High above Sicily’s popular town of Taormina is the lesser-known but spectacular, small village of Castelmola. Seemingly ‘floating’ 550 metres above sea level, this tiny town with incredible views was also the location for one of our most memorable Saturday nights ever.
Part way through our drive from the airport at Catania to the port of Milazzo, we spied a town impossibly perched on the very peak of a rocky mountain. When we asked our driver about it, he told us it was Castelmola. ‘Very beautiful’, he said. ‘And they make very good almond wine there.’ So when a change in plans saw us with an extra night in Sicily before we were due to arrive in Taormina, we didn’t hesitate to hit the booking websites to see if we could find any accomodation in Castelmola.
Bingo! Hotel Villa Sonia came up. And it had rooms available.
The drive into Castelmola is not for the acrophobic. A winding road leads up the edge of the mountain, ending at public parking lots just below the village itself. Or in our case, we were dropped off right at the door of Hotel Villa Sonia, which is just a short walk below the town centre.
We were impressed by the astonishing outlook from Hotel Villa Sonia. From our room balconies, or the sun lounges by the pool, we could watch Mount Etna belch out great clouds. None of the staff seemed at all concerned by this sight, so we assumed this was an entirely normal happening. Later, a local told us that if the belching is white (which it was) it is of no concern, it’s when it’s grey or black that they take note. I have no idea if that is correct, but we took some comfort from it!
If you are staying in Taormina, it is a ten minute drive up to Castelmola (by taxi or by regular bus service), or if you are feeling particularly energetic, there is a 1½-km walking path which offers the full mountain-goat experience (plus rewarding views en route) and takes around an hour to go up (less coming back down).
While the views from Taormina are breathtaking themselves, the views from Castelmola take it to a whole new level. From various vantage points within the town, there are panoramic views of Mount Etna, down the Ionian coast, over Taormina and north towards the Italian mainland.
At the very peak of the town are the ruins of the fortress (the ‘Castel’ of Castelmola). This site was first fortified by the Byzantines around 800 AD. In the centuries following, it was variously held by Muslims and Normans. The castle was altered over time, and the ruins remaining are mostly leftovers from the 16th century iteration.
Basking in the golden hour light of an early morning walk up to the castle, I was amazed by the beauty of the outlook from the ruined ramparts.
But apart from the Castle, what draws visitors up to Castelmola is the local shopping, restaurants and bar scene.
For our ‘bonus night’ dinner in Castelmola, we booked a table at a restaurant in one of the church piazzas, Ristorante Bocciòla . But before dinner, we wandered into the infamous Bar Turrisi for our (by now, habitual) daily Aperol Spritz and ‘drinks dinner’.
Bar Turrisi is built over three-levels, each offering views over the piazza and Taormina from the balconies. But what is most memorable about this bar is its choice of decor. The entire place is decorated with phalluses of every size, shape, and style possible. From floor tiles to carved chair arms, menus and murals to napkin designs, they’re everywhere. It’s somewhat disconcerting, and while you’re not quite sure where to look, it makes for an hilarious aperitivo hour.
They serve a local speciality almond wine (Vino di Mandorla) in the bar, which is available to purchase to take home in (surprise, surprise) phallic glass bottles as well as the more regularly shaped ones.
Bar Turrisi has been run by the one family (Turrisi) since its origins in the 1950s, but it was the son of the founder who initiated the eccentric decorating scheme in the 1970s. According to the bar’s website, the son Peppino was ‘an extravagant character’ who gave up a career as an actor in order to build his life in Castelmola. When his wife, Rosa, had three sons within five years, they decided that the only symbol that could represent the ‘happy and prolific’ life they enjoyed was the penis. The blurb on the website suggests that the local priest struggled a bit with their redecoration plans, but that over time the symbol was accepted by all the town’s population as a representation of ‘fertility, freedom, fortune, life and beauty’.
After M and I laughed hysterically at our encounters with more giant wooden phalluses as we paid the bar bill, our whole party sauntered across the piazza to Ristorante Bocciòla where we discovered that it too is owned by members of the Turrisi family (as are many of the shops in Castelmola).
Our outdoor table in the square was the perfect box seat for the entertainment of a regular Saturday night in one of Castelmola’s piazzas – Sicilian dancers, accordian players, drunken hen’s parties, the deafening sound of the chiming church bells…there was no better place to be to soak up some of the raucous and crazy atmosphere.
And when a cool breeze picked up, our thoughtful maitre d’ appeared with some pashmina wraps to keep us warm. Big thumbs up for that touch. 🙂
The menu of Bocciòla offers a range of traditional Sicilian dishes, and we enjoyed everything we ordered, especially the insalata di pomodoro, burrata fresca e basilico, featuring my (now) favourite cheese – burrata.
‘Bocciòla’ apparently means blossom bud in Italian, and while the bar across the piazza celebrates the male form, this restaurant’s decor is inspired by feminine beauty – in a much more PG-rated form than the bar.
After dinner, we walked back to Hotel Villa Sonia via the narrow cobblestone streets of the town having experienced the most memorable of Saturday nights out.
The detailsBar Turrisi
Address: Piazza del Duomo 19, Castelmola
Tel: +39 094228181
Address:Piazza Duomo 32, Castelmola
Tel: +39 0942 28102 Cel. +39 3450212838
Hotel Villa Sonia
Address:Via Porta Mola 9, Castelmola
Tel: +39 0942 28 082
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