Montalbano Elicona is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages of Sicily. That is a medieval town surrounded by a castle, narrow lanes and amazing woods . The medieval past of the village stands out everywhere and makes the place similar to a fairy tale. For this reason, I decided to discuss about it in this new travel guide. Follow the subsequent paragraphs to discover how to visit it and how to enjoy its fairy landscape.
The medieval village of Montalbano Elicona is a pretty small town located in the province of Messina. That is a mountain place and in the winter you can also see the fall of snowflakes ( they are fairly rare in my loved Sicily). In 2015, the village was also included in the network of the most beautiful medieval villages of Italy, along with the nearby Novara di Sicilia. Currently, the village has about 2500 inhabitants. The downtown was built around a castle towering the North of Sicily, on the Tyrrhenian coast, in front of the Aeolian Islands. On the West side, you can also admire the Nebrodi mounts and in the South, the mount of Etna. The name of Montalbano Elicona comes from Mons Albanus, namely the ancient town built during the Roman domination and afterwards dominated by the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans. The foundation of the village was surely due to the Greeks. This place is fairly evocative. Its houses are built on the top of the hills, in an uphill path which reaches the castle placed at 904 meters above the sea level. There, you’ll see a maze of lanes where time seems to be stopped in a past age. Indeed, every summer, on 12, 18 and 19 August, just from the castle, in the historical center of the village, you can also attend a medieval festival where the locals wear ancient medieval clothes. They make a stunning parade around the narrow alleys of the town, giving you the impression to live in the Middle Age (see the image). During the parade, you can also taste street food, medieval dishes and spicy wine. The natural conformation of the village is enhanced thanks to the presence of ladies, bridesmaids, archers and jesters that perform picturesque shows along the streets. They recall the court of King Frederik II, who in the Middle Age spent the summer just in Montalbano Elicona. The parade is a way to remember the history of this stunning territory, giving to people the chance of a dip into the past.
What to see
In Montalbano Elicona you can see the stunning nature reserve of Malabotta, the woods (which keep a mysterious treasure), the medieval castle, the churches, the cathedral and the museums. Let’s start from the castle.
Montalbano Elicona Castle
The medieval castle of Montalbano Elicona is one the most relevant tourist attractions of the village. This ancient building was made under the order of King Frederick III of Aragon, namely the nephew of Frederick II of Swabia. The king turned a fortress into a castle in 1302 to be used as his vacation home during summer. The castle is regarded as one of the most beautiful medieval monuments of Sicily. The most outstanding item of the castle is the royal chapel dating back the Byzantine epoch. According to some scholars, the chapel contains the corpse of Arnaldo of Villanova, one the most important figures of his epoch, medic, alchemist and religious innovator, nearly alleged of heresy, died in 1310 and a close friend of King Frederick II. After a century of decline, the castle was renovated in the 1980s with a severe mistake: the battlements of the tower was rebuilt with a rectangular shape, but in an Aragonese castle, they should have a tail of a swallow.
The property of the castle belongs to the municipality. The architectural charm of the building depends on the fact it is dominated by an irregular and tortuous rocky promontory surrounded by stone houses. The promontory stretches, up and down, along the alleys fitting the shapes of the rock. The small houses are built in sandstone and are filled with the authentic history of Sicily. Built on a previous Arab building , the castle consists of a high Norman fortress. The superior part , a rectangular building, has the two ends enclosed between two towers. The embattled walls date back to the Swabian epoch . They represent the defense walls of the castle and the most important and best preserved defense structure of Sicily. Tourists can visit the castle of Montalbano Elicona only on Wednesday, from April to October, from 9.30 – 13.30 and 15 – 19.
Nature reserve Malabotta
The nature reserve of Malabotta is an interesting itinerary placed between the end of the Nebrodi mounts and the beginning of the Peloritani mounts. That is a large wood regarded as the true woodland of Sicily. The wood stretches from 700 to 1300 meters above the sea level and goes through the villages of Montalbano Elicona , Tripi, Francavilla di Sicilia and Alcantara Gorge. The wood is populated by several trees, such as beech, hazel, holly, chestnut and holm oak. The undergrowth hosts hawthorn, the wild peony (Paeonia officinalis), the ginestre, the Rosa canina. This wood is also the favorite habitat of hedgehogs, wild boar, black Nebrodi pigs, weasels and martens. Near the nature reserve, you can also admire high sandstone megaliths eroded by wind and rain and with disquieting shapes. Around them, there are the so called “cuburro”, namely small sheds also called “tholos”. They were built near the zone of the pasture and used to shelter the shepherds. These megaliths are in contrada Argimusco. A few kms away, there is also the parking of Malabotta wood. From here, a downhill path begins. You can go through it, by bike, on foot, by horse and reach a stunning natural landscape made of trees, wood cottages and ancient houses. Along the path, you’ll see many directions and outfitted areas to make a stop.
Moltalbano Elicona megaliths
For those who want to dip into the silence of the Sicilian countryside, sniff the scent of the fresh grass, listen to the chant of birds and the bubbling of the waters lost in the maze of the bushes or revive an ancient past engraved on large rocks marked by ancient civilizations, I suggest that you visit the nearby places of Argimusco, Elmo, Losi, Mattinata and Zilla. In these places, you’ll see many sandstone structures used in the past as astronomical calendars. They are known as the megaliths of Montalbano Elicona and are included in the map of the megaliths of Europe along with France, Germany, England and Spain. Some of them are made of granite blocks similar to the ones of the Nebrodi mounts. Many of them have human shape, other ones have the shape of an eagle and of a goddess. They were used in the past epochs for propitiatory rites. Two great megaliths celebrated the rites of procreation and maybe they witnessed the sexual intercourses of the prehistoric couples. There also dolmens, namely stones used as graves. It is still unclear the real use of these megaliths, they are surrounded by a thick mystery and represents the Stonehenge of Sicily. However, it is sure that the megaliths of Montalbano Elicona celebrated life , death, the sun, and prayer and are absolutely to visit for their strong spiritual meaning.
Montalbano ELicona churches and museums
There are many churches in the village of Montalbano Elicona. Each of them has a great architectural relevance, but under the tourist side, the most important ones are Santa Maria Assunta and San Nicolò Vescovo church, Santa Caterina church and the sanctuary of Maria SS. della Provvidenza. Santa Maria Assunta and San Nicolò Vescovo Church is also the cathedral of the village (see the image). It is outfitted with a scenic stair overlooking the main square of the town. Santa Caterina church is instead a real medieval church, and the most significant religious medieval building in the village. It has an ancient tower and an only central nave. The sanctuary of Maria SS. della Provvidenza, instead, has tre naves and its interior is really magnificent. The main museums of Montalbano Elicona are in the castle. These are the museum of the ancient music tools and the museum of the white weapons. The latter contains the armors of the ancient medieval soldiers. The view of these forgotten tools is really breathtaking.
Montalbano Elicona restaurants
Strolling the streets of the downtown of Montalbano Elicona, you can also go to the local restaurants where you’ll taste delicious Sicilian dishes, such a u maccu, prepared with fava beans, fresh ricotta, but also pasta and beans or macaroni with pork sauce sprinkled with baked ricotta cheese. However, the most delicious dishes are always prepared at the Sicilian farmhouses, where you can also stay for your vacation in Montalbano Elicona. When I visit the best places of my loved Sicily, I always avoid restaurants and prefer the cooking of the Sicilian farmhouses. They are located in the Sicilian countryside and prepare organic food with the typical taste of the Sicilian dishes. The most famous recipe of Montalbano Elicona is pork fritter with potatoes (see the image). That is a caloric dish, but there, it is normal to eat this recipe, because the village is on a mountain and in the winter the temperature is very low. Anyway, if you want to find a good restaurant in this village, you can see here.
How to get to Montalbano Elicona
The car will lead you to the hotel or accommodation in Montalbano Elicona that you can book here.
Visit this beautiful village at any season and when you return your home, let me know with a comment if you enjoyed the things I discussed in this post.
Photocredits in order of appearance:
Luigi Strano Flickr
Angelo Miceli Flickr
Pietro Raimondo Flickr