All Images Credit Seven Rooms Villadorata
There is no such thing as a hidden gem anymore. This worn-out cliché was ruined decades ago with the rise of social media and the Instagrammers and TikTokkers that have made the most special places passé. Today it seems that the exceptional destinations around the world have been over-exposed where everyone has been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. We are inundated with an ad nauseam stream of flowing satin dresses from the big swing over the rice fields of Bali or the blue domes and white walls of Santorini. But alas as we travel, see, and find, we are no less culpable when we discover somewhere special and can’t wait to share it with others who are also in search of the next must-see destination. Noto is such a place; a delightfully off-the-worn path of mass tourism town in the southeast part of Sicily. There you’ll find a stunning village rich in golden-hued Sicilian Baroque architecture and authentic culture. Arguably its most majestic address is a quaint boutique hotel as regal as Noto itself at the Seven Rooms Villadorata.
From the outside, this respite does not seem like much. Just a large teal-colored door and a small almost unnoticeable sign. Its austere external walls are perhaps intentionally misleading for what awaits the privileged few invited to enter. However, once the doors open, there is a moment of the reveal, followed by astonishment as first-time visitors take in what is before them. They see an expansive cobblestoned courtyard, palm trees, and a grand palazzo covered in ivy.
The palace is over 300 years old, built in 1720 as the home of a wealthy aristocrat, Giacomo Nicolaci di Villadorata. It was then, as it is now, one of the most beautiful residences in Noto. This palatial Baroque-style residence has been meticulously restored with the utmost attention to detail and care. With only nine accommodations, each one unique and lavish, this abode is made for the special few who are literally treated like royalty. Despite its opulence, the ambiance is warm and welcoming and guests feel as if they are staying at a private residence and not a hotel.
Noto is not the destination for everyone. There are no discos, an all-night party scene or vendors selling cheap t-shirts and trinkets. This is a destination for a more sophisticated traveler looking to explore Sicily’s rich culture and architecture. Noto is an enchanting city with a beautiful old town that was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is relatively small and most of its iconic cityscapes can be reached by foot within an hour or two although it’s quite hilly so expect to get good work out ascending the cobblestone streets and walkways.
This town is a golden hamlet with 17th-century buildings hewn from the yellow sandstone. You’ll find the most stunning buildings, one after the next, in incredible cathedrals, churches, palazzos, and gigantic arched city gates. Many of Noto’s 45 churches offer fine examples of Baroque architecture including the Church of Santa Chiara while the Church of Santissimo Salvatore is replete with stunning frescoes that rival the Sistine Chapel. Many of the buildings have lofty rooftops such as the Chiesa di San Carlo al Corso where you can climb the stairs to the bell tower for panoramic views over the city.
One need not go far from the Seven Rooms to experience the rich history and culture of Noto. In the separate museum area is the Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata where guests can visit the regal rooms of the historic palazzo to see elegant chandeliers, colorfully painted ceilings, and centuries-old furnishings. But you’ll be glad that you are staying in the modern and contemporary boutique hotel with the creature comforts of today.
But be advised, you will see Noto during the day, but you can only feel Noto at night. In the evening, as the sun sets, the town transforms into one of Italy’s most romantic destinations. Couples stroll hand in hand along the cobblestone walking streets where around them lights cast shadows from the ornate baroque embellishments of the town’s architecture. Most of the people you’ll see are coming from or going to a dinner al fresco at one of the many restaurants in town. Street side cafés come alive busting with guests as street performers serenade the patrons with lovely Italian ballads.
Seven Rooms is part of the palazzo and yes, guests are treated as royalty with discrete and attentive service. However, the comparisons of what one would expect in a palace end there. In place of old and stuffy rooms filled with antiques and larger-than-life Rembrandt-like oil paintings, Seven Rooms offers something that is quite the opposite.
The style is elegant and refreshingly modern with a French-influenced décor where the calming tones of white and muted sage green walls create a serene environment. The design touches are exquisite with original encaustic tiled floors, Roman sculptures, and lovely period accent pieces. The rooms are all unique and styled in their own way, many with cathedral-height domed ceilings and some with gorgeous original frescoes. The décor is accented with Ming vases, antique botanic collages, and other curiosities. Some of the accommodations have balconies while others have Juliette terraces with views over the courtyard or Noto’s sea terracotta tiled rooftops.
Throughout you’ll find simply the best of everything with the finest furnishings including a king bed with tufted quilted headboards, puckered white silk quilts, alpaca throws, and exclusive Italian and French linens. Bathrooms are large and lavish as well with high-end locally produced bathroom amenities. There are other welcomed considerations to make the stay complete including a well-stocked mini bar, artisan teas and kettle, Nespresso machine.
Mornings begin with an indulgent breakfast served in the room or terraced with fresh fruit, homemade frittata accompanied with organic yogurt, muesli, coffee and juice, and scrumptious cannolis. There is something a bit more prive’ about having your breakfast served as you like your suite. One would imagine that this to be a lifestyle norm quite familiar for an aristocrat.
Of course, the Seven Rooms is a hotel, but truly feels like a home. Ornate, opulent, but always warm and comfortable. This is an exclusive retreat and with its small size, guests are made to feel special with warm and personalized service. The staff is friendly, and always ready to assist to make the guests’ stay special. They are more than willing to assist with reservations around town, recommendations for a day at the beach or exploring the nearby wineries, and any special services their guests may require from renting a yacht or arranging private tours.
Fitting for the regal treatment that guests receive at the boutique hotel, the dining experience is just as exceptional as one would expect. Adjacent to the hotel is VIVA IL BISTROT. The restaurant is helmed by Viviana Varese, a Michelin-starred chef from Milan and one of the top culinary talents in Italy.
The setting is in the former wine cellar and horse stables of the Palazzo which has now been repurposed into one of Noto’s hottest tables. The walls are adorned with contemporary artworks courtesy of Spazionoto art gallery by Paolo Perrelli with a collection to be purchased or just admired between courses. As stunning as the interiors may be, most guests will opt to dine al fresco in front of the restaurants while taking in the sights of the pedestrianised street.
The culinary experience is exactly what you’d be after during your holiday in Sicily. The menu offers Mediterranean cuisine with traditional Sicilian fare as well as Middle Eastern and North African dishes. Sicily is a breadbasket of fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients which are prepared with Chef Varese’s haute cooking techniques. The creative presentation of each dish is as impressive as the taste. Expect dishes like tartare of Piedmontese fassona beef with miso mayonnaise, fusillo pasta with anchovy sauce and slow cooked sausages or the cous cous with fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The menu is masterfully complmented with the wonderful wines of Sicily as well as selections from beyond.
On your first few trips to Italy, see Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice first. But only once you get to know a bit of Italy, can you truly appreciate just how wonderful that Noto really is. From its architecture, rich cultural offerings, and just the feeling that the city gives you, it is something you’ll want to savor like a delicious glass of wine. The Seven Rooms Villadorata is the ideal place to stay while seeing all that this wonderful part of the world has to offer.