The most fabulous villages in Italy are located on the slopes of the volcano. We are going to make an itinerary to discover Castelmola and Savoca, going through Taormina and Forza d’Agrò. Timeless wonders, that result to be little-known and worth to be valued.
Since 2003, every year the Association called “The most beautiful villages in Italy”, with the collaboration of the RAI broadcast program “Kilimangiaro” and the monthly magazine “Borghi Magazine”, publishes a guide to discover hidden but wonderful villages around the Bel Paese. The mini-itinerary that we propose, will take you to Sicily, on the slopes of Etna. Between volcanic rock and almost desertic flora, you will find two villages on the rocks, which face the sea, and they always obtain the top spot on the rankings, and you will understand why.
They are Savoca and Castemola, in the province of Messina.
Castemola, Taormina’s acropolis
The easiest way to reach this location is the highway A18 Catania-Messina. You will be driving up to the Strait City, then take exit Taormina and follow the signs for Castemola. The small town is only a few turns away from where you are, but it is definitely worth the visit. It is 500 meters above sea level and nowadays only 1100 people are currently living here.
You will leave the car in a parking lot and you will have to go on foot. What is now coming for you? A stroll in its small alleys, full of stone houses, artisan workshops, and shops selling local typical products. The millennial history of the village has always been a debate for experts. It certainly was used as a point of sighting to prevent hostile invasions from enemies, whoever they wanted to be, as Sicily was the witness of numerous dominations.
Not to be missed: The Cathedral, a little church (if compared to other Cathedrals of the city) located on a small square in the village, with a marvelous view of the Ionian Sea and Taormina. Do not forget to go visit the ruins of the ancient castle, from which the town derives its name: there, you are going to have the opportunity to take a guided tour through the history of Castemola and the Houses that ruled the territory.
To taste: you cannot miss the opportunity to drink the most authentic wine of the town: “vino alla mandorla” (almond wine). And if you are up to a heavy meal, you must taste homemade maccheroni.
Where you can go and sleep in a “greenly” way: you will not have a large number of choice, so that we do suggest you go to “Hotel Villa Schuler”, which can be found in the city center of Taormina: a period residence for adding a bit of luxury in your journey back in time among the wonders of the Ionian Sea.
Two stopovers which you cannot miss
Castemola and Savona are less than 30 km from each other. We suggest two stopovers along the way. The first one is the famous Ionian Pearl, Taormina. You can see it from above when in Castemola where you can easily detect the Greek Ancient Theatre and the Isola Bella, a few meters away from the coastline. You ought to take advantage of your visit to Taormina and go for a walk through the old city: and yeah, it is kind of expensive and crowded but it is a timeless wonder!
Visiting these crowded places may sometimes go against the idea of sustainable tourism: the most important thing is to respect them, their customs and the inhabitants.
Once left Taormina you can follow the signs for another small town, Forza d’Agrò. The village -hidden between the mountains- is one of the favorite destinations for every single Sicilian on the island who wants to enjoy fresh seafood. Just over 800 inhabitants but tens of excellent trattorias and restaurants that are always full, especially from April to October, so that we do suggest you book a table before going there. Your palate and your stomach will thank you for this stopover and don’t worry about your wallets, it is not expensive at all.
Savoca and the seven panoramas
Leave Forza d’Agrò and go on to Savoca, for about 20 minutes. The most beautiful village in Italy is located 330 meters above sea level and only 1700 people live there. There is an old saying that defines the town as the city with 7 faces: what this means is that you will have seven different and amazing views of the horizon depending on from where you look at it. The history of this village faced tough moments over the centuries, but the traditions that passed down are fascinating. One of the most famous is the feast of the patron Saint, Santa Lucia: in August, a religious but folkloric event takes place in Savoca’s streets, keeping traditions alive.
One of the 7 panoramas
Not to be missed: start your visit from Bar Vitelli, which is going to look familiar to you as it was the set in The Godfather’s films. The shootings were made in the whole village, chosen by the director because- as opposed to Corleone- it was keeping the ‘900s atmosphere. From there, you will find indications for a guided tour that includes a 360-degree panorama of the city, lots of churches, numerous magnificent pieces of architecture and frescoes, picturesque streets and the countryside all around the town, characterized by typical Italian figs.
To taste: only in Savoca, the Sicilian granita is served with “zuccherata”, a local cookie. If you will want a full meal, do not miss the “tagghiata”, a second course of meats chosen by the best butchers of the Agrò’s valley.
Where you can go and sleep in a “greenly” way: if you decide to stay the night, we suggest you “Sementi Indipendenti” in Forza d’Agrò. Self-catering holiday home and in perfect accord with the style of the territory and that cares for the environment.
Alternatively, you can choose to follow the opposite itinerary, you maybe come from Messina and you travel to Catania. Take exit “Furci Siculo”, and the first town that you will find will be Savoca and then Castemola.
Famous Bar Vitelli in Savoca, known for “The Godfather” film
Did you know these hidden jewels on the slopes of Etna? Tell us about your visits to the comments below. If you have any other suggestions for small and little-known towns that deserve to be valued, talk to us about them.
Enjoy your next Sicilian holidays over the “most beautiful villages in Italy”!
Featured image; Greek Ancient Theatre in Taormina, picture by Andrea Schaffer via Flickr