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Sicily’s hidden gems: The town between the dragon’s teeth 

The town

The town

Caltabellotta is a little known Sicilian town of exceptional beauty, only an hour away from Palermo. The locals say that it lies between the dragon’s teeth – as it is situated against the cliff face of a mountain which has two high, protruding rock formations.

It is best known for its excellent and very particular oil but, in reality, there is much to see in this town. I would recommend a three-night stay. 

Its landscape is, to say the least, exceptional. It stands in a high position, above the plateau that runs down to the Ribera area. In reality, even Trapani and the sea are quite close. In fact, it forms part of the province of Agrigento, so it can also serve as a stepping stone to an area which has so much to offer.

But set as it is against a high mountain, it is really exceptional. The city is only on one side of the mountain. On the other side is a sloping green valley rich in olive trees.

The mountain is about a thousand metres high. The population is small, around 3,000 inhabitants, and getting smaller, as is happening in many of these Sicilian towns. Its name is derived from Arabic [which we clearly understand]: Qalat Al Ballut.

Set as against a high mountain, it is really exceptional

Its history is very old and the town was used by many conquerors because of its defensive position.

But it is with the arrival of the Normans that its importance grew. However, its main claim to history is the fact that in 1302 the agreement to end the war known as the Vespri Siciliani was signed in the city.

Caltabellotta under the snow.Caltabellotta under the snow.

Among the most incredible and unique architecture of the town is its Norman cathedral, which is not set at the centre of town as would normally be expected but right at the very top of the mountain overlooking the city. The cathedral is unique in many ways and well worth a visit.

On another high point is the church and monastery of San Pellegrino, the local patron. The monastery is an enormous restored but abandoned building. There are various other churches, about 20, and important palaces.

The town boasts important archaeological sites, some of which are still being studied, such as a neolithic calendar. There is a Norman castle, built on a former Arab castle, right up one of the dragon’s teeth, but is a high climb up. There are also various rock churches and houses. Certainly a lot to keep a traveller busy; the place is ideal for those who like to walk.

The weather is typically Sicilian but it is always cooler than the plains, so many will find it pleasant to visit in summer. In winter it does get cold and it also snows at times.

The people are extremely friendly and go out of their way to make you feel at home. There are some excellent restaurants, few but which are really worth a try.

The enormous Benedictine monastery.The enormous Benedictine monastery.

Recomendations

Travelling is best through Palermo or Trapani, both close by although signage is not so good.

I stayed at an excellently restored noble house BB Sotto Le Stelle, which has enormous rooms with good facilities and pleasant breakfast. The best restaurant in town is owned by the same family whose owner speaks good English.

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