If you are into arts, architecture and the lost world, you should not miss the 8 Baroque towns in Val di Noto situated in the south-eastern part of Sicily. What’s more notable is that they are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites, hence is worth taking at least 7 days to explore all of these towns which include: Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide, Scicli, Caltagirone, Catania and Militello Val di Catania.
Catania is easily accessible by bus, plane, or train, with connections to various towns around the island. For the remaining towns, you may need to take a bus, which might kind of restrict your freedom in exploring them as the buses from/to Siracusa and Catania are not frequent, especially so during non-peak tourist seasons. Therefore, you may wish to hire a car for a peace of mind or perhaps, even staying a night.
However, if your time is tight and you do not wish to be over-dose with Baroque architecture, you may wish to concentrate on visiting about 2 or 3 of these late Baroque towns which were rebuilt on or beside existing towns after a devastating earthquake had destroyed the original towns in 1693. Spend at least about 4 hours with an hour lunch in each town to wander and fully appreciate their beauty and the surroundings.
Arrival by bus or train to this city located at the foot of the fiery Mt Etna, you will catch a glimpse of the generally greyish tone of the buildings built from lava stone and probably covered with the volcanic ash spewed from Mt Etna.
Train passing by the exterior of the town with the dome of the Duomo of Catania rising in the background
The Duomo, dedicated to the saint Agatha
Fountain of the Elephant, the symbol of Catania in the middle of the Piazza del Duomo, the most pretty piazza in Catania
At the side of the Duomo, the statues of St Euplius on the right and St Birillus on the left, and St Agatha holding the cross in the middle
Marble sculptures along the side of the Duomo
The Norman apses
Chiesa di San Placido at Piazza San Placido, another typical Sicilian Baroque architecture
The most beautiful Baroque towns of all, totally reconstructed about 10km from the original area after a terrible and destructive earthquake in 1693.
The main boulevard Corso Vittorio Emanuele, runs through the heart of the town, lined by beautiful local limestone buildings of grand Baroque design such as the Cathedral, Church of San Francesco and the Commune di Noto. Be transfixed by the intricate carved sculptures of cherubs, and mythical figures as well as curlicues that adorn the balconies and windows of Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata.
AST and Interbus buses from Siracusa takes about an hour to reach. Be sure to check out the timing of the buses leaving from and returning to Siracusa.
The grand Porta Reale, the town's eastern gate to the main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Steps leading to this Neo-classical church, San Francesco and the convent of the Holy Savior, undergoing some renovation
Look at the wonderful details of the columns and of the church's facade. Buildings were newly built out of local limestone that gives them the honey hue.
Entrance to Chiesa di Santa Chiara. You can climb up the bell tower for a small fee and have a bird's-eye view of Noto and her surrounding countryside.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara is one of the prettiest churches I have ever seen. Look at the white-washed interiors decorated with golden frescos! Noto has many fine churches for her size which goes to show during those days, the people were very pious.
The beautiful organ inside the church of Santa Chiara
Painting of the Judgement Day... a simple painting that shows great emotions inside Chiesa di Santa Chiara
The Cathedral of Noto. Almost all the major buildings have stairs leading up to them.
Commune di Noto also known as Palazzo Ducrezio, the town hall of Noto of Neo-classical design, known for its beautiful portico
A war memorial with the Cathedral in the background, facing the town hall
The front facade of Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo is actually curved, decorated and supported by columns
View of Chiesa di San Carlo Borromeo from the steps to the Cathedral. From the bell tower of the church, one can have a sweeping view of Noto
Down the main street Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Beautiful baroque-style buildings line along both sides of this grand boulevard, with occasional souvenir shops to bring a little memory of Noto back with you
Intricate sculptures typical of Baroque style supporting the many balconies of Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata
Iron-wrought balconies decorated by sculptures of mythical figures and animals beneath, as well as framing the windows like a photoframe
Imagine yourself stepping out into balconies like these in costumes of those days, looking out for the knight in shining amour or looking out to the far countryside
Chiesa Santissimo Crocefisso
Noto has 3 levels, apparently the highest was for the nobles, middle was for the clergy and the bottom lived the commoners. There are plenty of stairs to climb in Noto. Have fun wandering and you will be surprised at what you may find hidden behind the main street!
Noto is a town of steps, where buildings are elevated to give them an even greater sense of grandeur. Imagine on the streets of those days, when women were in their beautiful dresses with fancy lace or embroidered corset and full skirts, and men in their finest coats made of silk or velvet that comprised of long coats, waistcoats, and white shirts with lace ruffles.
We stumbled upon another interesting and a little run down building that could be another Palazzo after climbing up the long flight of steps up from Via Cavour
Hidden treasures like this clock tower belonging to one of the churches on the upper level of Noto. We stumbled upon it while wandering up the stairs from Via Cavour
Get yourself lost in wonder and time by walking through the small alleys and you will find yourself at the foot of another set of grand stairs that leads to more spectacular views of the surrounding area and buildings that are thankfully, not overrun by hordes of tourists.
Finally, do give yourself a good treat and rest after walking under the hot sun at this down-to-earth family-run restaurant.
Head over to Il Giglio Ristorante for a traditional home-cooked pasta that touches the inner-strings of your heart at each bite. Decor is definitely simple, but food quality is perfect at affordable prices! You will not be disappointed!
3) Palazzolo Acreide
Often over-looked by tourists, this small Baroque town near Siracusa built on the ancient Greek site of Akrai has a mixture of Greek, Roman ruins to excite history buffs.
Conditions of the buildings may not be as good as those in Noto, but its quiet streets certainly allows for a peaceful exploration.
Palazzolo Acreide's town hall
The majestic and beautiful Chiesa di San Sebastiano
Typical Baroque style building with balconies adorned with iron-wrought railings and supported by grotesque masks
Stairway leading up to the entrance of Chiesa di San Michele
Typical alleys of Palazzolo Acreide
Amazing view of Natural Reserve of Cava Grande and the Anapo-Pantalica
Archaeological park of Akrai
A house recently renovated and painted in bright happy red adds color to the otherwise beige color of the town's buildings
Locals over here are very helpful and chatty despite not speaking English, and having to make do with our poor Italian. Nonetheless, some of them went out all the way to show us or bring us to our destination! One elderly man even waited for us along the main street just to ensure if he had brought us to the restaurant which we were looking for! When we turned back as it was closed since it was already past 3pm, we saw the man waiting for us and he kindly brought us to another bistrot which was still opened.
I guess that’s the beauty of staying in the towns at the countryside.