Here is a complete guide on what to see in and around Avola, in the province of Siracusa, to spend a wonderful holiday among art, history, sea and good food.
We are in south-eastern Sicily, more precisely in the province of Syracuse, in the Val di Noto, in Avola. This is a Baroque town surrounded by the Hyblaean Mountains overlooking the Ionian Sea, a much sought-after location for its characteristics: wonderful beaches and sea, good food, art, history and culture to squeeze in, and many beautiful places to discover in the surroundings.
Any time of year is suitable for a holiday in Avola, but if you want to experience it in its less crowded version, it is best to choose May, June, September until late autumn.
But what is there to see in Abola? This is not a typo. Abola is the old toponym first attested in 1149, the Latin form of the Greek name ‘Ábolla’ for the ancient city that once stood on the Hyblaean Mountains.
Yes, Avola was once located high up, much closer to the mountains. But then an earthquake in 1693 destroyed it. Fortunately, thanks to the Marquis of Avola Nicolò Pignatelli Aragona Cortés, nephew of Pope Innocent XII, this little treasure came back to life, down in the valley, closer to the sea.
The new urban centre, designed by a Jesuit architect and monk in Palermo, took on the hexagonal shape we know today. Inside, a network of orthogonal streets with two central axes – Strada Cassaro and Strada del Corso, today’s Corso Garibaldi and Corso Vittorio Emanuele – forms a cross, the symbol and consecration of the marquisate to the Christian religion. In the centre there is Piazza Umberto I, the meeting point of the two main streets and the starting point for visiting Avola.
All the most important attractions are located in the historic centre, a small perimeter full of history and art that can be visited on foot or by the tourist little train.
In this guide, you can consult them one by one, with a quick and essential reading so that you immediately know what to see in Avola, starting from the historic centre and continuing beyond the town to discover its most beautiful surroundings, if you have time to wander around other places, explore the beaches and hidden corners.
What to see in Avola
We begin our tour of Avola by starting from the historic centre to focus on the major attractions to visit in half a day.
As previously mentioned, within this all-Renaissance hexagon, the two main streets, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Garibaldi, meet at the centre, in the main square, Piazza Umberto I. And this is where we begin our tour.
1. Piazza Umberto I
In Piazza Umberto I, you find some of Avola’s symbolic buildings. The square is overlooked by the Chiesa Madre, the first to be built after the earthquake in the entire Val di Noto; the Palazzo del Feudatario with the Torretta dell’Orologio, the Museo Civico di Avola, and Palazzo Lutri.
There are also bars, ice-cream parlours and pastry shops in the square where you can taste local specialties, such as the famous almond granita, which we discuss later, as well as souvenir shops and typical products such as artistic ceramics.
2. Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Garibaldi
The peculiarity of Avola is its hexagonal shape with a road network composed of these two main pedestrian streets, Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Corso Garibaldi, which meet at the centre in Piazza Umberto I, dividing the city into its four quarters (“quartini”). Both streets are lined with shops, cafés and restaurants. At the terminal points of the cross formed by the two main streets, there are four more squares where some of Avola’s most beautiful churches are located.
3. Churches of Avola
Within the perimeter of the hexagon, divided into four small squares – Piazza Teatro, Piazza Trieste, Piazza Regina Elena, Piazza Vittorio Veneto – are Avola’s most important churches:
- Church of Sant’Antonio
- Mother Church of San Nicolò
- Church of San Giovanni Battista
- Church of Sant’Antonio Abate
- Church of Santa Venera
- Church of the S.S. Annunziata or Badia
- Church of Sant’Antonino
In addition to the churches, the Palazzo di Città, the Old Market and the Garibaldi Theatre are located here.
4. The Old Market
Close to the Church of S.S. Annunziata or Badia, in Via S. Francesco d’Assisi, there is the Old Market (late 19th century), a neoclassical structure built of sandstone, which now houses the Municipal Library. The architect who designed the building is architect Salvatore Rizza, the same one who designed the Palazzo di Città. Observe the loggia and the arches that run through it, with the city’s coat of arms standing out.
5. Palazzo del Feudatario with the Clock Tower
In Piazza Umberto I, you can see the Palazzo del Feudatario with the Torretta dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), first built in wood, in 1703 transformed into masonry and used as a prison in the “dammusi” below. Dammusi are typically Sicilian architectural structures of Arab derivation.
The Torretta also bears witness to the neoclassical imprint of Salvatore Rizza, who rebuilt it in early 1867. At the top, a wrought-iron rooster fan can be seen, signalling the direction of the winds.
6. Garibaldi Theatre
On Via Guglielmo Marconi, at the corner of Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, next to the Church of Santa Venera, you can see this ancient theatre inaugurated in 1876 and dedicated to Garibaldi in 1882, reopened to the public only in 2011 after 65 years.
This Renaissance-style building was also designed by Rizza. It has two floors and stands on the foundations of an unfinished church.
On the upper floor, a small permanent exhibition “The Faces of the Theatre: History and Documents” tells the story of the theatre’s renovation through the faces and memorabilia of the time.
The neo-Renaissance façade in white Iblei stone with its central round arches surmounted by Palladian-inspired balusters is worth seeing.
Since admission is free, it is also worth visiting the interior to admire the vestibule and the horseshoe-shaped stalls and above the three tiers of boxes decorated with gilded ornaments. The vault features a beautiful painting of the muses dancing, while the vestibule vault, portraits of musicians (Donizetti, Verdi, Bellini, Rossini, Petrella, Cimarosa) and putti, by Avolese painter Gregorio Scalia.
7. The Tonnara di Avola and the Borgo Marinaro dei Pescatori
The Avola tonnara (1633), near the Asinaro river, is one of many in the area that have fallen into disuse and neglect. The other tonnaras’ sites are located at Vendicari, Marzamemi, Capo Passero and Santa Panagia. Tuna fishing was a very intense activity!
Next to the “tonnara”, which can only be visited externally, there is the old fishing village, the first nucleus of the town, pre-dating the earthquake, where the local fishermen once spent their days engaged in tuna-fishing activities. Today, here you can find places where you can taste typical cuisine and small restaurants with the most traditional fish specialities.
The beach is also worth a half-day of relaxation and photographs, to be taken to take home the memories of a very special setting.
8. Museum of the Almond and Avolese Traditions
Avola’s famous almond could not fail to have a museum dedicated to it!
It is located just outside the historic centre in a setting of lemon trees, rows of Nero d’Avola, sugar cane and almond trees. Inside, it tells the story of Avola’s production activities through reconstructed rooms, old tools and photographs.
9. Avola Civic Museum
The Avola Civic Museum is located in Piazza Umberto inside an 18thcentury palace, created to collect and exhibit archaeological finds.
A visit to the museum lets you step inside Ancient Avola (“Avola Antica”), tracing its history through a rich collection of archaeological objects. But that’s not all, the museum also houses Sicilian prehistoric, Greek, Roman, medieval and Renaissance artefacts.
10. Modica Palace
Between Via Marconi and Via Milano, near Piazza Teatro, is this landmark building of Avola, now owned by the municipality but once the residence of the noble Modica family.
Palazzo Modica (‘700) has a beautiful portal and a wrought-iron balcony above. Inside, the spacious rooms host exhibitions and cultural events.
As you stroll through the old town centre, you will notice several Art Nouveau palaces with façades decorated in the taste of the period with bas-relief carved decorations, the result of reinterpretations in the 20th century.
11. Hermitage of the Madonna delle Grazie
It was built on the ruins of the Capuchin Convent, destroyed in the 1693 earthquake, as a dormitory for novices. Then it became a place of worship, recollection and prayer.
It was dedicated to Our Lady of Graces following the discovery of a bas-relief depicting her image.
The Hermitage is located in Avola Antica and can be reached from the provincial road no. 4 Avola-Manghisi.
Visiting Avola and its surroundings
If you have the opportunity to dedicate a few more days to your holiday, you can explore the surroundings of Avola to visit some of its best sites and locations.
These include the Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve, where you can visit the remains of the protohistoric necropolis of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the area (1000-800 B.C.); the rock village used for tanning hides; and the Grotta della Cunziria. But the Reserve is also an opportunity for trekking and hiking along the paths leading to the famous and spectacular area of the small lakes where you can bathe in the clean, emerald green water.
Also worth visiting is Avola Antica with its ruins. As mentioned, before the earthquake, Avola was located in a higher area, on a plateau. Today, this area, near Mount Aquilone, is a tourist destination where you can breathe cooler air.
Also worth a visit is the Vendicari Reserve (20 km from Avola), with its fabulous beaches, unspoilt vegetation along nature trails, and the old tuna fishery.
18 km from Avola, you can reach another town considered the capital of Baroque, Noto, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its ancient palaces, churches and squares. For a tour inspired by the late Baroque and UNESCO treasures, we recommend other places in the Val di Noto, such as Ispica, Modica, Palazzolo Acreide and Ragusa.
19 km away there is the beautiful and charming seaside village of Marzamemi, famous for its “colourful” square.
While going a little further, about 30 km away, you can reach Siracusa, another almost obligatory stop, not only because it is the capital of the province, but also because it is the largest Sicilian city of the ancient world.
The beautiful island of Correnti, 36 km away from Avola, is worth it all, because at this point of the earth the Ionian and the Mediterranean meet. It leaves one breathless at the uniqueness of the two different seas, from the colours to the currents to the ripples of the waves. A truly surreal spectacle that you will not forget.
The most beautiful beaches of Avola
The Avolese coastline is dotted with long beaches of fine, golden sand, lapped by emerald waters and shallow waters. Some are equipped, others are free.
A few kilometres from the historic centre, you can reach the seafront with a small harbour and explore some of the most beautiful beaches in and around Avola:
- Pantanello beach
- Marina di Avola beach
- Loggia Beach
- Marina Vecchia
- Beach of Caponegro
- Tremoli Promenade
Just a few minutes’ drive from Avola, in the Cavagrande del Cassibile Reserve, you will find the Oasi del Gelsomineto beach immersed in a dense wood of maritime pines and jasmine, and the wonderful Gallina Beach, close to the mouth of the Cassibile River, where you can find sand and rocks.
What to do in Avola?
We have seen what to see in Avola, but there are also plenty of activities to do here to make this holiday even more interesting.
As we are used to doing, here are a few ideas:
- stroll and shop on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and Corso Garibaldi to taste Sicilian street food and local handicrafts, such as explore the artistic ceramic artefacts
- a tour of Avola’s Street Art, where you can admire the murals in Viale Piersanti Mattarella and around Piazza della Pace
- a sightseeing tour with an audio guide aboard the small train that runs from the historic centre to the sea (daily from 10 am to 8 pm), with its terminus in Piazza Umberto
- trekking and excursions in the Cava Grande del Cassibile Reserve or in the Vendicari Reserve.
Local food and wine
A separate paragraph deserves a journey into the Sicilian taste. And you cannot miss the stop in Avola to appreciate its specialities, products and most typical dishes.
So, Avola is famous for the wine made from the Nero d’Avola black grape variety of the same name, and for all the other local wines and products that thrive here:
- Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC wine (red)
- Avola IGT wines (white, red and rosé)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- The almond, a Slow Food Presidium, is divided into 3 cultivars: Pizzuta, Fascionello, Romana (or Corrente d’Avola).
And then there are lemons, fresh fish, Monti Iblei honey, nougats, granitas, martorana fruit, almond milk, blancmange, Viennese cake…
A few words on the Avola almond, considered the most prized in the world. Originally from Central Asia, it arrived in Sicily thanks to the Greeks, and from which the facciuna, almond biscuits and Martorana paste are made.
What better way to discover all of Avola’s specialities than through tastings of fresh fish of the Mediterranean Sea, the flavorful wines of Nero d’Avola, and the other?
And for those who want to make a foray into Avola’s food and wine culture, don’t miss the cooking classes with local chefs. These classes offer a unique opportunity to learn about the history and traditions of Avola’s cuisine, while also getting hands-on experience with preparing some of the area’s most delicious dishes.
Among the things to see in Avola and the things to do, here are the events not to be missed:
- Almond Festival during the week of August bank holiday amidst the scents of the Hyblean plateau, in Avola Antica. For the occasion, you can enjoy numerous stands of typical almond products such as almond rice, pudding, almond milk and various pastries in Piazza S. Venera.
- Feast of Santa Venera, patron saint of the town, celebrated on the Sunday of the last week of July.
- Sagra del Tonno e della Ghiotta (Tuna and Gourmet Festival) in August in Marina Vecchia.
- Sagra del Pesce Spada (Swordfish Festival) in August at the pedestrian area in Viale Mattarella.
- Festival of Ancient Avola.
How to get to Avola
By plane, the nearest airport is Fontanarossa di Catania. A direct bus leaves from Catania for Avola every day (the journey takes about 1h 10min). There is no direct train to Avola.
By train, from other cities or from Catania airport, you can arrive at the Syracuse railway station in Via G. Rubino and from there take a bus to Avola.
By car, you have to drive along the E45, Syracuse-Gela, and exit at Avola. If you leave your city by car, you must board the ferry from Reggio Calabria and arrive in Messina.
From here you can take a hire car, train or bus to Avola, passing through Siracusa.
Now that you know what to see in and around Avola, what are you waiting for to organise your next trip to Sicily? Remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book tailor-made food and wine experiences or foodie trips throughout Italy, designed and created by local Experts! 😍
Cover photo: Anna Franca Caforio
Featured photo: Anna Franca Caforio