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Nature reserves and archaeological sites

South-eastern Sicily is studded with beautiful Nature reserves and archaeological sites (often not adequately preserved) as well as interesting and valuable naturalistic areas turned into Nature reserves and archaeological sites to protect their environment and the large variety of animal and vegetable species they house. Starting from the northernmost site, we have planned an interesting itinerary among the natural and historical wonders of the area: if you wish to go off the beaten track and discover hidden and striking sites, read on!

Our trip starts from the necropolis of Pantalica, a naturalistic-archaeological site (not far from the splendid baroque town of Palazzolo Acreide) listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites together with the city of Syracuse back in 2005. Located on a verdant limestone promontory, the site is surrounded by steep gorges formed by the Calcinara and Anapo rivers. Pantalica is most known for its peculiar necropolis: between 4000 and 5000 square rock-cut tombs, dating back from the 13th to the 7th Centuries Before Christ, can be observed along the flanks of the promontory. Speaking of its naturalistic value, the area of Pantalica has noteworthy flora and fauna, and can be easily explored through one of the several paths from the towns of Sortino and Ferla – we also recommend a visit to the Grotta dei Pipistrelli (bats cave).

It takes about an hour to reach the Plemmirio Protected Marine Area from the necropolis of Pantalica. This lovely naturalistic site is located on the very same peninsula that can be observed from the island of Ortigia, in Syracuse, and is an actual paradise for diving lovers, since its seabed houses plenty of interesting marine flora and fauna as well as ancient remainings dating from ancient Greece to World War I.

The Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve is just a few minutes’ drive from the Plemmirio peninsula: just like the necropolis of Pantalica, this Reserve has both great naturalistic and historical value. The landscape of Cavagrande del Cassibile is particularly striking: the Cassibile river has eroded the limestone rocks creating huge, impressive canyons and gorges – the deepest one, located near Avola, is 507 meters deep! Plenty of paths can be followed to discover the beauties of this site; we definitely recommend a visit to the little lakes of the Reserve as well as to the ancient necropolis. Again, the flora and fauna of the area are particularly rare and varied – a special mention, however, goes to the gorgeous endemic Orchids.

We already told you about the timeless magnificence of Noto; however, the originary site of the old town “Noto Antica”, wiped out by the devastating earthquake of 1693, is quite interesting too as some noteworthy remains of the splendid ancient and prosperous town can still be observed. Ancient city walls and fortifications, the remains of an 11th-Century castle and even a Greek gymnasium and a byzantine catacomb, set within the impressive Grotta delle Cento Bocche. The typical peaceful Hyblaean environment all around will ensure a truly pleasant and fascinating visit to this not-enough-famous site.

Heading towards the sea and the Tellaro river’s mouth, before entering the Vendicari Nature Reserve, lies another interesting archaeological site: Helorus, an ancient town founded by Corinthian colonies during the 8th Century BC and afterwards a Greek, Roman and Byzantine prosperous town. The Arabs almost destroyed every corner of Helorus, but a number of noteworthy landmarks and remains have been preserved and studied recently – an ancient sanctuary just outside the city walls, that can still be observed nowadays, a little Greek theatre and the most famous one, Colonna Pizzuta, a peculiar Greek funerary monument from the 3rd Century BC.

Last but definitely not least, we suggest you spend a day at the Vendicari Nature Reserve: situated between Noto and Marzamemi, this 1512-hectare area is an important naturalistic site, thanks to its numerous ponds that make a perfect stop-over point for migratory birds. The landscape is varied: from cultivated areas where vines, olives and citrus are grown to the most naturalistic areas with ponds and wonderful white-sand beaches. The Reserve is rich in rare and diverse flora and fauna – however, the protagonists are pink flamingos indeed, pink-dotting the ponds from dusk til dawn. After a day at the beach, or exploring Nature reserves and archaeological sites within the Reserve, we definitely recommend a stop at the lovely hamlet of Marzamemi for a binge of delicious fresh fish!