Monday, January 9, 2017

Adventures in Sicily — Part Two: Chasing the Baroque in Beautiful Noto

Come with me this week to sun-struck southeastern Sicily and the dramatic small town of Noto, a UNESCO region of world heritage.

Noto, formerly a significant religious center, is at the heart of wildly beautiful Baroque architecture dating from the 17th-century.

A very effective restoration of significant churches, monasteries, palazzi, the cathedral, and other historic structures has recently been triumphantly completed.

Come with me for a walk around Noto, and enjoy lunch (and dinner) at my favorite restaurant, Manna.

With great curiosity, we visit a palace, swoon over the baroque interiors of 17th-century churches and chapels, and take a little trip to the Sicilian countryside for lunch.

Noto was a fantastic discovery. See below for details on hotels and restaurants—and books to read about Sicily and the baroque towns of the Noto valley.

A sunny walk around Noto—with a stop for lunch at Manna

On the menu: a lovely fennel and tomato salad, crunchy bread, and spaghetti with mussels and bottarga (sun-dried mullet/ tuna roe, from the region).

Sicilian wines are served, of course. And crunchy almond cookies with sweet cherries.

Where to Stay

La Dependance
I discovered and stayed at a charming new small hotel, in a former ducal palace. La Dependance has elegant, airy rooms and a restaurant downstairs (open from early summer).

It’s perfectly located in the middle of the cobblestone town of Noto, and within walking distance of baroque churches, former nunneries, cathedrals, restaurants, and further exploration.

The service when I was there was friendly, and the young owner, Andrea, was extremely helpful. Color palate: ivory, taupe, black, white. Request a suite overlooking via Rocco Pirri.

Located on via Rocco Pirri, at via Cavour.

Palazzo Nicolaci and 7Rooms
I was very fortunate to spend time with the wonderful hotelier/interior designer Cristina Summa, originally from Noto and now living in Milan. Cristina has developed 7Rooms hotel/inn at the historic Palazzo Nicolaci, on via Cavour in Noto.

Cristina designed the rooms in palest taupe, white plaster, ivory and white, and with a deft use of tufted sofas, linen covered chairs, plaster walls, and a very relaxed and elegant style. The hotel had been booked by a wedding party when I was in Noto, so I stayed at La Dépendance, which is decorated in a similar paled-down, understated style.

Book far ahead for 7 Rooms, as it is small and special. Breakfast is served in a handsome kitchen designed by Cristina.

Country House Villadorata
I also took a trip with Cristina to her new Country House Villadorata, a few miles out of town.

It’s a series of modern villas in an olive grove, with swimming pool, and an excellent restaurant. From each terrace, guests can see over olive trees to the blue horizon of the Mediterranean.

I enjoyed a lovely lunch there, and bought some of the toiletries. The fragrant collection of Officine Villadorata includes natural soaps with extra virgin olive oil from the property. Definitely you’ll want to bring some home.

When to Go to Noto and Southeastern Sicily

Check weather patterns, and time a visit ideally to early summer/ spring or fall.

Avoid July and August when it is very hot and very crowded, according to my friends in Noto.

Some restaurants open their terraces only in early summer and dining outdoors is exactly what you’ll want to enjoy. Some restaurants and shops are closed in the off season (winter). New shops open in spring, for summer season.

Dining in Noto

The center of Noto, along the corso Vittorio Emanuele, includes restaurants and cafés, and many sellers of fresh orange juice and granita and gelato so delicious you could float on a sugar high all day.

Instead, I lunched late, and dined late at Manna café/ restaurant, which happened to be just a one-minute stroll along via Rocco Pirri, where I was lodged at La Dependance.

It’s situated in a corner of the Palazzo Nicolaci, and is another genius part of Cristina Summa’s Noto holdings. From the terrace, I loved watching the passing scene along the cobblestone street. The bar is also stylish and easy for an aperitif and bite. But be sure to explore the various rooms of the restaurant. They are handsome. Cuisine is very seasonal, light, and inventive. Enjoy with Sicilian wines. And the manager and wait staff are wonderfully warm, chatty and professional and polished. Loved it.

Manna was designed with panache by the international architect/ designer, Gordon Guillaumier, based in Milan.


Noto is situated in the valley of Noto and you’ll want to hire a car and driver to visit Ragusa and Modica, two significant Baroque towns. Don't even think of taking the local bus to go exploring. Quirky bus schedules in the region make a day trip from Noto to Ragusa, for example, virtually impossible, according to my Noto experts.

Syracuse is an essential day trip, to enjoy lunch, and to visit the island of Ortygia, a living museum of Greek, Norman, Aragon, and Baroque eras. The Piazza del Duomo is handsome, and wandering along the maze of streets and lanes offers discoveries and a dreamy sense of getting lost and found. Take a taxi from Noto.

There are lovely beaches along the coast as well.

What to Read Before You Go

LONGITUDE BOOKS is my favorite travel books catalog. See website below. I found the following books on Longitude, and I studied them before departure:

‘Sicily, An Island at the Crossroads of History’ by John Julius Norwich. Sicily is located at the crossroads of exploration and pillaging and conquering and land-grabbing by the Greeks, Romans, Normans, Saracens, various Spanish duchies, North African leaders, and others, until it finally became part of Italy. The resulting architecture is influenced by all of these marauders. Fascinating.

I also have a copy of ‘Sicily’ a Silver Spoon cookbook published by Phaidon. It offers not only simple fresh recipes but also inspiration on the seasons, regions, ingredients and unique wines and styles of Sicilian cuisine.

‘The Leopard’ by Giuseppe di Lampedusa is the essential book to read before traveling in Sicily. Moody, poetic, sensual and piercingly emotional, it’s one of the great historic novels.

‘On Persephone’s Island’ by Mary Taylor Simeti takes you to the rural life of Sicily, describing traditions, seasons, foods, and a year on the island.

Photo credits: 

All photography by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

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