If in one sweep you can see the Ionian coast, the monumental Mount Etna, the gulf of Giardini-Naxos, the Capo di S. Alessio, the Straits of Messina and the coast of Calabria, you are either on Google Maps or you are in Castelmola.
This small village above Taormina, one of the most beautiful Sicilian Villages in Italy, is a real natural terrace built around the ruins of a Norman castle which, over time, has taken on a soft concave shape, similar to that of a millstone (mola). It is therefore easy to guess the origin of the name, an immediate crasis of “Castle” and “Mola”.
All that remains of the fortress are the Norman walls. A 10th-century plaque with Greek-Byzantine engravings on the façade of the cathedral reads: “This castle was built under Constantine, patrician and strategist of Sicily“.
In all likelihood, it was Costantino Caramalo, who defended the bastion, town and territory from Arab attacks in the 9th century. The centrality of the castle of Mola is historically ascertained not only in the Middle Ages, but also in the wars between the French and the Spanish. Once upon a time, people entered the town through a gate carved into the rock at the base of a flight of white lava stone steps. Today, after the gate in front of the castle was moved in 1927, the entrance to the village is marked by an ancient Arch at the top of a flight of limestone steps, a medieval vestige, which, standing alone, now dominates Piazza S. Antonino.
The square is a mosaic of white lava stone, bordered by tree-lined and shady pavements that opens onto a belvedere from which you can see Taormina. In general, the street furniture is very neat, the street names, house numbers and signs are almost always in stone and wrought iron. The doors and windows of the houses are surrounded by Taormina stone and the dwellings are veiled in soft colours ranging from a delicate yellow to an antique pink, the ‘Sicilian style’ roof tiles are still on the roofs and, if you exclude a few questionable buildings from the 1960s and 70s, everything is as one would expect from a Sicilian village.
Facing the town square is the church of St. Anthony, now used as a municipal Auditorium, but with much older origins. A few steps away from the church, you can admire the splendid doorway of Casa Sterrantino.
Again on the square, we find the historic Caffè S. Giorgio, founded by monks in the 18th century. The peculiarity of this bar and tavern, apart from the diary that collects the signatures of illustrious people who have passed through Castelmola since 1907, is the paternity of the village’s most peculiar product: almond wine. Don Vincenzo Blandano, the historic owner of the Café, used to offer it as a sign of welcome to guests who came to the village. This drink, made with almonds and orange essence, was probably invented by him.
Moving down Via De Gasperi, the village’s main street, we pass by small shops selling lace, embroidery and souvenirs and come across Bar Turrisi, which unashamedly showcases wooden, earthenware and ceramic phalluses as a sign of abundance and good luck in accordance with Hellenic tradition. In a dichotomy very common in Sicily, the profane turns to the sacred and we arrive in Piazza Duomo, in front of the Chiesa Madre. From its entrance, on the side of the square, one can admire Mount Etna and the Gulf of Naxos. As you enter the church, you can perceive the layers of various historical periods, in many cases, more contemporary forms creeping over features ranging from Romanesque to Gothic. The church has four marble altars, a beautiful pulpit and a wooden statue of Mary Magdalene, school of Bagnasco.
Also standing out against an enchanting landscape is the small church of S. Biagio, perhaps the oldest in town, founded after the arrival of S. Pancrazio in Taormina for his evangelising mission.
The eighteenth-century fresco in the church is remarkable. Also not to be missed are the water cisterns dating from 367 B.C. and the ancient Porta Saraceni.
Monte Veneretta awaits those with a thirst for adventure! This is the highest peak (884 metres) of a natural staircase, whose steps (from lowest to highest) are represented by Giardini Naxos, Taormina, Monte Tauro, Castelmola and, finally, Monte Veneretta. The name probably derives from the cult of the goddess of Love worshipped by the Siceliots (Greeks of Sicily). It is reached by following a bare path that is one of the most panoramic of the entire Ionian coast and, once you reach the summit, you can see perfectly the urban centre of Castelmola, the Arab Castle and the Greek theatre of Taormina, Isola Bella and Mount Etna.
This is the most popular launching point for paragliders.
Before leaving Castelmola, remember to sample the chilled almonds with sugar, the fig mustard and also the cactus fruit.