Visiting Castelmola, Sicily
Perched precariously on a mountaintop above the community of Taormina on the eastern shores of Sicily is the beautiful medieval village of Castelmola. Ignored by many visitors to Sicily, this quaint mountain top community offers unparalleled views of Mount Etna, Taormina, the Bay of Giardini Naxos, and the Strait of Messina. Built to protect and defend Taormina from invaders, today this quiet village makes for an interesting respite from the hustle and bustle of Taormina below.
While great views are a given in Castelmola, this sleepy Sicilian town has much more to offer. The remains of the “castle” will take you to the very top of Mount Tauro above the village, and while there is not much remaining, one can just imagine how grand it must have been perched here on the pinnacle of Mount Tauro. The 360-degree views from here make the short climb worth the effort and a quick look down to the sea makes you realize that you are indeed almost 2,000 feet above sea level.
Remains of the Castle
Back down in the village itself there are a number of interesting cafes, shops, churches, restaurants, and narrow alleys to discover. With no traffic inside the center of Castelmola you can stroll with ease through the historic heart of this ancient community.
I must say that part of the attraction of Castelmola is gazing up at it from Taormina and wondering how on earth one gets themselves up there. There are only two ways to get to Castelmola. Drive-up on the only road, the Castelmola Road, with its twists and turns, or walk-up. The latter, while it sounds adventurous, should be done only with the proper preparation as it is a seriously uphill climb. If you choose to hoof it you can walk the road or there is a well-maintained path that will take you to the top. Give yourself at least an hour or longer to hike up and about half that coming back down.
Castelmola from Taormina
The Road to Castelmola
If you do not have an auto while visiting you can opt for a taxi or the local bus, which is what most visitors decide to do. The 15-minute ride from the Taormina bus station will cost you about 3 euro for a round-trip fare, which is quite reasonable. Buses leave at regular intervals and on our journey there were very few people on board. The bus will deposit you at the Piazza Sant’ Antonio, which is a beautiful piazza paved with white lava stone. The views out over of Taormina and the Bay of Giardini Naxos from here are stunning.
Piazza Sant' Antonio
Once you arrive in Castelmola you will immediately notice the narrow streets and quiet solitude that exists in this community of just over one thousand residents. Visitors who find their way up to Castelmola may at times feel like they have the entire town to themselves.
As you explore the alleys and roads here you will undoubtedly make your way to the Duomo of Castelmola. Known otherwise as the Church of St. Nicholas of Bari, this small yet interesting church dates back to the sixteenth century and was rebuilt in 1935. Its long history presents visitors with a unique mix of styles including Romanesque, Arabic and Norman. Inside the church are a few statues dating from the eighteenth century and some noteworthy artwork from the sixteenth century. Its beautiful bell tower strikes an imposing figure with Mount Etna looming behind it in the distance.
Bell Tower of the Duomo
Another church worth visiting is the church of San Giorgio, which dates back to the 15th century. Its simple exterior houses a number of 17th-century paintings. The main Piazza Sant’ Antonio also has a few interesting buildings including the Church of Sant’ Antonio and the Caffe’ San Giorgio, which was established in the 18th century by monks. This quaint establishment is a tavern today and boasts of its long history of attracting famous people from around the world.
Church of Sant' Antonio and the Arch of Castelmola.
Another interesting and often visited church is the Santuario Madonna della Rocca. This shrine dates to 1640 and is certainly one of Castelmola’s most unusual churches. Built on, in, and around the rock of Mount Tauro this unique church has a ceiling that is made of solid rock. Its cross can be seen from the streets of Taormina below.
Madonna della Rocca
In preparing for our trip to Castelmola we came across an interesting bar/café that reviews insisted was a must stop. So it was with some surprise that we discovered the Bar Turrisi located in the same piazza as the Duomo, which would seem rather odd when one considers the theme of the Turrisi Bar, also known as the Funky bar. This rather popular spot has a very adult theme to it, which I’ll leave for you to lookup. It’s just another unique and interesting reason to visit Castelmola. While here head to the rooftop terrace for the views and be sure to sample the local almond wine, which Castelmola is famous for.
Caffe' Bar Turrisi
If you are visiting Taormina for a few days do yourself a favor and put aside a half day and head to Castelmola. This unique medieval mountaintop village should not be missed and the views are unsurpassed. Whether you simply walk its streets peaking into its lovely churches or opt to stop at a cafe for lunch or a drink the spectacular setting here will be ingrained in your memory for years to come.
Ciao for now.
Other Articles on Sicily
- Sicily's Stunning Scicli
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- Baroque and Beautiful - Noto, Sicily
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© 2013 Bill De Giulio