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Most people after a city break in Sicily don’t look beyond famous faces like Syracuse and Palermo – but that’s where they’re missing a trick.
Noto retreats back from the south-east coast of Sicily, where vineyards and orchards squeeze between low hills. It’s got ancient roots, but rather than offering a sailor’s knot of alleys and churches, you get a tilting hilltop grid laid with wide boulevards, pristine piazzas, golden palazzos and domed churches.
That’s all down to a 17th-century earthquake that prompted a redesign by architects like Rosario Gagliardi. Noto Cathedral was one of his creations – an ode to a very Sicilian style of Baroque (expect lots of scrolls and balconies).
Walk down the main boulevard, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, and you’ll pass sandstone buildings that look like they’re permanently in golden hour mode. It’s no wonder UNESCO included the city on its World Heritage list.
Keep your camera ready at Noto Cathedral
Noto Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Nicolo) is the jewel in Noto’s skyline. If you think it’s got a box-fresh shine, then you’d be right – it was lovingly renovated after a storm in the 1990s.
The church now looks as rosy-cheeked as it did when it opened its doors in 1776. Admire the grand staircase, peer up at the perfectly restored dome, or wander under the eyes of cherubs. Inside, whitewashed naves double as canvasses for paintings. And watch out for the 17th-century silver ark – it’s said to house the remains of Saint Conrad of Piacenza.
Promenade down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele
The grand boulevard of Corso Vittorio Emanuele (just Corso Vittorio to locals) is the best place to get your bearings. It slices straight through the city centre, leading you past elaborate churches, Neo-Classical palaces, gelaterias and mirrored town halls.
Must-sees include the golden gate of Porta Reale and Palazzo Ducezio. And it’s worth popping into St. Charles Church just for the bell tower, which gives out city-wide views.
If you do only one detour, make it Via Nicolaci. This handsome, dagger-straight street is mosaicked with flowers at the Infiorata di Noto festival every May.