An aura of mystery surrounds the creation of Novara di Sicilia, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, about 70 kilometres from Messina and very close to the island’s northern coast.
Legend has it that the small town, built at the point where the Nebrodi mountains meet the Peloritani range, was inhabited by the Cyclopes and that the town was only later developed at the behest of the Saracens, who built a castle there.
Only a few ruins of that Saracen castle still remain, on top of a sheer cliff.
Splendid views can be enjoyed from this area which, during the warm summer days, take in the Aeolian Islands. Not far from the remains of the castle, you can visit the Chiesa di San Giorgio. This is now deconsecrated but its interior is very original as it contains twelve monolithic Corinthian columns and a marvellous coffered ceiling.
If you go into the Novara di Sicilia’s historic centre, you’ll come to the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, built in the 16th century. The Duomo is a typical example of local art: the cathedral’s characteristic sandstone façade stands above a wide staircase. Its interior is essentially Renaissance in style which underlines the magnificence of the whole building. The linearity and simplicity of the small Chiesa di San Francesco, dating back to the 13th century, is a complete contrast to the Duomo. It’s notable for being the oldest sacred building in the centre of the village.
Before leaving the village, or rather, immediately after having left it, go and see the Abbazia di Santa Maria La Noara, which is only five kilometres from the historic centre. This dates back to the 12th century and was built during the reign of Ruggero II, at the behest of Sant’Ugo Abate. The abbey is the best example of a Cistercian building in Sicily, built on plain stylistic lines which reflect two of the basic principles of Cistercian religious communities’ way of life, poverty and simplicity.
After this, you might consider going on a panoramic hike.
One item of interest: Novara di Sicilia is also famous for being the historic location of the Torneo della Maiorchina, a game of skill which the village’s inhabitants have played since the seventeenth century and are still playing today. Maiorchino is an excellent mature cheese made of sheep’s milk. During Carnevale, its round shape is used in the tournament: 16 teams, each composed of 3 players, wrap a rope, a lazzada, across the diameter of the Maiorchino. The cheese (10–12 kg) is then thrown and rolled for two kilometres down the slope from the Matrice. After the race, you mustn’t miss tasting this excellent local product which, when grated, is used to flavour the traditional maccheroni al pomodoro. This is the land of hazelnuts, to which a festival is also dedicated in October; there are some excellent cakes and also the renowned salsiccia di nocciole sausage, with its unique, intense aroma, eaten with slices of lovely aromatic bread.