Noto is a hill town some 30 km south of Syracuse. While most towns in the environs show a strong Greek influence - the magnificent cathedral in Syracuse itself is a converted temple to Athene - Noto was flattened by an earthquake in 1693 and completely rebuilt, so it's considered one of the great places of baroque architecture in Sicily. The streets are an elegant grid of buildings in the deep yellow tufa stone, a delight to wander through.

Loggione in the Teatro Communale Vittorio Emanuele
Loggione in the Teatro Communale Vittorio Emanuele

Noto's cathedral is built on the top of the hill and suitably imposing in a grandiloquent way. But our eyes were caught by things on a smaller scale. Just beside the cathedral is a beautiful square housing memorials to the fallen of the two world wars, in which some extraordinary topiary provides shelter from the sun and place for calm repose and meditation. Opposite the square and the cathedral is the Palazzo Ducezio, in which you can visit the Sala degli Specchi, the hall of mirrors. It's an oval room decorated immaculately in high baroque fashion. The fresco at the centre of the ceiling is surrounded by elaborate plasterwork of angels, statues and niches - except that it isn't plasterwork: all is the most exquisite trompe l'oeil. The furniture is baroque perfection, and the room takes its name from the two high facing mirrors on each of the short sides of the oval, giving an infinite series of reflections. It's the perfect place for a chamber music concert, as well as being often used for weddings. I have trouble imagining a more romantic setting, and at €150 a hire, it's a steal.

100 metres or so down the road is the local theatre, the Teatro Comunale Vittorio Emanuele. This is rather a "Teatro Minimo" to contrast with Palermo's Teatro Massimo: it's a perfectly formed traditional Italian horseshoe opera house, with orchestra pit, orchestra seats and boxes, but on a tiny scale: just 320 seats. It's still a working theatre and they do some ballet here, although budget squeezes have taken their toll and there hasn't been any opera since 1993. I couldn't resist singing a few bars of Il Trovatore, and the acoustics were quite magnificent. If I ever make my billions and throw a party for opera-minded friends, I think I'll bring them here.

30th July 2011