The eight World Heritage cities of the Val di Noto make for a memorable self-drive adventure. Here are my tips for a stay in this region rich in history, culture, architecture and gastronomy.
Recognised by many as the stunning setting for the TV series ‘The Young Montalbano’ & ‘Inspector Montalbano’, based on Andrea Camilleri’s detective novels, the Val di Noto, in the south east of Sicily, is home to UNESCO World Heritage towns including Ragusa, Modica, Scicli & Noto; each full of romantic, Sicilian Baroque architecture; and some of the island’s best places to eat.
Antico Convento dei Cappuccini – Ragusa Ibla
This 16th century former monastery has been restored, creating a 4 star hotel in the heart of the strikingly beautiful old town of Ragusa Ibla. The minimalist style, with rooms within the former monastic cells, reflects the meditative feel of the property. The remarkable Baroque palaces and churches of Ragusa are within walking distance.
Hotel Palazzo Failla – Modica
This noble family home, within Modica’s honey-coloured limestone old town, is still owned by the Failla family. The ornate suites in the main house are historic and have an aristocratic, eccentric feel – whilst the rooms across the street in the private courtyard (where the hotel’s award-winning ‘Locanda del Colonnello’ restaurant is found) are classic yet with more of a contemporary style, especially in the bathrooms, which have luxurious detailing and spa baths.
Sunbeam House – Ragusa
Feel like a local, by staying in this charming rental cottage close to the main sights and facilities of Ragusa. Located in a peaceful pedestrianised street, this two bedroom house has ensuite bathrooms, a kitchen-dining room and Wi-Fi. B&B service also available. A short walk and one is at an impressive viewpoint across to the domes and towers of Ibla, overlooking the gorge created by the 1693 earthquake that split the town in two.
Algila Ortigia Charme Hotel – Ortigia island
For style & luxury head to historic and picturesque Ortigia, the old town peninsula of Syracuse. Here, close to the water’s edge on one of the island’s most prestigious streets is the 4-star superior Hotel Ortigia. Rooms are sympathetically designed to reflect the history of this beautiful building.
Dolceria Constanzo – Noto
As is common in Val di Noto, much of this beautiful town was rebuilt in the Baroque style after the devastating earthquake of 1693. There is so much to see here, but make sure you take a break from sightseeing and enjoy the famous cassata cakes make with candied fruit, ricotta cheese, and vanilla cream (or chocolate) at this well-known bar/caffè which also offers tempting gelato, dolci di mandorla almond treats, and Sicilian nougat.
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Ristorante Tipico – Ragusa
Contemporary, informal restaurant on the town’s Piazza San Giovanni. Superb antipasti, homemade breads, and local wines.
Locanda Don Serafino – Ragusa
For fine-dining in Ragusa, this 2 star Michelin restaurant, close to the chic Locanda Don Serafino boutique hotel, is certainly one to consider. Vincenzo Candiano is undoubtedly one of Sicily’s most talented young chefs.
Fattorie delle Torri – Modica
This is an upscale dining experience in Modica. Chef Ninni Radicini and sommelier Daniele Spadol lead a talented team. Seductive setting too, with the restaurant opening out onto a private courtyard with olive and lemon trees.
Locando del Colonnello – Modica
The pared back design and presentation of this small restaurant allows the food by Chef Davide Minerva to be the centre of attention. This is local cuisine that reflects Sicily’s historical, international influences. Try the cavatelli pasta with asparagus and saffron cheese. The restaurant has been voted the Best Trattoria in Sicily 2016 by Cronache di Gusto.
L’Osteria da Seby – Ortigia
Popular restaurant offering classic Italian and Sicilian dishes like seafood pastas, offal, and roasted, marinated vegetables and of course fish, for which the island is well known – all served with well-priced wines.
Nosco Mediterranean Cooking School – Ragusa Ibla
This professional school, located within the Antico Convento dei Cappuccini hotel, also offers courses for amateurs wishing to indulge their passion for Italian Mediterranean food and wine.
Fratelli Aprile – Scicli
Capture the flavour of Sicily, with an olive oil tasting on this famous estate owned and run by the Aprile brothers.
The detective novels and TV adaptations have led to many tours of the main sights. It’s fun to create your own route, as a way to discover the region. For example, the title sequence of the BBC4 series features the striking Ponte Guerreri viaduct of Ragusa, linking the two parts of the town. Visit Scicli to get a glimpse of more of the TV locations. First impressions of the Scicli are not promising but once in the central old quarter, head to the town hall (Palazzo di Città) which many will recognise as the Police Station in the TV show. Nearby is the location of the trattoria da Calogero, a favourite with the detective – in reality it’s called ‘A Rusticana’. Read the novels for further inspiration for discovering Montalbano’s Sicily.
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto – Modica
This historic chocolate factory and store is a great place to learn more about one of Modica’s most famous products; artisan chocolate. Here you can try different flavours, and buy unique, delicious gifts. This is where chocolate is still made to ancient Aztec recipes brought to Modica by the Spanish.
The Contented Traveller
My journey of discovery through the province of Noto was organised by Italy expert Josephine O’Toole, of The Contented Traveller.
Sicily’s main airports are Palermo (the capital, in the north west of the island) and Catania in the east. Comiso, close to Ragusa and Modica, is the most convenient, and is served by low cost airlines from the UK.