Between sea and mountain: Sant’Angelo di Brolo, Piraino, Gioiosa marea and Gioiosa Guardia
Close your eyes and imagine to seat on the top of a peak, watching the waves, feeling the Mediterranean breeze, then start walking down to reach the coast and relax in the sea of the Aeolian Islands… That’s a dream that can come true along the itinerary we’re going to suggest.
Let’s start with Sant’Angelo di Brolo, a village nestled in a valley full of olive, orange and hazelnut trees, at an altitude of 340 metres above sea level. Furthermore, it has forty-two churches and five monasteries. If you are interested in history, art and culture, you will be spoilt for choice.
The foundation of Sant’Angelo’s urban centre dates back to the Norman period. It was built around the monastery of S. Michele Arcangelo which has Byzantine origin.
Do not miss to visit the Piano Croce tower, a fortress with typical elements of a medieval castle ( walls, donjon and palace). The interesting Museum of Sacred Art is in the Church of the SS. Salvatore houses valuable sculptures, paintings, furnishings, jewellery and sacred vestments dating from the 15th to the 20th century. In the heart of the town, in Piazzetta S. Maria, stands the Mother Church, where you can admire valuable works of art, including an 18th-century pipe organ by Annibale Lo Bianco and a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows inspired by Caravaggio. Leaving the church, under the transept, there is a pointed arch (known as the Cappelluni) connecting Via Principessa di Piemonte to Via Vittorio Emanuele. From here, walking along the old streets and the charming alleys, we reach the 17th-century Church of S. Filippo and Giacomo. Proceeding along Via Vittorio Emanuele, we can admire the Church of San Domenico (16th century), a former Dominican Convent, with a single nave and apse decorated with stucco work of the Serpotta school. Next to the church, there is the convent, where the Town Hall is now located.
Last but not least, the village’s true intangible monument is the S. Angelo IGP salami, a masterpiece of rural tradition. Don’t forget to taste the typical sweets called buccunetti (candied pumpkin aged in oak barrels) or the ‘nzuddi made of almond and hazelnut pastry.
After having experienced the peaceful atmosphere of Sant’Angelo, get ready to head down to the sea at Piraino. It is a wonderful village, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea between Capo d’Orlando and Capo Calavà. Forget the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a walk through the historic centre will take you to the Chiesa della Badia and the Convent of San Francesco, the Chiesa del Rosario, the Chiesa Madre and the Ecce Homo sanctuary. At the top of Piraino stands the Torrazza, an ancient watchtower that still seems to protect the village.
If you’re not scared by the macabre, the Sepulchre of the Priests in the Mother Church offers an unusual exhibit of 26 mummies from the 19th century. The mummies are the result of the drying of the bodies due to the ventilation of the room.
Ok, now it’s definitely time to go out and take a breath of fresh air! Just a few kilometres from the town centre there’s the Pineta. Here you can have a refreshing walk in the middle of nature and you should also take some time to enjoy the view from the belvedere. The best viewpoint is probably the Guardiola. You can come here also at different times during the day because the light is always changing and the sight of the Aeolian Islands in front of you will always show different colours. It is impossible not to be amazed.
Go further down, until Gliaca (a hamlet of Piraino), to admire the Torre delle Ciàule (‘Ciàule Tower’) touched by the sea. In the past, this tower was used as a lookout for potential pirate attacks. It owes its name to the crows and jays that use to nest in the area (the term ciaula indicates, depending on the area, various types of corvids). Gliaca also has a sandy coastline. Stop for a stroll or a swim at sunset, with the Aeolian Islands appearing on the horizon.
But the tour doesn’t end here. Moving eastwards the panorama will leave you breathless. Gioiosa Marea and its enchanting sea will open up in front of you. The one of Gioiosa Marea is the best-served beach of the area, it is close to the centre and is characterised by grey sand. If you go to the Uliveto area, the beach is pebbly. Proceeding eastward you arrive at the rocky coastline of Capo Calavà; a little further on there is the Bue beach (steer beach), which is completely sandy.
Snorkelling and diving are recommended along these 7 kilometres of coastline. If you feel like taking a walk, there are many places of interest in the town (Walk of fame, the old Tonnara, the Canapè promenade, Palazzo Batolo, the Church of Maria SS. Delle Grazie). Here you can also find wonderful naturalistic spots: such as the Grotta del Tono, which is a cavity at 10 m above sea level near the station; it is rich in stalactites and stalagmites. From this point, several interconnected tunnels branch off. We have to mention also the Capo Calavà naturalistic trail, which starts near Villa Giulia and runs along the ridge of the Rocca del Capo to end on top of Rocca di Calavà (route length 2 km).
Lastly, a visit to Gioiosa Guardia is a must. The village was abandoned after terrible natural events that happened in the twenty years after 1783. From the top of a hill called Meliuso, the view sweeps from Mount Etna to the Aeolian Islands, from the Gulf of Milazzo to Cefalù and, on clear days, all the way to Palermo and Calabria. You can walk through history, among the ruins of the abandoned city, enjoying a breathtaking view.