This reserve, located to the south of Noto Marina on Sicily’s east coast, consists of an unspoilt stretch of land along eight kilometres of coastline. Its beach, dunes and marshes are rich in wildlife with 250 species of birds being recorded here. As well as home to water birds, including waders and kingfishers, Vendicari is the winter resting place for migratory birds such as storks and flamingos. Established in 1984, it offers walkers a series of marked paths with observation posts from which to view the birds. It is reached via the Noto – Pachino road, which runs down the coast, and has its own parking area.
The reserve is a world of its own, far from busy urban centres, very different in character to the agricultural fields inland with their olive and almond trees. It is a place of low scrubland, filled with wild flowers in the spring, dotted with dunes, salt pans and lagoons of varying size containing both salt and fresh water. These lagoons, known locally as pantani, are the attraction for the water birds and are where herons, cormorants and spoonbills, among many other species, can be spotted. The depth of water depends partially on rainfall so that in summer the lagoons can dry up. Spring and autumn are the best seasons in which to visit the reserve.
The remains of two historic buildings can be seen on the coast. The first is a Swabian tower dating from the thirteen century, part of the coastal defences from the time of Frederick II. The second is a tonnara, a tuna fish processing plant, in use from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Tuna fishing was an important industry in Sicily from antiquity to recent times.
Close to Vendicari can be found three classical sites. To the north of the reserve flows the Asinaro River, scene of the Athenians’ heavy defeat after they withdrew from the siege of Syracuse in 413 BC. At the river, the Athenian general Nicias surrendered to the Syracusans bringing an end to the fighting.
On the coast south of the river lies the site of Eloro, ancient Helorus. This was an early outpost of Syracuse established around 650 BC. The site contains the remnants of an ancient wall, a marketplace, a small theatre and two sanctuaries. Helorus was important in ancient times for its position as a coastal look-out point and for the religious significance of its sanctuaries.
Inland from Vendicari, off the road leading to Rosolini, can be found the Roman Villa del Tellaro, famous for its mosaic flooring which is rich in content and colour. It includes scenes from classical Greece, a dancing satyr, a lively hunt featuring a lion, a formal banquet and numerous illustrations of birds and animals.