Noto, emphasis on the “o” I remind myself. That’s because my brain wants to call it Nota, as in Nota Bene. But hey, it gave me a way to tell you about Noto, our favourite town in Sicily.
N.B. You can Stay in a Palace
Number 53, number 53, I recited to Magellan as our rental car rumbled up the cobblestoned Via Cavour.
There it is, there it is, I repeated. Too late. About 100 metres beyond massive, blank-faced doors painted forest green and a discreet sign for Seven Rooms Villadorata.
The traffic behind us waited patiently as Magellan reversed. It was April. If it was summertime when the lineup to enter Noto can be ninety minutes long, horns would be blasting.
Built in 1731 near the highest point of Noto, Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata is the most extravagant Baroque palazzo in Sicily and the property of the citizens of Noto. Renowned for its size (ninety rooms!), ornate balconies with friezes of mythical creatures and vaulted ceilings twenty feet above brocaded sofas, it also houses a library and municipal affairs. Three floors of Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata were the family residence of its namesake, Prince Nicolaci, who made his fortune in the tuna business. In juxtaposition to the ornate exterior, the Nicolaci family remodelled their private residence to resemble a French château.
But here’s the cool part.
Cristina Summa, a designer and hotelier in Turin, had fond memories of summers with her grandma in Noto. Her dream of returning came true in 2007 when she acquired the palazzo’s private apartment. Cristina and her husband and two children live in one wing of the Nicolai family’s former residence, the other is the luxurious bed and breakfast—seven bedrooms and a series of common rooms decorated in the quiet palette of Girogio Morandi: grey, chalk, buff and the palest wash of blue.
When we arrived (the only guests that night), a young woman showed us the standard room I’d booked and then opened up the doors to Austro (“wind of the south,” all of the rooms are named after a wind), the prince’s bedroom, which they offered to us for a small additional sum for our three-night stay. Cristina serves a sumptuous breakfast in her wing and dinner at her restaurant on the property, Manna, where we’d highly recommend you try the codfish and octopus appie, spinach ravioli plumped with sewed meats and pasta with swordfish.
N.B. You’ll see Baroque Architecture of Harmonious Beauty
After the original town of Noto Antica was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, three local architects of eminence were engaged to create “the finest Baroque town in Sicily” on a hillside ten kilometres away. They designed a perfectly proportioned new town with three parallel roads running east to west to ensure multiple panoramas and the daylong embrace of the sun.
No expense was spared. Each of the three piazzas features a Baroque cathedral of decorative frivolity (all open to the public) reached via monumental steps that “enchant with tricks of perspective.” All of Noto’s Baroque edifices are constructed in tufa, a honey-coloured limestone that in late afternoon warms to the amber colour of a ripe peach. Surpassed only by the pastel cameos of the frescoes in Cattedral San Nicolò, Noto’s most famous church.
Today 26,000 lucky people call the UNESCO-protected Noto home, referring to it as “the garden of stone,” its flowers the many churches, noble palaces and residences of ancient aristocrats. We saw teenagers chasing each other on church steps, school kids congregating for an environmental event and jubilados (reminiscing about Garibaldi?) on streets mercifully free of chain stores.
N.B. In-town and nearby Attractions will Keep You Smiling
Though reluctant to leave the comforts of the palazzo, Prince Magellan and I were won over by Noto and the surrounding countryside.
Flaneuring the streets, we wandered into a handful of the fifty churches, saw a good Picasso exhibition, had a look at the public wing of the Nicolaci Palace and ate a superb dinner at Crocifisso.
One night we went to a local concert for UNICEF Italy and listened to Orchestra di Chitarre, unlike the parents of this group of junior-high kids on guitars, who, this being Italy, chatted amiably throughout the performance. Afterwards we amused ourselves watching six teenage boys celebrating one of their birthdays with much pizza, Prosecco and birthday cake at Esperria. Before our pizza arrived, I went to the ladies’ room. Opening the door I startled one of the boys giving “it” a shake. Laughing so hard Prosecco spurted out their noses, they couldn’t stop looking our way and joking about what may have gone on between their red-faced buddy and me, Mrs.-Robinson-in-Noto in their eyes.
Less than an hour’s drive away, there’s so much to see.
N.B. Noto means known, known for enchanting anyone who visits
Remember Caffè Sicilia (it alone is reason enough to visit too) from a previous blog?
The reply I received after sending that blog to the caffè’s owner reveals the genuine spirit of Noto:
tanks a lot fort the report of your visit at Caffè Sicilia. Tanks a lot for you so deep words and for your sensational touch and thought.I’ll save on my computer to store as a memorable comment to our way to live at caffè Sicilia.
With my best regards
A YouTube on the reconstruction of Cattedral of San Nicolò and the frescoes.