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The village of Castelmola is situated high on the hill behind Taormina, and offers amazing views over both Castelmola and the Ionian Sea.
Sicily Visitor comment: Castelmola is a charming village with fabulous views and makes a great half-day trip from Taormina.
A popular excursion into the hills from Taormina, the views and the village are both remarkable and recommended - but Castelmola is a well known Sicily highlight and hence very busy during the summer months. the views extend out to sea and also to Mount Etna.
The very highest part of the town is a rocky outcrop that bears a ruined 16th century castle - reached by a steepish path from the main square in Castelmola. The town below the rock is a mass of narrow alleys, bars and restaurants, and ancient buildings (not infrequently now craft shops etc).
As you enter the village one of the first places you will find is the Piazza San Antonino from where you can get great views both over Mount Etna and the beautiful hilly countryside surrounding Castelmola and also of Taormina and the coast below the village. The floor of the Piazza is paved in a pattern of white and black lava tiles.
At one side of the Piazza is a bar called the Caffè San Giorgio which is something of an institution as it has existed since it was opened by monks in 1700. Back then visitors to the village were offered a glass of the now famous almond wine which was created by Don Vincenzo Blandano. It is a white wine flavoured with almonds, oranges and herbs and really you have to try it when you come here!
Both Winston Churchill and Sophia Loren are amongst the many famous people who have visited this bar.
Leaving Piazza San Antonino the surrounding streets are filled with colourful houses painted in pastel colours with doors and windows edged in white larva. Wrought iron balconies decorate the buildings and shop signs are wrought iron or stone. Many shops sell ceramics, lacework or embroidery and there are also a selection of bars and restaurants to choose from.
A particularly famous bar in Castelmola is the Bar Turrisi which was opened by Mr Turrisi after the war. Inside is an eye-opening display of phallic ornaments and statues made of wood and ceramics! This bar too has seen many famous visitors including Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.
A little further on is the the small cathedral (duomo) also known as the Mother Church which is one of several places in the town with great views. Another church to look out for is the Church of Saint Biagio which houses a lovely 18th century fresco.
Castelmola is one of eighteen most beautiful Sicily villages (i.e. listed as 'most beautiful villages of Italy'). To get to Castelmola by car (see below) takes about 8 minutes from Taormina but if you are feeling energetic there is a staircase that starts near Porta Messina in Taormina and winds uphill to the Piazza San Antonino. Along the way you can admire the arid scenery dotted with agaves and cacti and you will pass the Sanctuary of Madonna della Rocca and iron age cave-tombs.
There is a bus from Taormina up to Castelmola and we seriously recommend taking the bus rather than driving. The road is steep, narrow, winding and busy and we saw a number of cars having serious difficulties manoeuvering the bends as we relaxed and enjoyed the scenery whilst sitting on the bus!
Where to visit nearby?
Taormina on the coast below Castelmola is one of the most popular seaside resorts on Sicily. It also has an impressive Roman theatre. It was one of our favourite places on our trip.
This part of Sicily has a cluster of "most beautiful villages" which you will undoubtedly wish to visit. These include Savoca which is a resort to the north of Castelmola and inland there are the villages of Castiglione-di-Sicilia, Montalbano-Elicona, Novara di Sicilia, Sperlinga and Geraci Siculo.
It is possible to organise trips to Mount Etna from Taormina and thus to visit one of only three active volcanoes in Europe.
You can find more local travel ideas in the guide.