Listed as one of the Borghi Piu' Belli d'Italia (most beautiful villages) pretty much guarantees that you will like the ambiance of Castiglione di Sicilia. Set in the hills above the Alcantara River, the town is roughly between Randazzo and Taormina, just 50 kilometers from Catania and 60 kilometers from Messina. Despite its location near heavy-hitter towns, it remains a bit apart in its rugged landscape, seemingly stopped in time with its narrow lanes, antique churches, and the presence of its once-grand protective castle on top. It enjoys stunning views of the unfolding landscapes and area towns throughout the Valle d'Alcantara.

Before the Greeks arrived in 730 BC, the area was inhabited by the Siculi people, who had an advanced civilization of villages, ceramics wares, and whose remains were excavated in various sites near Castiglione. The Greeks then Romans settled here, followed by Byzantines, and Arabs. In the Middle Ages, it became known as Castel Leone, and the Normans ousted the Arabs then built walls and a watch tower. Frederick II built a castle as his summer residence. Following the Norman domination, the entire zone became a feudal estate and was passed among various lords for centuries. In World War II, the town was occupied and ransacked by the Germans, who killed 16 civilians; the town's resistence and suffering was later recognized with a Bronze Medal.

There is a lot to see around Castiglione, and even more within reach -Taormina, Naxos, Catania, Giarre, and of course Mt. Etna, to name a few.

Around town, take in the streets and details, the cafes and restaurants where you can sample the specialties of Sicily. A few highlights to seek out:

Church of Sant'Antonio Abate - A pretty compact gem with a curved baroque facade and a bell tower built of lava rock that bears an ornately engraved onion dome. Inside the church are marvelous marble mosaics.

Basilica of Madonna della Catena - the ornate and principle church of Castiglione, it bears a graceful grand staircase along with a restrained (for Sicily!) baroque facade. It was built in 1655.

Castello di Lauria - A solid presence above town since the Swabian era, and whether it was actually referred to as Castellum or Castel Leon, the name certainly came into being for the castle. Set in the rocks, it is an interesting structure with fabulous views all around.

La Cuba Bizantina -also called La Cuba di Santa Domenica, the fascinating structure is a paleo-Christian church dating to the 7th century, founded by Basilian monks. It was named a national monument in 1909, it is one of the most significant Byzantine structures in Sicily.

Le Gole dell'Alcantara - a fluvial park of the Alcantara River was created by the river's erosive action against the basalt rock. (See separate entry for details.)

Wine Country - Enjoy some of the Etna DOC vintages while you're here. Grown in the volcanic soil, they have distinctive qualities. There is a regional enoteca featuring the wines at the castle, a wine bar in town called Vitis, and of course vineyards around the countryside.

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