The fascinating town of Capo d’Orlando, in the province of Messina is a surprisingly charming destination.
Its current name, dating back to Norman times, refers to the legendary knight of the Chanson de Roland, who is said to have stopped here during a crusade to the Holy Land. But its ancient Greek name, Agatirnus (‘the one who bears the splendid tyrus‘), reveals that it was originally a city sacred to Dionysus.
Capo d’Orlando is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the Tyrrhenian coast. It is about one hour away from Cefalù, towards Palermo and Milazzo, on route to Messina. It is also the perfect starting point for adventurous trips out of town, exploring the Sicilian villages, that sit between the sea and the mountains.
Capo d’Orlando is associated with the famous writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, cousin of the Baron Lucio Piccolo di Calanovella who, as a guest at Villa Vina, wrote most of his masterpiece The Gattopardo. Villa Piccolo, together with its park, is located on top of a magnificent hill overlooking the Capo d’Orlando plain. This 19th-century complex is now a museum managed by the Fondazione Famiglia Piccolo of Calanovella.
The town centre of Capo d’Orlando stretches out along the coast towards a promontory with a fabulous view of town. You can reach the panoramic spot, with a climb of a few hundred steps set among wild herbs with Mediterranean scents.
At the top of the scenic spot, lie the ruins of an ancient medieval castle and the 17th-century Sanctuary of Maria Santissima di Capo d’Orlando, also known as the Santuario della Madonna. The building has a single nave with three chapels, the ceiling is made of inlaid wood and has the shape of an eight-pointed star. The sanctuary is a pilgrimage destination for the celebration that takes place every year on the 22nd October.
The view from up here is stunning: it is possible to see all the way from Capo Milazzo to Cefalù, with the Aeolian Islands rising out of the sea in the background. Looking down on the town below, it is easy to recognise the main shopping streets, Via Piave and Via Vittorio Veneto, which run parallel to the seafront.
At the bottom of Monte della Madonna stands the other town landmark: the Lighthouse, which was built in the early 1900s. Nearby there is a small coastal lake, supplied by fresh and salt groundwater.
The coastal road offers enchanting glimpses of the seaside and leads to the village of San Gregorio.
The small seafaring village of San Gregorio is inspired by Gino Paoli‘s song Sapore di sale (Taste of Salt). Here there is a small church, dedicated to Pope Gregory the Great, and a small square. The square is a summer meeting place where you can enjoy a good ice cream and admire the typical fishermen’s houses.
The Sentiero Goletta footpath begins from the square. It is an unusual and evocative trekking route of medium difficulty that is totally immersed in nature. In ancient times this footpath was the only connection between the village of San Gregorio and the centre of Capo d’Orlando.
Not far away are the Terme Bagnoli and they are well worth a visit. They are the ruins of a thermal structure belonging to an ancient Roman villa dating back to the 3rd-4th centuries AD. The SPA is made up of eight rooms. Although they have been damaged by several earthquakes, it is still possible to see three of the rooms: the frigidarium, the tepidarium and the calidarium.
Further down the road you reach the harbour of Capo d’Orlando Marina, one of the main spots of glossy tourism in Sicily. From here, every summer, influencers (and others) set off on fabulous holidays from one island to another in the Aeolian Islands on board of luxury yachts and chartered catamarans.
After spending the day on the beach, the harbour becomes the ideal place to relax with a bit of shopping, a sunset aperitif and an unforgettable gourmet dinner.
The best place to visit is the Andrea Doria promenade, with its endless free beach, touched by a crystal-clear sea, is the place where you can enjoy sunrises and sunsets of incredible beauty.
Sports lovers can go jogging in one of the most wonderful routes in Sicily. Experience it for yourself.