The most beautiful villages in Italy are also on the slopes of the volcano. A short itinerary to discover Castelmola and Savoca, passing through Taormina and Forza d’Agrò. Timeless wonders, little known and to be exploited.
Since 2003, every year the Association “I Borghi più belli d’Italia” (The most beautiful villages in Italy), with the collaboration of the Rai programme “Kilimangiaro” and the monthly magazine “Borghi Magazine”, publishes a guide to the discovery of the hidden and marvellous villages of the Bel Paese. The mini-itinerary that we propose takes you to Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna. Between the lava stone and the almost desert flora typical of the area, two villages on the rocks, overlooking the sea, have earned a place in the rankings for years, and you will understand why. They are Savoca and Castelmola, in the province of Messina.
Castelmola, the Acropolis of Taormina
The most convenient way to reach these places is the A18 Catania-Messina motorway. Travelling towards the city of the Strait, take the exit for Taormina and follow the signs for Castelmola. The small village is a few bends too far from where you are, but it is really worth reaching it. It is located 500 meters above sea level, and has about 1100 inhabitants. You will leave your car in one of the car parks at the entrance of the village and continue on foot. What awaits you? A walk in the alleys between the stone houses, craft shops and shops of typical local delicacies. The history of the village is thousands of years old and not all periods are clear to experts. For sure, it was one of the sighting points used by the inhabitants to prevent possible enemy attacks, whoever they were, since – like all of Sicily – there were numerous dominations there.
Not to be missed: the Duomo, a small church (if compared to the Cathedrals of the city) in a square of the village, with a wonderful view of the Ionian Sea and Taormina, which you seem to have at your feet. And do not miss a climb to the ruins of the ancient castle, which gives its name to the village: there you will find a short guided tour to discover the – troubled – history of Castelmola and the powers that have followed.
To taste: the almond wine, a real typical of the village, is absolutely not to be missed. And for a not too light meal, try the homemade macaroni in one of the trattorias.
Where to sleep green: the choice is not vast in the village, so we recommend Hotel Villa Schuler, located in the center of Taormina: a period residence to add a pinch of green luxury to your journey back in time between the wonders of the Ionian Sea.
Two intermediate stops not to be missed
Castelmola and Savoca are just under 30 km from each other. We suggest two intermediate stops along the way. The first is the famous Ionian Pearl, Taormina. Already from Castelmola you can admire it from above, and easily identify the characteristic Ancient Theatre of Greek times and the Isola Bella, a few meters from the coast. Take the opportunity to stop and take a walk through the old town: yes, it’s a slightly inflated destination, let’s say a mass one, but it’s really a timeless wonder. Visiting these often overcrowded places may not go against the ideal of sustainable and responsible tourism: what matters is to respect them, respect their customs and the inhabitants, people like us but not there in transit, at home.
Leave Taormina and follow the signs for another village in the area, Forza d’Agrò. The village hidden in the mountains of the area is one of the favorite destinations for Sicilians to enjoy dishes based on fresh fish. Just over 800 inhabitants but dozens of excellent restaurants and trattorias are always full, especially between April and October, so it is recommended to book everywhere. Your palate and stomach will thank you very much for this stopover. And don’t worry, it won’t be your pocket to cry: try it to believe!
Savoca and the seven panoramas
Leave Forza d’Agrò and continue to Savoca, for a journey of about 20 minutes. The most beautiful village in Italy is located 330 meters above sea level and has about 1700 inhabitants. An ancient saying of the place defined it as the city of 7 faces: the meaning is that, from whatever side you look towards the horizon, it offers 7 different and beautiful views. Even the history of this village has been troubled over the centuries, but the traditions that have been handed down are fascinating. One of the most famous is the feast of the patron saint, Saint Lucia: in August, a religious and folkloristic event animates the streets of Savoca and keeps alive a custom and devotion ultra-centenarians.
Do not miss: start your visit at the Bar Vitelli, which will probably seem familiar to you: it is known in fact for being the set of the films of “The Godfather”. In fact, the filming involved the whole village, chosen by the director because – unlike Corleone, the village of which it is said – still maintained the atmosphere of the early ‘900, the time of the facts. From there, you will find directions for a route that includes a 360° tour of the village, passing through all the most significant stages: many churches, fascinating architectural masterpieces and frescoes, picturesque streets and the countryside around, characterized by the typical plants of prickly pears.
To taste: only in Savoca, the Sicilian lemon granita is served with the “zuccarata”, a local biscuit. If you stop for a full meal, enjoy the “tagghiata”, a second course of local meats masterfully cut by butchers in the Valle d’Agrò.
Where to sleep green: if you decide to stay in the area for the night, we recommend the apartment of Independent Seeds, in Forza d’Agrò. An independent holiday home that is perfectly in harmony with the local building style, but with attention to sustainability practices.
Alternatively, you can choose to follow the itinerary in reverse – perhaps because you are travelling from Messina in the direction of Catania. Take the motorway exit “Furci Siculo”, and the first village you will visit is Savoca and ends up in Castelmola.
Did you already know these hidden gems at the foot of Etna? Tell us about your visit in the comments. And if you have other suggestions of small unknown and wonderful villages that should be enhanced, talk to us. Or even better, take part in the summer contest “Take it Slow: Travel slowly, tell it and leave” to let us know! Meanwhile, take advantage of your next holiday in Sicily to discover these “most beautiful villages in Italy”.