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Create Magic: An Outstanding Visit to Italy’s Most Captivating City

There is no more hidden gem. This overused phrase was ruined years ago with the rise of social media and the influencers and content creators that have made the most extraordinary places irrelevant. Nowadays, it seems that the extraordinary destinations across the world have been overly publicized, with everyone having visited, explored, and captured the experience.

We are inundated with a continuous stream of elegant attire from the grand swing over the rice fields of Bali or the azure domes and ivory walls of Santorini. However, as we travel, observe, and discover, we are equally culpable when we come across someplace remarkable and are eager to share it with others who are also seeking the next vital destination.

Noto is such a place; a charmingly off-the-beaten-path town in the southeast corner of Sicily, steering clear of mass tourism. There you’ll find a splendid village steeped in golden-hued Sicilian Baroque architecture and authentic culture. Arguably its most magnificent residence is a charming boutique hotel as majestic as Noto itself at the Seven Rooms Villadorata.

At first sight, this sanctuary may not appear as much. Simply a large teal-colored door and a discreet almost imperceptible sign. Its modest exterior walls may be deliberately deceptive for what awaits the fortunate few who are invited to enter. Once the doors swing open, a moment of revelation ensues, followed by amazement as first-time visitors take in the breathtaking sight before them. They are greeted by an expansive cobblestoned courtyard, palm trees, and a grand palazzo draped in ivy.

The palace, over 300 years old, constructed in 1720 as the abode of a prosperous aristocrat, Giacomo Nicolaci di Villadorata. Then and now, it stands as one of the most stunning residences in Noto. This opulent Baroque-style abode has been fastidiously refurbished with meticulous attention to detail and care. With just nine lodgings, each one distinctive and lavish, this dwelling is designed for the select few who are truly treated like royalty. Despite its lavishness, the ambiance is inviting and warm, making guests feel as if they are residing in a private estate rather than a hotel.

Noto is not the destination for everyone. It lacks discos, a bustling all-night party scene or vendors peddling inexpensive shirts and trinkets. This is a destination for the discerning traveler seeking to explore Sicily’s rich culture and architecture. Noto is an enchanting city with a beautiful old town designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is relatively small, and most of its iconic landscapes can be traversed on foot within an hour or two, albeit somewhat hilly, thus expect to exert oneself ascending the cobblestone streets and pathways.

This town is a gilded hamlet with 17th-century structures hewn from the golden sandstone. You will encounter the most remarkable edifices, one after the other, including remarkable cathedrals, churches, palazzos, and colossal arched city gates. Several of Noto’s 45 churches showcase splendid instances of Baroque architecture, such as the Church of Santa Chiara, while the Church of Santissimo Salvatore boasts stunning frescoes rivalling those of the Sistine Chapel.

Many of the edifices feature lofty rooftops, like the Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso, where you can ascend the stairs to the bell tower for panoramic views over the city.

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You need not venture far from the Seven Rooms to immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Noto. In the dedicated museum section lies the Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata, where guests can explore the regal chambers of the historical palazzo adorned with elegant chandeliers, intricately painted ceilings, and furnishings dating back centuries. Yet, you will be content staying in the modern and contemporary boutique hotel with the contemporary comforts of today.

However, be forewarned, you can see Noto during the day, but it is only at night that you can truly sense Noto. As dusk descends, the town metamorphoses into one of Italy’s most romantic destinations. Couples stroll hand in hand along the cobblestone alleys, where the play of lights accentuates the ornate baroque embellishments of the town’s architecture. Most of the people you’ll encounter are either heading to or coming from an open-air dinner at one of the numerous restaurants in town. Sidewalk cafes come to life teeming with patrons as street performers serenade them with enchanting Italian melodies.

Seven Rooms is a part of the palazzo, and indeed, guests are treated as royalty, with discreet and attentive service. However, the likeness to what one would expect in a palace ends there. In lieu of old and suffocating rooms brimming with antiquities and larger-than-life oil paintings reminiscent of Rembrandt, Seven Rooms presents something entirely different.

The style is refined and pleasantly modern with a French-inspired decor, where serene tones of white and muted sage green walls create a tranquil setting. The design details are exquisite, with original encaustic-tiled floors, Roman sculptures, and charming period accent pieces. The rooms are each unique and individually styled, many incorporating cathedral-height domed ceilings and some adorned with splendid original frescoes. The interiors are accented with Ming vases, antique botanical collages, and other intriguing artifacts. Some accommodations feature balconies, while others boast Juliette terraces overlooking the courtyard or Noto’s sea of terracotta-tiled rooftops.

Throughout, you will find nothing less than top-notch furnishings, inclusive of a king-sized bed with tufted quilted headboards, puckered white silk quilts, alpaca throws, and exclusive Italian and French linens. Bathrooms are spacious and luxurious as well, featuring high-end locally crafted bathroom amenities. Other welcome inclusions to round out the stay include a well-stocked minibar, artisanal teas and a kettle, and a Nespresso machine.

Mornings commence with a sumptuous breakfast served in the room or on the terrace, featuring fresh fruit, homemade frittata alongside organic yogurt, muesli, coffee and juice, and delectable cannolis. There’s something rather exclusive about having your breakfast catered to your suite. One might imagine this to be a familiar lifestyle norm for an aristocrat. While the Seven Rooms is certainly a hotel, it truly exudes a homely ambiance.

Ornate, lavish, yet always warm and inviting. This is an exclusive sanctuary, and with its intimate size, guests are made to feel special, receiving warm and personalized service. The staff is amiable and always ready to assist in making the guests’ stay exceptional. They are more than willing to aid with reservations around town, recommend an idyllic day at the beach or visits to nearby wineries, and cater to any special services their guests may require, from yacht rentals to arranging private tours.

Befitting the regal treatment guests receive at the boutique hotel, the dining experience is just as extraordinary as one would anticipate. Adjoining the hotel is VIVA IL BISTROT. The restaurant is overseen by Viviana Varese, a Michelin-starred chef from Milan and one of Italy’s preeminent culinary talents. The setting is within the former wine cellar and stables of the Palazzo, repurposed into one of Noto’s most sought-after dining venues.

The walls are adorned with contemporary artworks courtesy of Spazionoto art gallery by Paolo Perrelli, offering a collection for purchase or contemplation between courses. As mesmerizing as the interiors may be, most guests opt for al fresco dining in front of the restaurant, savoring the ambience of the pedestrianized street. The culinary experience is precisely what you’d desire during your Sicilian sojourn.

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The menu showcases Mediterranean cuisine with traditional Sicilian delicacies interwoven with Middle Eastern and North African flavors. Sicily serves as a fruitful source of fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients, prepared using Chef Varese’s refined culinary techniques. Each dish is presented with creative flair, their flavors as remarkable as their presentation. Anticipate dishes such as Piedmontese fassona beef tartare with miso mayonnaise, fusillo pasta with anchovy sauce and slow-cooked sausages, or couscous with fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. The menu is impeccably paired with exquisite Sicilian wines and selections beyond.

On your initial trips to Italy, visit Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice first. Only after acquainting yourself with Italy, will you begin to truly appreciate the splendor of Noto. From its architecture, rich cultural offerings, and the indescribable feeling that the city imparts, Noto is something to relish like a delightful glass of wine. The Seven Rooms Villadorata is the perfect sanctuary to experience all that this splendid part of the world has to offer.

Image Source: Vlas Telino studio / Shutterstock

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