Nota Bene Sicily’s baroque treasure

NOTO, Italy—After a splendid morning spent driving through a sunlit landscape spangled with orange groves, lemon trees and palms, I steer our little rental car up a series of narrow, meandering streets.

The ornate decoration on this balcony is typical of the baroque style to be found on the palazzos in the Sicilian town of Noto

NOTO, Italy—After a splendid morning spent driving through a sunlit landscape spangled with orange groves, lemon trees and palms, I steer our little rental car up a series of narrow, meandering streets. My friend doesn’t say a word as I negotiate hairpin curves—after two days driving in Sicily, we have an unspoken rule not to talk during what could be stressful times.

However, this hilly route to the town of Noto turns out to be rather peaceful. We see no signs of life, and many of the streets are one-way. For a time, it seems as if we are lost in a maze. Then we arrive at our destination and gasp in delight at what is surely one of Europe’s prettiest tucked-away baroque treasures.

Noto (pop. 23,000), in the southwestern tip of Sicily, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. It has a disaster four centuries ago to thank for the designation: in 1693, the town was the epicentre of a massive earthquake, which led to its rebuilding in a lavish style that came to be known as Sicilian baroque. The result is an architecturally splendid city of flamboyant churches, palaces and civic buildings, decorated with richly carved columns, grotesque masks, towering belfries and elaborate wrought-iron balconies.

A stroll along the old town’s main avenue, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and connecting streets shows us some of the highlights. As we enjoy the Palazzo Ducezio, once one of Noto’s fine private homes, now the town hall, we can’t get over how quiet everything is. Here we are in the central piazza and we see so few people! (The modern section of Noto, along Viale Marconi, we will later find, is much busier.)

Touring with guidebook in hand we feel a little bit like we’re visiting a deserted movie set. We climb the ornate staircase of San Francesco church and admire the balconies of the Palazzo Nicolaci, festooned with weird faced masks and mythological characters. One of my favourite buildings, among the many memorable sights, is the Palazzo Landolina, once home to the city’s oldest noble family. It was one of this family’s members, Giovanni Battista Landolina, who planned and laid out the new baroque town.

Noto’s elevation to UNESCO World Heritage status has helped with the restoration of some of its exquisite buildings to their former glory. The best example is the Palazzo Villadorata, aswirl in richly brocaded walls and sumptuously frescoed ceilings.

As well as enjoying the wonderfully florid baroque architecture, my friend and I have another quest in Noto: to find dessert heaven. My friend had seen a story in the New York Times on the Caffè Sicilia, whose fourth-generation owner/chef, Corrado Assenza, is well-known by food lovers, especially those fond of ice cream and pastries.

We easily find the café, then the difficult choices follow: do we go with a Sicilian favourite, the yummy cannoli, or try the unique basil gelato or a cake that oozes with pistachios and orange peel? Or do we just go baroque and have a helping of everything?

Explore More:

For information on travel in Italy visit the Italian Government Tourist Board website at www.enit.it.

Just Posted

B.C. reservists gather for military communications training in Chilliwack

Canadian Army’s communication skills are used in battle as well as domestic emergencies

VIDEO: ‘Heroes’ rescue teenager trapped in vehicle in water-filled ditch in Chilliwack

Two men sprang into action, holding 17-year-old’s head out of water as they pried open door

Sarah Wark rallies to beat Prince Edward Island at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Wark wasn’t at the top of her game, but her team did enough to improve to 6-3 overall.

GW Graham junior boys play underdog role at basketball provincials

One of two at-large seeds in the 32 team field, the Grizzlies face a tough opponent out of the gate.

Unfinished business for GW Graham basketball Grizzlies at AA provincials

GWG’s senior girls squad advanced to the final before losing in 2018 and look to win it all in 2019.

Sell regulated heroin to curb B.C.’s overdose problem: report

B.C. Centre on Substance Use points to organized crime and money-laundering as contributing factors

Man charged in stabbing of woman, off-duty cop outside B.C. elementary school

Manoj George, 49, is facing two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of assault with a weapon after the incident on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Why do zebras have stripes? Perhaps to dazzle away flies

Researchers from University of Bristol look into why zebras have stripes

Poll: More voters believe Canada doing worse under Trudeau government

22 per cent believed the country is doing better and 27 per cent said things are the same

HBC shuttering Home Outfitters across Canada

North America’s oldest retailer is revamping its various stores to improve profitability

BC SPCA investigates Okanagan woman with prior animal abuse convictions

BC SPCA is investigating a property near Vernon

Man wanted for sex trafficking, confinement may be heading to B.C.

Kevin Myrthil, 26, is also accused of assault on a 19-year-old woman at an Edmonton hotel

B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas resumes battle with suspended staff

Committee meets at B.C. legislature to consider new allegations

Northern B.C. train derailment due to broken axle could happen again: TSB

CN coal train derailment caused by broken axle can happen again without a different way to inspect

Most Read