I’ve always loved mainland Italy but had never visited Sicily. We decided to visit the South of Sicily rather than the more touristy North of the Island. The south-eastern tip is famed for it’s wonderfully secluded beaches and amazing baroque architecture and ancient Greek ruins.
We flew into Catania and hired a car to drive to our hotel which was close to Noto. The drive from Catania to Noto took around 1.5 hours. Driving in any part of Italy isn’t for the faint hearted but the main road, the E45, connects Catania to Syracuse and Noto and makes it an easy drive.
South Eastern Sicily
In 1693 a massive earthquake destroyed vast areas of the southeast of Sicily including Syracuse and the smaller towns of Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Caltagirone and Scicli, killing around five percent of the population of Sicily. The 18th century rebuilding of these towns is the reason for the wonderful baroque architecture.
The south-eastern tip of Sicily is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The towns of Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Scicli and Caltagirone make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Val di Noto and the Baroque architecture is stunning.
Syracuse, once the most powerful metropolis in Magna Graecia, is beautiful. Although one of Sicily’s most famous historical attractions is without a doubt the Valley of the Temples, just outside Agrigento.
This amazing archaeological park has eight temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 BC and 430 BC. The eight Temples are:
- Temple of Hera
- Temple of Concordia
- Temple of Heracles
- Temple of Olympian Zeus
- Temple of Castor and Pollux
- Temple of Hephaestos
- Temple of Demeter
- Temple of Asclepius (the God of Medicine).
The south-eastern side of Sicily has a little bit of everything and is a great place to explore.
Noto was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1693 and had to be totally rebuilt. The new site was about 10km from the old town centre.
As the town was being built from scratch the architects, Paolo Labisi, Vincenzo Sinatra, and Rosario Gagliardi, wanted to create a perfectly proportioned town and they decided to divide it into three parts by three roads running from east to west. At the top lived the nobility, in the middle the clergy, and at the bottom, the general people.
You have to see Noto at sunset when the local limestone of the buildings seem to take on a soft golden honeyed glow, you must see it in person to appreciate it fully.
Giorgio Locatelli makes the bold claim that Noto has the best ice-cream shop in the world; it may not be the best in the world but it’s certainly high up on my list and I’m a bit of gelato freak.
Trip to Mount Etna
A trip to Sicily wouldn’t be complete without a visit to see Mount Etna. Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, is also one of the most beautiful areas of Sicily.
Driving from Noto to Etna took us just under 1 hour and 45 minutes travelling on the E45. The funivia station is at Rifugio Sapienza where you take the cable from. The cable car takes you up to the Mountain Station at 2,500m. Our tickets also included the 4×4 off road vehicles which took us up to the summit. It was then a short walk to the crater. Make sure you wear warm clothes, even in summer, it’s very chilly up there! The view from the top is unbelievable and smoking landscape is stunning.
The tickets weren’t cheap we paid around 60 euros each, but it was worth it for the experience.
Where we stayed in Sicily - Kallikoros Hotel and Spa Resort
The hotel Kallikoros is about 15 minutes outside Noto and is built on the slopes of Mount Rena. The Hotel has 44 rooms and apartments which are spread out around the resort along a steep windy path / road.
There is a large swimming pool part way up the windy road from the main hotel and reception. The road continues up to the single-story rooms and apartments. Our room was a fair way up the steep path and would have been tricky for anyone with mobility problems. However, being situated up so high we had wonderful views of the stunning countryside.
Although Noto is only a 15-minute drive away the Hotel feels very remote and rural but wonderfully relaxing.
Breakfast was ok but nothing outstanding which is unusual for Italian hotels as most of the ones we have stayed in previously have always had wonderful homemade cakes and fresh fruit and bread.
Evening meal choices were limited but we enjoyed the meals we ate there. The food was simply cooked but made with fresh local ingredients; and we loved the local Sicilian wines.
Our room was simply furnished but clean and comfortable and as I’ve said we had stunning views. The swimming pool was large and clean and an oasis of calm.
If you’re looking for a place to unwind and relax then this location is perfect.
Food of Sicily
Sicily has a complex history, and this is reflected in it’s cuisine. Sicilian food has Greek, Spanish, French are Arab influences. The Greeks brought grapes and olives, the Romans introduced chick peas, lentils and pasta. The Arabs brought almonds, aniseed, apricots, artichokes, cinnamon, oranges, pistachio, pomegranates, saffron, sesame, spinach, sugarcane, water melon and rice.
A lot of the local dishes have the mix of sweet and sour and have combined the ingredients and styles of cooking that these many influences have brought.
The food is local and seasonal. Some of my favourite dishes were the sardines and pasta and the wonderful Arancini, balls of creamy risotto rice, stuffed with cheese and meat, then breaded and fried to a golden crisp. We also ate lots of seafood, aubergines and tomatoes. The dishes were always cooked simply but brought the best out in the local fresh ingredients.
Whatever you eat in Sicily it is almost certain to have been grown or produced locally.
My Opinion of Sicily
We had a wonderful time in Sicily. There is so much to see and do and the South Eastern tip has a little bit of everything from wonderful food and wine; think seafood and Bianco D’Alcamo or the wonderful red wine of Nero d’Avola to glorious beaches, great gelato, stunning architecture and historic ancient sites.
If you really want to explore Sicily then the best way is to hire a car as driving through the small hilltop towns. This way you can find great places to stop off for lunch or drive to the coast and discover small fishing villages with great seafood and wonderful beaches.