Two days in Sicily’s Val di Noto — Things to do in Ragusa
The original plans for our stay in Ragusa during our 11-day Sicily itinerary included a day trip to Modica (one of the other important Baroque towns of the area especially known for its chocolate) and other sites, but we decided to stay focused on Ragusa. We’re glad we did as two days was just right for seeing the sights here at a moderate pace.
How we got to Ragusa
From Agrigento where we toured the Valley of the Temples and spent one night, we drove about 2-1/2 hours to Ragusa, partially close to the coastline and through a few small towns before turning inland and up into the hills the rest of the way to Ragusa. The ride was quite scenic, particularly the inland part of the ride up into the mountains.
Driving tip (anywhere in Italy): Watch out for ZTL zones. If you enter one of these restricted zones (even by mistake which is not an excuse), you will most likely be sent a ticket in the mail — even several months later. We learned the hard way several years ago in Florence.
Ragusa Ibla highlights
There are two distinct areas of Ragusa — Ragusa Ibla, the lower historical center of the city and Ragusa Superiore, the upper and newer commercial center. We spent nearly all of our time exploring Ragusa Ibla, as we recommend you do as well.
Ragusa is one of the eight Late Baroque towns in the Val di Noto of southeastern Sicily to be on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2002. There is much to explore in this town that was largely rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake that devastated the region.
Piazza Duomo is the captivating central area of Ragusa Ibla with landmarks, restaurants and shops. The piazza and a main street that leads to it (Corso XXV Aprile) showcase the essence of Baroque Sicily with its palaces of Ragusa nobility and the imposing Duomo di San Giorgio overlooking the square and much of the historic center.
Duomo di San Giorgio
We admired this beautiful 18th-century neoclassical duomo from many vantage points throughout our stay, day and night. Take some time to step inside to see the decor, statues, relics, and artifacts.
Palazzo Arezzo di Trifiletti
Tour Palazzo Arezzo di Trifiletti on Corso XXV Aprile at Piazza Duomo to get a feel for the life of Ragusa nobility in the 19th century. The palace was built between the 17th and 19th centuries and has been the continued residence of the Arezzo family. Our tour was led by a member of the noble family (top left in photo below) who still lives there. Some of the areas we were able to tour included the ballroom, living rooms, dining area, and private chapel where we admired the marble flooring, frescoes, and many original furnishings.
Across from the palace is Teatro Donnafugata, initially used exclusively by the local nobility, it is now open to the public. The theater is a small version of the grand opera houses of Italy. Imagine a performance in this very small theater (100 seats) and learn of its history, concerts, and distinguished performances in collaboration with the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
At Cinabro Carrettieri step back in time as you see the ornate traditional Sicilian carts handcrafted and painted in this workshop and learn about the intricate and precise work of the woodworkers and vibrant colors used by the painters. Notably, there are only a few craftsmen of these Sicilian carts still around.
For fantastic over-the-rooftops views of Ragusa Ibla and the surrounding countryside visit Ragusa Superiore (the upper, modern town) via Salita Commendatore, the 340 winding steps that separate the area from Ragusa Ibla. Although some visitors walk from the lower part of the city and then up and down the stairs, we took a taxi up the hill to the top of the steps and walked back down to Piazza Duomo. On the stairs, you’ll pass the 15th-century church, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Scale, one of the Baroque treasures of Ragusa.
Walk around the tree-lined paths of this lovely garden, first opened in the 19th century, on the eastern edge of Ragusa Ibla. There are benches throughout to relax after a day of sightseeing.
We found Ragusa to have a distinct romantic feeling, especially when walking around at night on the quiet streets with the glow of the street lamps lighting the old buildings and patches of pavement.
Churches tip: Besides the duomo, there are many churches (about 50), some quite small that can be visited. We heard that some tourists make a point of seeing as many as possible. We stopped into a few that we just happened to come across. There’s always something interesting to note about interior decor or architecture, ornate or simple.
Where we stayed
Aurà Guest House Iblea — Via Tenente la Rocca, 4 — a small B&B in a very nice location on the edge of Ragusa Ibla near the park. It is in easy walking distance to Piazza Duomo. If you’re very lucky you might find a free parking space (marked with white lines) near the B&B just down the block. If not, there are paid parking spaces (marked with blue lines) in the nearby Giardino Ibleo parking lot which is where we parked.
Where we ate
- That’s a Moro, Largo Camerina, 5 — restaurant with full menu and wine list and a collection of works by local artists to admire throughout
- Trattoria La Bettola, Largo Camerina, 7 — nothing special, but a good Sicilian meal with a very limited wine selection. One red wine was available by the bottle which was ok, but not great. It’s actually located right next to That’s a Moro — both were close to our B&B.
- Enoteca il Barocco, Corso XXV Aprile, 33 — small wine shop and local food products with a few tables inside and outside for enjoying their wines, meats, cheeses, salads and more. It was our favorite food and wine place in Ragusa.
Where we should have dined tip: Although the two restaurants near our B&B recommended by our host were very convenient to our accommodations, we should have booked a table for dinner at Locanda Don Serafino or Ristorante Duomo, two Michelin-starred restaurants in Ragusa for one of the nights.
General trip tips: 1) Timing is everything. 2) Make sure you check what events are happening in the towns you’re visiting. — After breakfast at our B&B, we were on our way to Siracusa, our next destination. Our plan was to stop in Noto, another Baroque hill town, for lunch and to get a quick glimpse of the famous cathedral. We did not know that the annual flower festival (a major local event) was taking place, closing off a main street and several side streets. We got hopelessly lost in the narrow one-way lanes and could not find parking anywhere near the city center. So we decided to get out of town and pay a visit to Noto another time.