Castiglione di Sicilia, perched on a hill on the northern slope of Etna, lies in the centre of the valley that the Alcantara river carves out between Randazzo and Taormina.
Seen from afar, it is the archetypal classic hillside village with its small houses clinging to the slope.
The first significant traces of urbanisation date back to 1092, in a document in which Ruggero I named the locality “Castrileonis“, i.e. Castello Grande – Great Castle.
The heart of any town is its square, and in the case of Castiglione, this is Piazza Lauria.
In this beautiful central area, paved with lava stone, the ancient inhabitants used to stockpile the peculio, an institution that in times of famine allowed them to buy wheat to feed their citizens. Today, the sober Town Hall stands here.
A few steps away stands the 17th-century Church of Sant’Antonio. A steep, narrow street leads to the apse of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which dates back to 1105. There are many religious places in this small village! Right next to San Pietro is the 18th-century Church and the adjoining Monastery of San Benedetto.
Going down another side of the square, you come across the Church of San Marco, of Norman origin and dating from the 12th century. From here, a narrow flight of steps leads up to the ruins of a Byzantine fortification that the locals call Castidduzzu (Castelluccio).
Moving away from the central square, on the scenic road you will see the Basilica della Madonna della Catena and then, on top of a cliff, the 12th-century Castle of Ruggero di Lauria. It was the main structure of the town’s defensive system, together with the Castidduzzu and a third fortification identified with the apse of the Church of San Pietro. In ancient times, these three towers were connected by underground passages.
The castle today houses the Enoteca Regionale per la Sicilia Orientale.
Leaving the village we reach one of the most enchanting sites in the town, where there is what is perhaps the true symbol of Castiglione di Sicilia: “U Cannizzu”.
This is a sandstone tower built between the 12th and 14th centuries, probably part of a more complex fortification known as the “Cittadella”.
The tower stood outside the town and was probably the first stronghold to be conquered by Frederick III, King of Sicily, when he took back the fiefdom from Ruggero di Lauria in 1301.
Finally, as an unexpected surprise, in the open countryside we find the Cuba di Santa Domenica, called “a cubula” by the local people. Cubula are chapels built by Basilian monks between the 7th and 9th centuries, and this one in particular is unusually larger than the others. It has a Greek cross base with a square floor plan and, in keeping with tradition, the apse faces east, and the central door faces west.
The building was declared a national monument on 31 August 1909.
The rich Castiglionese cuisine is rooted in the millenary culinary traditions of the peoples who have passed through here.
We start with rigorously homemade maccheroni served with pork ragout and baked ricotta, followed by tagghiani with nettle and wild rabbit. Here we find exquisite sweet delicacies such as cuddureddi, the zeppole di riso, the sciauni (fresh ricotta pancakes), hazelnut, almond and pistachio pastries.
We accompany everything with a good, stronf glass of DOC Etna wine. This is the land of Nerello, Cataratto and Carricante, an indigenous grape variety that is only grown here.
This is why Castiglione, an obligatory stop on the Etna Wine Route, has been chosen as the headquarters of the Enoteca Regionale per la Sicilia Orientale (Regional Wine Cellar for Eastern Sicily).
But there is still much to sample: the north-eastern wine trail is waiting for you!