South-eastern Sicily, otherwise known as the Val di Noto, is one of your best options for a cycling getaway. The weather is warm, the food is delicious, the wine is full-bodied, and, if you know where to go, the roads are spectacular.
That said, there is a lot of bias that goes with the territory (insert your favourite “Godfather” quote here). But one week on the island and you’ll see it is much more hospitable – and much less dangerous – than Hollywood ever made it seem.
Ragusa is one of the capital towns in this baroque tour de force. With its many facades in Sicilian baroque style (thanks to architect Rosario Gagliardi), you may find it a challenge leaving the beautiful Piazza Duomo. But as soon as you finish your second cornetto and another cup of tea (although we suggest the cappuccino with fresh almond milk), you’ll be looking to set your wheels down on some silky country roads.
And there are plenty of them. The SS194 is a work of art. From Ragusa Ibla, the ancient part of this Sicilian village, you’ll have a great descent towards the Irminio River. The quintessential, UNESCO protected, Sicilian dry-stone walls line every twist and turn of each road in the area.
You can literally spend days getting lost among the farm roads of the Monti Iblei. Almond, olive, carob and lemon trees greet you at the top of every ascent and around every turn.
There is plenty of ride fuel to snack on too. You can grab one of the local wrapped scaccia with sausage and spinach and stick it in your pocket for a mid-ride lunch. Or go big with a locally made arancino: a fried rice-ball with a Bolognese centre. Remember the bakeries and stores close at 1 pm, so be sure to plan ahead.
This area is also well known for its deep red and robust Nero d’Avola. Have a glass or two in the evening with plenty of cavattedu alla ragusana: small, handmade pasta, covered with tomato and aubergine, accompanied by aged ricotta cheese.
From Ibla, continue down-valley toward Modica. The locals constructed the lower part of the town along a riverbed. It’s home to the imposing Cathedral of Saint George, another fascinating example of Baroque architecture designed by Gagliardi. Further down the valley, you have Bonajuto: one of the oldest chocolate shops in Modica. In fact, the whole history of Sicilian chocolate was born here, thanks to the Spanish occupation in the late 1600s.
And the biking is just as sweet. From the southern-most part of Modica, there is a fabulous ridge road, its gradient never exceeding 7%, not that you’ll notice thanks to the staggering vistas all around you. The hillsides are terraced with lush green fields and yellow wildflowers surround abandoned castles while cows graze lazily in the high grass – you’ll believe you’re lost in a dream.
Once the centre of the Spanish occupation, Noto today is synonymous with sculpture and culture. The Infiorata attracts thousands of visitors every May. During this event, flower petals line the village streets in designs and images that bring together local and international artists. The ride takes you through town and toward the north where the ancient origins of Noto lay.
Before you leave, don’t forget to stop at Café di Sicilia for a granita or gelato: Corrado Assenza has been crowned the best pastry chef in Italy – so popular in fact he is the featured chef on Netflix’s Chef’s Table desserts edition.
Giarratana and Monte Lauro
Some of the best biking in the area is around Ragusa’s largest extinct volcano. Monte Lauro is the highest point in the Val di Noto and well worth the trip. The 6-mile climb averages about 7%, with sections of 8-9%, and takes you high above the hill towns, giving you a volcano’s perspective.
How to get there
Catania’s Fontanarossa airport (CTA) welcomes multiple flights daily from international destinations. EasyJet offers limited flights from Bristol, Manchester and London during the off-season, with increased service after May 1st. Ryanair flies from Bristol, East Midland and Edinburgh with a layover in Bergamo, while BA has direct flights from Gatwick.
There are bus services from Catania airport to Ragusa via Etna Trasporti. Alternatively, you can hire a private car from the airport. The drive is about 1h30min and will cost about 100€. It’s always worth checking with your accommodation in advance as some hotels will offer a shuttle service.
Where to stay
Ragusa has many B&Bs as well as 5-star options in the heart of the charming old city. Anyone wishing to stay in the heart of Ragusa Ibla has many options too, such as Le Sirene B&B. It is one of the best locations in town, run by a local woman and centrally located behind the main Duomo of Ragusa Ibla.
For larger groups or families, Arucimeli Resort is a great option. With self-catering apartments and Pinarello bicycle rentals, your family can stay at the pool while you tour the countryside on some classy Italian wheels.