The Sicily List: Part I

It’s taken me some time to sit down and digest (pun intended) our trip to the southeastern corner of Sicily a few weeks ago in early November. The trip that I had been dreaming of taking for about ten years left me surprised and perplexed.

Noto airbnb farmhouseCassata SicilianaNoto San Carlo churchgranita and brioche in Pachino

We rented a little Fiat Panda and stayed in a beautiful 1920s farmhouse nestled in lush citrus groves just outside of the town of Noto, a great spot to make short day trips and get back to town in time for a long passeggiata down the main street. We managed to visit so much, actually, and I have so many photos to share that I’ve had to split this into two posts. Part I on the Noto Valley and Part II on Mount Etna and Ortigia.

Sicily, or at least this southeastern corner of it, grew on me slowly rather than bowling me over right away. It’s beautiful, oh yes. Perfectly curated Baroque towns, stunning landscapes and warm but empty November beaches, lovely people. And we were treated especially well to warm, sunny days that felt more like late spring than the middle of autumn. Plus I ate the best chocolate and the best pastries of my life.

But I felt very much outside of it all. I expected to taste it as soon as we landed. I thought I’d be eating my way from town to town, discovering the place through its dishes, understanding its identity through its ingredients. Instead, we found it difficult to find places that served truly local cuisine, the sort of thing you might be able to taste if you had a Sicilian nonna — but we were in a place where plenty of modern restaurants abound, run by internationally trained chefs doing clever things inspired by ‘local ingredients’, which wasn’t quite the same.

Breakfast at the pasticceria more than made up for it though (Sicilian cuisine truly shines in the sweets department), as did delicious wine and that Modica chocolate. And pretending we were in an episode of Montalbano (what, you don’t watch it?!).

marzamemimarzamemimarzamemimarabino wineryNoto
Noto farmhouse

Here is a short list of our most favourite things in the Noto Valley and nearby:

Divine miniature cassate for breakfast and crisp, ragu-filled arancini for aperitivo at Dolceria Costanzo in Noto.

Coffee granita (with whipped cream, oh yes) and brioche at Caffe Il Ciclope in rough-around-the-edges Pachino.

The gelato at Gelateria DiVini in Ragusa. It’s actually a wine shop and a gelateria that offers really unique, single flavours. Genius. Not to be missed.

Marzamemi — all of it, the sun-soaked piazza, the charming wine bar and shop Liccamuciula, the boats floating on the shimmering water. Marco is still asking me when are we moving there.

A visit to our friends at the beautiful biodynamic winery, Marabino, between Marzamemi and Noto.

Modica’s chocolate. It’s ruined me for eating any other chocolate now forever. Processed cold, it’s ingredients are plain and simple: cocoa beans and sugar, plus a natural flavour such as cinnamon or vanilla. Nothing else. The sugar doesnt dissolve so it remains grainy, but pleasantly so. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest and loveliest chocolate shop. You won’t want to leave.

The cannoli (piped to order like any respectable Sicilian pastry shop would do and covered in pistachio) at Caffe dell’Arte in Modica were wonderful and the people lovely.

The gorgeous town of Scicli and the beach of Puntasecca for channeling the dreamy Sicily of Montalbano.

The beautiful winery of Ariana Occhipinti in Vittoria (handy for stopping off on the way to the airport at Comiso). And her delicious frappato.

ScicliGelateria diviniPuntaseccaCasa di Montalbano Puntasecca


  1. Paola says:

    Such beautiful photos Emiko, and you are right, Sicilians are very very good at pastry. I fell in love with those baroque towns in SE Sicily immediately though, and yes, I imagine I could live there. I cannot wait to go back and see Montalbano’s house – we couldn’t squeeze it in last time we were there. I especially love your photo of it

  2. Alessandra says:

    My mom’s family is from Noto, but I have not been there for a long time, but yes, you have to go to people’s homes to eat. I never ate anywhere else the kind of food my grandmother and my great-aunts made, especially the stuffed pizzas (lumera was a favourite, and potatoes and onions, lamb and potatoes, broccoli and sausage….) the sfinciuni, the mostarda, the stratto (tomato concentrate) left to reduce in the mid-day August sun, the caponata. I could go on forever! Thanks for the pictures and the memories.

  3. Rosemarie says:

    My mother’s family is from northeastern Sicily (they’re from a town between Messina and Taormina) and I’ve travelled a fair bit in Sicily (northeast and northwest mostly) but I’ve yet to go south of Catania. I often buy Modica chocolate at a fair trade shop here in Turin but I’d like to be able to savour a piece of it in Modica itself.

    It’s interesting what you say about the restaurants you went to that they were not necessarily serving traditional dishes or la cucina della nonna. Glad to hear you weren’t disappointed on the sweets and pastry fronts!

  4. NJ-Cook4You says:

    Wow nice pictures. I love the food there. This is a nice blog.

  5. Karen says:

    I love the things you wrote and the atmosphere you describe and pictured. You just gave me a wonderful guideline to our upcoming trip!

    Thank you!


  6. S. says:

    My favourite book about Sicily, and one of my favourites overall, happens to be written by an Australian – Peter Robb. It’s called Midnight in Sicily, and mixes food, art, literature, and politics wonderfully.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Oh I have been meaning to read it. I actually bought it when I first moved to Italy in 2005 (this is how long I had been dreaming of going to Sicily) and I got so caught up in Florence and settling in that I never started it! Thanks for the reminder.

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