Noto was our next stay, about a 45-minute drive from Taormina in southeast Sicily. Our lodging for a couple of nights was at Country House Villadorata, about a 10 minute drive from downtown Noto in an relatively newish estate settled among olive and almond trees. The rooms were spacious, clustered together in groups of three with a salt water swimming pool and restaurant.
We began our downtown Noto visit by touring around the streets and Cathedral, while waiting for our dinner reservation. Our meal was at La Manna in a small building, just up from Cafe Sicilia (famous granita cafe on Netflix) with rustic, traditional Sicilian cuisine. While waiting, we enjoyed red wine, which we sipped at our table once seated, along with chunks of Pecorino, salami and toasted bread sticks.
We started with a small plate to share of Sardine Patties drizzled with Fava Bean oil. The patties were both crisp and silky with fresh seafood flavor from the anchovies and creaminess from whipped potatoes, I just loved it.
The Sliced Veal Lettuce Bouquet sitting in a Dashi Broth with Tuna Mayonnaise brought me back to my travels in Piedmonte two years prior, but with a lighter and brighter taste. The Semolina Gnocchi in a White Rabbit Ragu was beautifully cooked – a creamy, succulent bowl of perfection. One of our best dinners in Sicily.
In the morning our bike tour began in Palazzolo Acreide, a 45-minute drive from Noto. Guiseppe the bike store owner/driver was kind and cheerful and drove behind us in his van if we needed his assistance in any way. We really enjoyed his personality and encouragement on those bigger climbs.
Our ride began in Palazzolo Acreide, a small quaint town famous for their black-pig cured salami. We had an early start for a Sunday and not much was open for us to purchase this famous salami. We biked our way through Tesa dell’Acqua or the Aqueduct area that fed Noto Antica (ancient city of Noto). Then, toured the ancient city of Noto that was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693 and moved to lower ground where, Noto stands today.
We completed our bike tour back in downtown Noto and stopped in for lunch with our guide, Daniela who was rich in Sicilian history and politics. We thoroughly enjoyed her expertise and our lunch of ricotta filled Ravioli in Tomato Sauce in a small cafe, just across from the Cathedral, nothing fancy, but it was simple perfection.
That afternoon we headed to Siracusa and Ortygia Island for a walking tour, about a 30 minute drive southeast from Noto. Upon arriving into Syracuse, the seaside town with baroque palaces – we realized this is one place we would definitely want to come back to stay. Ortygia is the oldest city in all of Italy, originated by the Greeks, and connected to Syracuse by a channel.
Syracuse is listed as a World Heritage Site and is rich in Greek history and culture, amphitheaters and architecture. Though our visit was brief, you can see the beauty of this historical place that rests upon the Ionian Sea.
Cocktail hour began at our Country House – Aperol Spritzes and Negronis followed by dinner in Noto at Il Crocifisso. The meal was good, but completely overshadowed by the poor service. No wine, no water, no staff many times during our meal. This restaurant is mentioned in the Michelin Guide, though no star, and I can see why. As for the food, Spaghetti Chitarra with Sardines and breadcrumbs was a little dry, but the Stonebass was tender with a sweet & sour onion compote that complimented the fish. Hard for our group to recommend this restaurant because of our experience, maybe just a bad night??
Today it was off to Modica and Ragusa for a tour of these two cities. Modica, a stacked baroque city divided by Modica Alta (upper) and Modica Bassa (lower) spotted with shops, churches and cafes. Modica Bassa contains Cathedral San Giorgio and Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. The chocolate shop was created in the early 1800’s and revolutionized by his son after taking over in the 1880’s. Today, the chocolate shop still creates chocolates, hot chocolate and pastries such as Cassata Cake and Cannoli on site, a fun experience even in a downpour. We all wished we had a little more time to explore Modica.
The city of Ragusa is baroque in style and is separated into a lower and a higher area by a large ravine. Ragusa contains a famous Cathedral – San Giovanni Batista, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. A quick visit to the cathedral, and a scoop of Prickly Pear gelato at Gelati di Vini.
After a 2-hour drive to the Agrigento area, we checked into Mandranova Olive Estate just before dark. The estate is a working olive oil farm and exports products to the United States and Canada. You can find some of their olive oils at Eataly here in the states. The accommodations were very spacious with separate sitting rooms throughout the property. We enjoyed grabbing a cocktail in their living room and library before dinnertime and decided on dining at the estate for 2 of the 3 nights stay.
The food was very rustic, warm and comforting, just like I imagined it would be on an olive farm. The first evening they prepared Rigatoni with Caramelized Onions, Chicken with Peppers & Potatoes and a Vanilla Gelato with Chocolate Sauce. All three plates were true Italian comfort food and my pictures look a little yellow because there was a yellow light shining down on our table from the wall of the estate.
The next day, we bike through the city of Agrigento to the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi). Our cycling journey was cut a little short because they weren’t allowing biking through the Temples because of an injury inside the park weeks prior. So, after arriving to the grounds, we explored on foot with our guide, Lorenzo who gave us a very animated tour with history of these magnificent Greek structures that still remain today. This site is the largest archaeological park in the world.
The lower area of the Temples is the Garden of Kolymbethra where we had a picnic lunch prepared for us by Alessandra. The meats, cheeses, Arancini, breads, homemade jam and Sicilian wines were a remarkable touch in a wonderful park-like setting. The apricot jam was made by Alessandra herself, very nice and the cannoli were pretty amazing too.
After our picnic, we headed to the Marzepan Museum in downtown Agrigento. The tour by Annalisa, was thorough, but probably unnecessary due to the time constrictions and the inability to take a cooking class here. However, we did learn about marzepan molds, which we picked up in Palermo – later in the trip.
Our dinner that evening back at Mandranova Olive Estate, and we began with Seared Sheep’s Cheese in a SpinachSauce with Fried Spinach Leaves. Followed by broken noodle Garbanzo Bean Pasta and Calamari with Roasted Onion and Cauliflower and a drizzle of estate oil.
The chocolate souffle was a nice ending to a rustic Italian meal with great company under the stars.
The next morning we headed out for a walking tour of Agrigento Province, in Sant’Angelo Muxaro with our guide Pierfilippo. We walked the ancient streets visiting small producers making honey from local Sicilian black bees, sheep’s milk cheeses; including pecorino and ricotta and a local bakery where we sampled Pane Cunzato, or warm bread with oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper (not too mention a handful of other baked goods).
After our morning of eating our way through this little town, we hiked through an archaeological area, visiting Tholos tomb and taking in the hillsides of olives, almond and pistachio trees.
Cocktails before dinner in Agrigento were at Enoteca Nzolia, on the patio below Ristorante Kalos – where our reservations were this evening. At Kalos, we each chose the tasting menu – the women, seafood menu and the men, meat menu. The dishes that stood out in my mind were the Swordfish Crudo with Burrata cheese and the crispy Artichoke Heart on a bed or Beef Ragu. Both unique in preparation and the flavors extraordinary. I liked the fact that true culinary rules didn’t apply in this chef’s mind – cheese with seafood is a definite plus and let’s face it, Meat Ragu makes every vegetable taste better (according to my husband).
And the Deconstructed Cannoli was pretty outside the box on presentation too. *As a side note, a big thanks to two of our drivers – Luca in Noto for his amazing patience and kindness, and Daniele in Agrigento for his fun personality and ability to stay on his diet living in Sicily!
In the morning, we were heading to Palermo, but first a cooking class at a winery. Stay tuned for post 3 of Sicily.
For tour information – contact Viviana at Essence of Sicily