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Sicily's south-east - Sights & excursions

They are numerous and range from majestic, every now and then fire-spitting Mount Etna to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Baroque towns in Val di Noto – the sights to see in the southeast of the island.


Sicily's south-east - Sights & excursions

They are numerous and range from majestic, every now and then fire-spitting Mount Etna to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Baroque towns in Val di Noto – the sights to see in the southeast of the island.

Impressive Mount Etna

With its almost 60,000 ha, Parco Regionale dell’Etna is one of Italy's largest regional parks. The various elevation climates with their diversity of animals and plants are a distinctive feature of the park.

A guided tour of the volcano is surely one of the most thrilling experiences during a holiday in Sicily.

Our tip: Climb Mount Etna early in the morning, the view is usually best then. On clear days, you even get a view of the whole island.

Pantalica – Valley of the Dead

Pantalica, one of the first settlements in the east of Sicily, was the capital of a small kingdom and gained in importance early on between the 13th and 8th centuries BC. The name Pantalica is derived from Greek and means as much as „grotto“. 

The Necropolis of Pantalica is found in fantastic location, in the hinterland of Syracuse, embedded in a kind of natural amphitheater of rocks, and counts around 5,000 tombs from pre-Hellenistic times. Greek colonization from the 8th century BC on brought about the decline of the town.

In 2005, Pantalica, together with nearby Syracuse, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our tip: After visiting the caves cut into the rock, take a refreshing swim in Fiume Calcinara.

Cava Grande del Cassibile

Also called the Sicilian Grand Canyon – Cava Grande del Cassibile in the hinterland of Avola fascinates hikers with its cascades and water basins.

Enjoy the pleasant calm of the Sicilian hilly landscape, surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation and far from the hustle and bustle at the beach.

Noto Antica

About 10 km from today’s Noto, on top of Mount Alveria, lies ancient Noto, Noto Antica. You find remains from Greek, early Christian, Hebrew, Byzantine, Arab and Norman times up to the year 1693, when a horrible earthquake forced the inhabitants to leave and settle down elsewhere. The earthquake was so devastating that some scientists tended to call the place „Medieval Pompeii“.

This mix of ruins takes those visiting Noto Antica back to times long gone. Accompanied by flocks of sheep, you walk through the former settlement, passing the remains of various epochs, e.g. the ruins of former Castello Reale (royal palace), Torre Maestra dating from 1431 and the impressive 11th-16th century curtain wall. 

Also worth a visit – "Grotta delle Cento Bocche" (Grotto of the 100 Mouths) from pre-Christian times and "Grotta del Carciofo" (Grotto of the Artichoke), one of the rare Hebrew catacombs.

The gravel road passing through Noto Antica finally takes you to Eremo di S. Corrado fuori le Mura, a 16th century pilgrimage church in the charming valley „Valle dei Miracoli“.  

Noto Antica should be visited when temperatures are still agreeable, which is mainly during low season. Parking is available at the entrance gate.

Oasi di Vendicari

Sicily’s largest wetlands stretch from Noto in the north almost to Marzamemi in the south. Thanks to the efforts of various environmental organizations the area was declared and is now a nature reserve.

You can explore the park only on foot and watch quite a number of bird species, such as flamingos and storks. With its more than 200 species of birds, Oasi di Vendicari is a paradise for ornithologists!  

Cala Mosche, one of Sicily’s most beautiful sandy bays, is an ideal place for a rest and for cooling off in the sea.

Palazzolo Acreide

Former "Akrai" (means as much as 'hill') was founded by the Syracusans in 664 BC for the protection of the trade routes to the towns in southern Sicily. Spectacularly located on a hill near Noto in Monte Iblei, the town offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountain landscape, but it also offers insight into the various epochs of antiquity.

Under the rule of Hieron II, King of Syracuse, one of today’s best preserved theaters of antiquity was erected at former Akrai. The excavation site, which is open year-round, includes two temples as well as the remains of ancient quarries with cave dwellings and tombs.

After its long slumber during the Middle Ages, the town regained importance in the 12th century when the Normans built a castle there, which was called Palazzolo.

Although the disastrous earthquake of 1693 devastated the entire region of southeastern Sicily, Palazzolo Acreide’s inhabitants did not lose heart and rebuilt their town in Baroque splendor. 

During a tour of the town with the owner of a holiday home at Fontane Bianche, who shared his knowledge of the town’s history with us, we were able to admire and take in its beauty. What strikes you is the large number of Baroque churches with their gorgeous intarsia and marble elements, for example Chiesa dell’Annunziata and the main cathedral of San Sebastiano with its large flight of steps. 

It is not without reason that the town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.

Regarding the mountain village from a culinary point of view, mention must be made of „salsiccia secca del Palazzolo“, the hot sausage 'created' at Palazzolo, as well as of other delicious dishes, which are, however, rather heavy on meat and vegetables. Those who love vegetables should try „Caponata“, which is made of aubergines, carrots, celery, capers, onions, eggs and almonds and refined with a special sugo of white wine vinegar. Buon appetito!

Our tip: Stop by the pizza baking world champion of 2015, Pizzeria Tancredi in Via Pietro Messina, 29, and try one-of-a-kind „Scrochiarella“, pizza with the typical, local hot sausage and various vegetables. 

Ragusa Ibla

Ragusa, located further to the south, is characterized by deep gorges in the limestone rock of Monti Iblei. Over centuries, the town had come to terms with these geographic conditions. 

Thus, a town split into three parts has developed. The oldest and smallest part, Baroque Ibla, is by far the most fascinating. That is why it is the center of interest for visitors: With its abundance of Baroque churches and palaces and its romantic atmosphere Ibla is an attractive destination for an excursion. 

When visiting Ragusa-Ibla, you should not miss out on a stroll through the "Giardini Iblei" at the eastern end of Corso XXV Aprile. The charming gardens invite you to sit down and take a break. At their end, you have got a good view of the valley of Fiume Irminio below and the surrounding gorges.

Other Baroque towns worth visiting

- Syracuse
- Noto
- Modica
- Scicli