies, boasting a carefully curated collection of luxury rental properties in the eastern part of Sicily.
Imagine lounging by the pool with one of Andrea Camilleri’s books and enjoying al fresco dining under the stars after marveling at the ancient sites in the exquisite Baroque towns of Noto and Siracusa. Never. Going. Home.
For more information and reservations, please visit Select Sicily Villas!