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The Sicily you’ve never seen: From castles to volcanos, the island has something for everyone


During our last two weeks in Sicily this past fall, we set out to explore previously unvisited villages and cities.

First on our list was Punta Secca, on the southwest corner of the island. The charming seaside village has become popular in recent years as the fictional “Vigata” in the RAI television series “Inspector Montalbano,” adapted from Andrea Camilleri’s book series. Many scenes with Montalbano’s fictional home are set in a house that backs onto the beach where he swims each day. It is a short stroll from the town parking to Montalbano’s “house,” where we took some pictures and walked along the beach. There is a statue of the author next to the building, which is now a B&B, and a tower which is now a restaurant.

The Fountain of Arethusa in Ortigia is one of two places in Europe where papyrus grows. | Adobestock.com

Walking along the promenade, we passed the restaurant where the series’ character often has lunch, and headed to the lighthouse. The Capo Scaramia lighthouse was one of the major public works of the Bourbon government in the province of Ragusa. It was designed in 1857 by Nicolò Diliberto D’Anna at the request of the Bourbon government and built in 1858-59 and is 35 meters (115 feet) tall. On the way back to the car we noticed several houses were decorated with brightly painted plates on the wall depicting the seasons and culture of the area.

We drove next to the town of Scicli in the Val di Noto. The small town is one of eight cities which are part of a UNESCO World heritage site. They were all rebuilt after an earthquake in 1693 and recognized for their architectural style which strictly adhered to the late Baroque style.

The seaside village of Punta Secca is the fictional home of Inspector Montalbano.

We walked along Via Francesco Mormino Penna, considered one of the most beautiful streets in Sicily, lined with palaces, shops, and restaurants. After a delicious meal of homemade pasta, we made another stop at a souvenir shop to buy some Modica chocolate, handmade with cocoa seeds in the same methods used by artisans in Modica in the 1700s.

Our next stop was Noto, another Baroque city whose main cathedral is set high on a hill. We parked near the top of the city and began to walk down several flights of stairs. At the bottom of the first set, we looked back and noticed each step was decorated to display previous designs created for the Infiorita. Noto is famous for the Infiorata (flower festival) which takes place in May when teams of artists design colorful petals creating a carpet that covers Via Corrado Nicolaci. Each year the exhibition is dedicated to a different country.

Noto’s Baroque cathedral glows at sunset.

Our first stop was the Cathedral, which stands on top of a monumental staircase. The façade, which is very plain, has both baroque and classical elements. Inside the three aisles of the church are divided by tall pillars and in the chapel at the bottom of the right aisle is the silver urn of San Corrado, the patron saint of the city.

Across from the church is Palazzo Ducezio, which houses the Municipal Hall. It is an impressive two-story building originally built as a single story with a second floor added in the 1950s. Inside the reception hall is rich in gold and stuccoes. Near the church we stopped for some gelato and watched the crowds pass by before continuing our brief stroll through the central part of the city. Here the three main roads were all constructed from east to west to illuminate them by the sun. The many buildings and monuments in Noto are constructed of golden limestone (as well as in many of the other baroque towns of the Noto Valley) which allows them to glow spectacularly during sunset.

Our next trip was to Savoca in the province of Messina. It is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, whose name comes from the plant of the elder (savucu in Sicilian dialect), a shrub with white and fragrant flowers that still grows wild in the cracks between houses, which is represented in the medieval coat of arms of the village. From the center of town, we walked up a winding road that led to the top of the village which gave us an incredible view of the surrounding mountains and the sea below.

Savoca honors Italian director Francis Ford Coppola.

We continued walking along the rough stone road past the ancient ruins of the castle Pentefur until we came to the Chiesa di San Nicolo. The church is where Francis Ford Coppola filmed the wedding scene for the movie “the Godfather” along with the Bar Vitelli, housed nearby inside the 18th-century Palazzo Trimarchi. Savoca is one of several places in Sicily which is part of “the Godfather” tour with buses taking tourists to the various film sites. We also noticed several entrepreneurs taking people to different locales in the town on golf carts. There is a museum which also highlights the movie’s filming as well as village life and agriculture.

Two days later we drove into the Alcantara Valley, passing through the town of Mojo (moy-yo) Alcantara, a small village built around Monte Mojo in the 17th century. This is a dormant volcano with a volcanic cinder cone. Around 3,000 years ago an eruption flowed from here along the river Alcantara all the way to Giardini Naxos. Today it is a green-covered mound surrounded by peach orchards which are a major agricultural product in the area. Just outside Elicona, we stopped to view the rock formations of the Argimusco. Here you’ll see huge rocks with different forms such as an oracle, a warrior, a mammoth, an eagle, and many others They are set on a plateau in the middle of nature, with a splendid 360-degree panorama that sweeps between Etna and the Aeolian Islands.

Our main goal was to visit the medieval castle, built under the orders of King Frederick II of Aragon. The castle was renovated with government funds in the 1980s, and took more than two decades to complete. We wandered through several rooms, some highlighting weapons, battle vestments and coats of arms which were originally used as colorful designs on a soldier’s shield. One exhibit displayed figures of Frederick II and his wife and children with explanations of the clothing they wore. Another room featured ancient musical instruments. Just outside is a chapel which contains the corpse of Arnaldo of Villanova, one the most prominent figures of his epoch – a medic, alchemist, and religious innovator. An observation site was closed but we walked up to the highest point, hanging on to the railing as heavy winds buffeted the area. Across the mountains we could see a series of wind turbines which are slowly becoming part of the islands landscape.

Our last trip was to Ortigia, a small island connected to Siracusa by three bridges. Ortigia was the site of an ancient Greek settlement founded by the Corinthians in 734 B.C. It is a labyrinth of charming timeworn streets packed with over 2,500 years of history. As we entered the town we stopped to take in the remains of the Temple of Apollo, dating back to the 6th century B.C. and said to be the first great Doric temple of its kind in Sicily. We walked along the coastal promenade on the way to Castello Maniace, built by Frederick II to fend off numerous invading forces. Since the castle was unexpectedly closed, we wound our way back to the small but informative museum dedicated to Archimedes, resident of the city.

There are many other sites to visit as well as shops and restaurants. We stopped to eat at a small café overlooking the Fountain of Arethusa, one of the towns most beloved attractions. Water comes from the Ciane River, and it flows calmly among papyri plants, ducks, and huge fish. The fountain became a symbol of the city as its fresh water saved the city’s population during several sieges.

We were unable to explore these sites in depth, so they all deserve another visit during a future trip. We hope you might consider visiting some of these charming towns if you travel to Sicily. There truly is something to interest everyone on this magical island!

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