The Natural Reserve of Vendicari is a wonderful oasis in the Syracuse province located just 5 km from our centre and served various times per day by our shuttle. This place, reminiscent of far-off times is a refuge for thousands migratory birds, herons, swans, flamingos, cormorants and lots of others birds who come here to nest each year in the reserve’s brackish swamps. Other species use the reserve as a kind of hotel for the winter period: a relaxing break, to get their energy back before heading for the warm African coastal areas.
Within the reserve, there is also one of the wildest and most pristine beaches in whole Sicily. It is a thin strip of golden sand bordered on one side by the colourful Mediterranean scrub and on the other side by crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean interrupted by the sight of the wild Vendicari Island. Here, are also found salt-marshes, an ancient tower and the ruins of the old tuna canning factory that complete the beautiful picture surrounding the beach.
The Roman Villa of Tellaro is found inserted in a farmhouse built over the archeological site in the XVIII century, just 5 km from our centre and it is daily served by our shuttle. The remains of the Roman villa, residence of an eminent Roman landlord family, date back to the IV century AC and present an interesting mosaic body that has been for centuries in a state of abandonment, but that the recovery works are taking back to its initial splendour.
Even if lesser in quantity, these mosaics covering the floor of the villa seem to be more accurate in details and refined in style than those of the more famous Roman Villa of Piazza Armerina. In fact, according to the experts, the Villa of Tellaro probably present the most beautiful and artistical mosaic floors in Italy. The exceptional finding specifically regards the floors of three rooms that are plastered with millions of tiles with very intense natural colours depicting scenes of Greek-Roman mithology seeming so alive that scurry away from the design.
The Town of Noto is internationally known and protected by the UNESCO because of the extreme beauty of the area where it is found and its high artistic value. Noto, the pearl of Sicilian Baroque style, stands high on a rocky area about 160 meters above the sea level, located about 10 km from our centre and served everyday by our shuttle.
The “Stone Garden”, as it is commonly called, contains an endless number of baroque monuments appearing in various streets and squares. The most commonly used material is the limestone, which creates a truly spectacular effect at sunset, when the sunlight brings out pinkish tonalities over the majestic façades. The centre of the town is the Town Hall Square, with its wonderful staircase that takes you up to the Cathedral of San Giorgio, surrounded by gorgeous baroque buildings such as the Bishop Palace, the Ducezio Palace and the Landolina Palace of Sant'Alfano.
Every year, the third Sunday of May is dedicated to the "Infiorata", event born twenty-six years ago by the encounter of flower painters from Noto and Genzano, in province of Rome, where this new painting technique developed and consists of creating a picture with flower petals. Corrado Nicolaci Street is where the flower festival was born, the impact is strong, at the top the Montevergini Church that opposes to the palace of Prince Nicolaci called "Golden Villa", characterized by its balconies that have been defined by many the most beautiful in the world for the remarkable sculptures supporting them. In addition, during all week, Noto is literally covered by flowers: streets, squares, and courtyards are covered by paintings made by colourful petals portraying various subjects and models. Today, Noto's flower festival is considered among the most interesting events in whole Sicily and gained international fame with visitors coming by all Europe.
The Beach of San Lorenzo is a marvellous stretch of golden sand located about 10 km from our centre and is served everyday by our shuttle. The beach is characterized by its pristine and crystal clear waters, which represent one of the most beautiful in Sicily thanks to its perfect and ever changing colours. The area also features an excellent beach resort to rent deckchairs and beach umbrellas, use toilets and showers, take advantage of sport and recreational activities, consume snacks, pizza and drinks.
The Village of Marzamemi is characterized by the small picturesque archetypal fishing-village; it is located about15 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. The village was raised around the 17th century's tuna canning factory and Villa of Villadorata Princes, while in the second half of the 19th century a harbour was built near them.
Here, the atmosphere is of old times, the colour of boats and the smell of sea fascinate any visitor; in fact Marzamemi was used as movie set for "South" by G. Salvatores and "The Man of Stars" by G. Tornatore. The village is also surrounded by pretty beaches and in summer becomes a night meeting point for locals and tourists of the area.
The Town of Portopalo is found on top of a small promontory about 20 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. The harbour is the hub of the activities, the 1800’s Church of San Gaetano is the most attractive building, and the new touristic seafront is the most relaxing place.
The shore is endowed with beautiful sandy beaches and a splendid view stretches across the water to the open horizon: a seascape which changes tirelessly at the whim of the elements. A short way offshore lies the Island of Capo Passero with its luxuriant and rare vegetation and wildlife, landmarked characteristically by a lighthouse and a1600’s tower, built by Charles V to defend the coast.
The Correnti Island stands at the far end of Sicily, about 25 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. The island is linked to the coast by an artificial wharf and lies just under the parallel of Tunis, where the Sicily Channel and the Ionian Sea merge into each other within the Mediterranean picture.
This is one of the favourite places for surf and windsurf lovers, due to the waves and the winds that hit the island. Nature lovers are also fascinated by it; in fact, in spite of the sparse vegetation, the Correnti Island is home to wild rabbits, albatrosses and other bird species, and also to several fish species in the surrounding sea.
The Avola Lakes provide the opportunity of exploring a small and lost corner of the Iblei Mountains landscape, the karst range dominating the south-eastern part of Sicily. This area is off the beaten track and is of particular interest to nature-lovers, it is located about 25 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there.
From the panoramic viewpoint you can already watch a magnificent view over the Large Gorge plunging down between impressively tall and sheer limestone cliffs. Slightly to the left, a cave may be seen excavated from the rock: this is the so-called Bandits Cave, just one of the many rock-hewn dwellings in this settlement, and another example of the rocky landscape type so commonly found throughout south-eastern Sicily. Along the valley bottom winds the river which opens out intermittently to make a succession of tiny lakes, partly accessible by a path leading down into the gorge and partly going up the river.
The lakes, resembling pools of rock, are embedded in the middle of the gorge and are surrounded by flat rounded slabs of rock, ideal for whiling away in the sunshine. In summer, a swim in the light blue crystal clear but cool water is irresistible. Furthermore, the rock pools are surrounded on all sides by one of the most idyllic scenery in the Mediterranean, which by far breaks away from anything found elsewhere in the generally dry Sicily, and so providing an unusual and highly recommended alternative to a swim in the sea off the Mediterranean coast.
The City of Syracuse has a glorious past making it a worthy rival of Athens, Carthage and Rome. The city is located in the South-eastern coast of Sicily, along the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean and amidst two famous rivers of the antiquity: the Ciane and the Anapo, about 40 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there.
Syracuse has always been one of the most fascinating localities in Sicily, it was one of the most important cradles for theatre in the world, poets and writers, from Cicero to D’Annunzio were inspired by its beauty and legends linked to its history, and in fact the whole city is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage. Many of the most interesting places in Syracuse are discovered as you walk around Ortigia Island through its typical lanes hiding wonders behind each corner, making it resemble an open-air museum.
This city gathers up many myths and legends connected to its ancient history and its marvellous monuments that have survived for thousands years to witness such a glorious past; some of them are the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre, the Dionysius Ear, the Rope Makers Cave, the Arethusa Fountain, the Archimedes Tomb, the Euryale Castle, the Maniakes Castle, and the Minerva Temple, which was afterwards transformed in mosque by Arabs and in cathedral by Christians.
While, among the baroque masterpieces that still stand on the remains of ancient temples and churches, there are: the Dome Cathedral, the Santa Lucia Church and the San Giovanni Church with its mysterious catacombs. To be mentioned also Syracuse's museums to have a detailed picture of the culture and history of all the area: the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum, the Bellomo Museum, and the Papyrus Museum.
The most important event of the year is the "Classic Representations" of the ancient Greek tragedy that are staged between May and June and gather visitors from all around the world by already many years for its peculiarity. In fact, during the representations the Greek Theatre goes back of more than 2000 years to show its ancient splendour with tragedies by Greek authors staged in their original style, which is very different by the modern opera.
The Marine Reserve of Plemmirio extends in an enchanting area along the coasts of the Maddalena Peninsula that is located in front of the Ortigia Island, first Greek settlement of Syracuse, about 40 km from our centre and we often organize there a visit. This tract of sea is very rich of history, as it as been stage of great naval battles during the Greek and Roman Time; still today it gives full testimony and is jealous guardian of that, giving us the possibility of revive it under water trough an archaeological itinerary to discover amphora’s necks and fragments, and wooden anchors of various size, nature and time.
Another underwater interest is given by the presence of several caves dug by the course of time in the nude white and chalky rock. With their spectacular sceneries and numerous tenants, the excursions by boat with glass bottom or the immersions of the most adventurous are even more suggestive and magical.
However the reserve is not only sea, all around a Mediterranean spot dominated by the presence of date palms, there is also a proliferating of life. Not far, in the humid and brackish area of the swamps, once salt-works, during the spring and autumn seasons, it is possible to assist to an elegant and sinuous flight of pink flamingos.
The Town and Gorge of Ispica are situated in a nice area at the footsteps of the Iblei Mountains, about 15 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. From one side of the hill you can admire a great view of the coast line while on the other side of the hill lies the deep canyon of Ispica, which is 13 km long and stretches between the territory of Ispica and Modica.
Although the town is not one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Noto Valley, it has excellent examples of Sicilian Baroque architecture, the most famous of which is the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is also worth visiting the Carmine neighbourhood, the first nucleus of houses built on the hill, for the wonderful Liberty architecture and the characteristic narrow roads.
The other interesting visit can be done at the Sforza Park in the Gorge of Ispica, walking though the artificial ponds that lie along the path. The gorge is a profound canyon containing several archaeological discovers: ancient huts of the Bronze Age, prehistoric necropolis, caves, Byzantine oratories, ruins of churches and much more.
The Town of Pozzallo is a fishing and beach town located about 20 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. Pozzallo Looks out onto the sea and has a splendid Mediterranean scrub on the back, with carob trees dominating the landscape. The beaches are truly wonderful, the water is crystal-clear and the landscape is historically and culturally interesting.
The most important monument in this medieval town is the majestic Cabrera Tower, built around the 1400 to defend the place from pirate attacks. Here is also located an important port from where leaves the ferry to Malta that takes 90 minutes.
The Town of Modica is a picturesque town that lies in the southern part of the Iblei Mountains; it is located about 25 km from our centre and we often organize there a visit. It is divided into a higher and lower part, both completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake that hit all the Noto Valley in 1693.
The town has many palaces and churches in late Baroque style that stand amidst the typical lanes and the other buildings. The Church of San Giorgio, dedicated to the town’s patron saint, is a exemplary monument of Baroque architecture including a staircase of 250 steps that was built after the church in 1818. It is worth walk along the Umberto Boulevard, this road is Modica’s show lounge, right up Prince of Naples Square, where you can find the Town Hall Building and the castle walls, which survived time and nature’s hazards.
The City of Ragusa is located in the southern corner of Sicily, about 40 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. This is an unusual city divided into two parts: Upper Ragusa and Ragusa Ibla. After the earthquake of 1693 that destroyed the Noto Valley, the aristocrats preferred renovating the old town, while the common people decided to build a new area on the ridge above it.
A meeting between Baroque and popular culture created a special architectural style, made of anthropomorphic deformed masks with grotesque expressions, fantasy animals, pretty angels, and plenty of horns filled with fruit. The rivalry between the new rich people and the aristocratic families, striving to display their superiority in wealth and style, led to the creation of the beautiful palaces and churches that still constitute the treasures that make Ragusa worthy of UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage site.
In the upper part, the monuments to see are the Cathedral of San Giovanni, the Bishop Palace, Zacco Palace, and Bertini Palace; while the small Santa Maria delle Scale Church, dating originally from 1080, sits just at the top of the stairs leading down to Ibla.
However, it is down into Ibla that you will find the finest architecture and sculpture, indeed making it an open museum of Baroque style. A walk around the area takes you from palace to palace, from church to church in a labyrinth of charming narrow and intricate streets, a place to discover and to fall in love with. Here, all the aristocratic palaces are included in the UNESCO list, among which the Schinina Bishop Palace, the Chancellor Palace, the Cosentini Palace, and the Battaglia Palace. As for the churches, some of those in the list are the San Giorgio Cathedral, the Purgatory Church, the Santa Maria dei Miracoli Church, and the San Filippo Neri Church.
The Ancient Town of Noto is set in the middle of a lush vegetation on the hills over the actual town of Noto; it is located about 25 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. The road leading up the old Noto is signposted by the Monastery of San Corrado fuori le Mura. Near the monastery, built in the 1700, is the cave where the saint took refuge and lived in the 14th century. Along the main road you will also find the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Scala and inside, beside the baptismal font, is a fine arch in Arab-Norman style.
A little further on was the Ancient Noto, destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake. The original town grew up around an ancient nucleus founded by the Sicels in the 9th Century BC. Among the vestiges of the Greek period are the Hellenic walls, the remains of a gymnasium and a place of worship of the dead heroes. There is also a fortress of the Arab time that goes from the VII till the XI Century AD, a castle and other fortifications that were added in the XV Century.
The Town of Palazzolo Acreide, which derives from the ancient Akrai founded in 664 BC, occupies a plateau dominating the gorges of the upper valley of the River Anapo, in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, it is located about 35 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there.
On the top of the hill is found the ancient town of Akrai, where the acropolis used to lie; all that is visible now is the floor of the orchestra of the small theatre built of white stone and this actually dates back to the Roman times. Two former Greek caves next to the theatre were converted by the Christians to be used as catacombs and troglodyte dwellings. Excavation of the area discovered vestiges of a Roman residential quarter and a circular building that was probably a temple.
The track that skirts around the edge of the archaeological site provides an enchanting view over the surrounding valley, which justifies the strategic positioning of the ancient town, founded as a defensive outpost by the Greek of Syracuse. At the Santoni, an isolated place in a nearby valley to the archaeological site, there are twelve rock-hewn figures dating back to the III Century BC testifying the existence in Sicily of a cult of Eastern origin.
The modern town of Palazzolo was largely rebuilt in the 18th century and thus it has many Baroque buildings lining its main streets: the Vittorio Emanuele Boulevard and Carlo Alberto Street that intersect at Popolo Square.
The Natural Reserve and Necropolis of Pantalica is located in a plateau characterized by various gorges, about 65 km from our centre and we often organize a visit there. Element of extraordinary naturalistic, archaeological and anthropological interest certainly make Pantalica a unique site in the world.
On the plateau there was the settlement of the ancient Hibla, which was inhabited by the Bronze Age; however, today little remained of the original town, except for an incredible number of tombs excavated in the steep limestone cliff face that form together the largest complex of necropolis in Europe and the Mediterranean and that for their historical importance have been placed in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
The plateau and the valleys below, other than having a great historical importance, reveal a superb landscape comprising a succession of rocky gorges excavated in the course of millennia by the River Calcinara and by the River Anapo. The Anapo Valley here is accessible only by two passages connected between them by a path that cover for over 10 km a part of the track of the ex Syracuse-Vizzini railway.
For those not feeling like walking all the way, there is a clearly marked alternative path touching both points of natural and archaeological interest and leading to the Cavetta and Filiporto Necropolis, where can be seen a batch of pipelines belonging to the aqueduct Galermi by Roman workmanship. The site appear diversified and offer variegated ecological environments making possible the expression of a very significant biodiversity; besides the aquatic biotype, we can in fact distinguish the riparian environment, the cliffs one, the valley one, the planes one, and the caves one.