Sicily, the Baroque itinerary by bicycle

History, culture, nature, and food and wine are among Sicily ‘s main attractions, and in the southeastern part of the island, these elements reach levels of absolute excellence.

We are in the Val di Noto, where inland landscapes are enriched by the evidence of an ancient and illustrious past. It is, in fact, an ancient region that from the Norman period until 1812 constituted one of the administrative districts of the Kingdom of Sicily. Today it corresponds to eight cities: Palazzolo Acreide, Caltagirone, Ragusa, Modica, Noto, Scicli, Catania, and Militello. After the terrible earthquake of 1693, these cities were magnificently rebuilt in the late Baroque style, so much so that they have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2002.

Sicilian Baroque Itinerary

photo credit Italy Cycling Tours

The Sicilian Baroque Itinerary

The bicycle route, among many that can be undertaken, starts from Pantalica and arrives in Syracuse, is of medium difficulty and requires at least four days (about 250 km) to be fully enjoyed. To be completed it crosses provincial roads, nature reserves and dirt roads.

The departure at the Pantalica Oriented Nature Reserve

We begin at the Pantalica Oriented Nature Reserve in the province of Syracuse, a naturalistic area of great beauty. Over the millennia, the Anapo and Calcinara rivers have carved deep gorges, the walls of which have been covered by lush vegetation with oleanders, willows and poplars. In spring, the landscape is enriched with color as wild orchids and irises bloom. There are also picturesque natural pools here whose crystal-clear waters, with colors ranging from turquoise to emerald green, are perfect for a refreshing dip after a bike ride.

Pantalica, an itinerary of Sicilian baroque

From the entrance to Sortino, follow a beautiful 24-km (round trip) route along a dirt road that runs along the old railway line that connected Syracuse to Vizzini.
Crossing bridges and tunnels, one enjoys unforgettable views of Europe’s largest necropolis-5,000 tombs-dating from the period when the Siculians inhabited the eastern area of Sicily between the 13th and 7th centuries BC.

Continuing on we reach Palazzolo Acreide, the pearl of the Hyblean Mountains, listed among the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy. Ancient Akrai preserves splendid vestiges of Greek rule, such as the Acropolis with its “theater of heaven,” situated in a dominant position over the valley, and the Bouleuterion, where the city senate met. Alongside these Greek vestiges, Palazzolo also holds treasures of Baroque architecture, such as the Mother Church, with its sumptuous facade and richly decorated interior.
Don’t miss the excellent Palazzolo Acreide sausage, a Slow Food Presidium, which is still produced according to the traditional processing of Sicilian black pigs.

In the heart of the Iblei and Ragusa

Continuing the bike ride along the ancient paths that were once traversed by monks and pilgrims, you can admire beautiful landscapes dotted with olive trees, wheat fields and abandoned mills until you reach Chiaramonte Gulfi. This small town is located 679 meters above sea level in the heart of the Iblei Mountains. It is famous not only for its magnificent location, which has earned it the nickname Balcony of Sicily by offeringspectacular views ranging from Mount Etna to Gela, but also for its excellent oil, considered among the best in Italy.

We continue to Ragusa, the city of two patrons and three bridges. Its oldest part, Ragusa Ibla, holds one of the best examples of Baroque in all of Sicily: the church of San Giorgio.

Modica and Portopalo di Capo Passero

After leaving Italy’s southernmost capital, continue along State Road 115 in the direction of Modica, a city nationally famous for its delicious chocolate, still made following the ancient Aztec recipe. Modica, known as the “city of a hundred churches,” is divided into two areas, Modica Alta and Modica Bassa. It is a wonderful nativity set in the rocks of the Iblei Mountains. Its main churches, St. George’s Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church, face imposing stairways rather than squares, creating a charming atmosphere. From the top of Pizzo Belvedere, the highest point in the city, there is a splendid panoramic view.

Capo Passero Sicilian Baroque Itinerary

Before returning to the province of Syracuse, to taste the delicious scacce ragusane, flatbreads stuffed with various toppings, from the classic with tomato and caciocavallo cheese to one with ricotta and parsley.

Among the picturesque dry stone walls and the smell of the countryside dotted with olive, carob, almond and prickly pear trees, we reach the southernmost point in Europe, Portopalo di Capo Passero. This fishing village is located between the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Marzamemi and the Vendicari Reserve

From here we travel up the eastern coast of Sicily to Marzamemi, a pretty seaside village where it is possible to make a brief stop to admire the picturesque Piazzetta Regina Margherita, surrounded by the fishermen’s characteristic Arab “casuzze,” now converted into clubs and restaurants. On either side of the small square are the beautiful church of St. Francis of Paola and the palace of the Prince of Villadorata, connected at the back to the tuna fishery dating from the time of Arab rule.

Marzamemi, Queen Margherita Square Sicilian Baroque Itinerary

The Marzamemi tuna fishery has been of enormous importance over the centuries, becoming the second most important in the whole of Sicily after that of Favignana. Here you can stock up on tuna and other delicious products derived from its processing, such as bottarga, ventresca, and tarantello.

Next we reach the southern entrance to the Vendicari Reserve, a peaceful oasis whose tranquility is interrupted only by the passage of numerous bird species along their migratory routes from Africa. Leaving the bicycles in the parking lot, you can ride the 14 km of the reserve (for those who are short on time, you can choose one of the 3 available trails-blue, orange or green-through the different gateways).

Surrounded by the scents of the Mediterranean maquis, among juniper forests, ancient salt pans, ponds and the striking tuna fishery, you can admire the famous beaches of San Lorenzo, where turtles nest in July and August, Cala Mosche and Marianelli.

Noto, capital of Baroque

Only 26 km remain to reach the plateau on which stands the renowned capital of Baroque, Noto, overlooking the Asinaro Valley. Through the Porta Reale, an imposing triumphal arch built in the 19th century on the occasion of the visit of King Ferdinand II of Bourbon, one enters Corso Vittorio Emanuele.

Sicilian Baroque Itinerary

photo credit Italy Cycling Tours

Here, the sun never ceases to illuminate its masterpieces thanks to its east-west orientation, and wonders such as the Convent of St. Francis, the Church of St. Clare, Palazzo Ducezio and the Cathedral of St. Nicholas can be admired. In nearby Via Nicolaci, where the splendid Nicolaci family palace is located, wonderful floral decorations are made and adorn the street during the Infiorata, a traditional salute to spring held every year on the third Sunday in May and attracting many visitors.

The final destination of the Sicilian Baroque itinerary: Syracuse

Finally, we come to Syracuse, the city that Cicero called the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities. One cannot but agree after crossing the entrance to the Neapolis Park: here the Greek theater, which in the spring season hosts the performance of ancient Greek tragedies after dark, and theEar of Dionysus, an imposing 23-meter-high cave with exceptional acoustics, stand out. According to legend, the tyrant Dionysius used it to listen to the words of his prisoners.

Here, too, there is no shortage of late Baroque gems: just cross one of the two bridges connecting Syracuse to the island of Ortigia to immerse yourself in the fascinating narrow streets of this magical little island. Among sumptuous palaces and quaint craft stores, we reach the splendid Minerva Square. Admiring the beauty of the Cathedral, whose facade shines under a warm light that enhances its details, you can enjoy a refreshing granita and think back to the beauty of this incredible itinerary.

E-book Sicily by Bike: Art and Culture

To find more hints and inspirations and plan a bicycle trip to Sicily, download the e-book Sicily by Bicycle: art and culture