The Beautiful Sicilian Town of Montalbano Elicona
I get itchy if I stay in place too long, and since my life has started to feel more settled in Calabria, I was ready for a vacation.
My friend Lynn (formerly known as Courtney. It's a whole story involving Italians and their inability to pronounce her name) and I decided to visit Sicily for the holidays. Her two-year-old Luca agreed to come along!
An Eerie Time Among the Stones
For the first leg of our journey, we planned to celebrate Winter Solstice at the megalith Argimusco. I'd of course heard of Stonehenge, but didn't realize there are other mysterious stones all around the world, including in Sicily and Calabria.
Argimusco is about an hour away from Messina. We booked an apartment in the town of Montalbano Elicona, which was 15 minutes away.
Our experience at Argimusco was otherworldly. Where the day had been sunny and bright, as soon as we arrived in the afternoon, the entire place was shrouded in fog. If you're an Outlander fan, you'll get it when I said I fully expected the stones to transport me to another time!
We spent time just soaking up the powerful energy and listening to the total stillness, save the sound of a family of goats munching their dinner!
The Quintessential Italian Town
The closest town to Argimusco is Montalbano Elicona, and it's well worth a visit on its own.
Picture the most quaint, picturesque Italian town nestled on a mountain you can imagine. That's Montalbano. It's so perfect, in fact, that it has been designated one of Italy's I Borghi più belli d’Italia (the most beautiful towns in Italy), an honor the town doesn't take lightly.
At the base of the mountain town, you'll find the town square, with a few shops and restaurants peppered around the church, Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta e San Nicolò Vescovo.
Be sure to wander over across from the church to L'angolo Dell'arte di Casella Angela, a wonderful shop filled to the brim with Sicilian keepsakes, including the Two Heads, probably the most famous icon you'll see around Sicily.
The story of the Two Heads is worth a read, but I have a different story to tell. I wanted to buy a pair of the head-shaped vases, and I asked the store owner, Angela, to tell me the story. We got caught up in talking and didn't notice that she had packed two females rather than a woman and a man in my bag!
I didn't discover this error until I got back to Calabria. Fortunately, we'd connected on Facebook so I reached out and told her the problem. She thought it was funny; someone else must have bought two men!
She was kind enough to ship me the missing male, and now my set is complete!
Moving up the hill...
The top of Montalbano Elicona is a marvel. The narrow roads (which Lynn was brave enough to drive through to get to our rented apartment) are surrounded by ancient homes and buildings. At the top sits the castle, which has been keeping watch since 1233.
The mountain is so high that fog rolls in early afternoon and stays til mid-morning. We arrived in town as the sun was setting, and were astonished to see the views from the top when we got up in the morning!
The castle, which was a stone's throw from our apartment, is worth a visit, and a steal at just 3 euros. There are weapons, clothing, and art on display, and it's a DIY-kind of tour.
Luxury Accommodations in Montalbano
I have a fun time picking out a place to stay on AirBnB or Booking, and this time around, I had one objective: it had to have a bathtub. Neither Lynn nor I have a tub in our apartment, so it felt like just the right touch for our vacation.
We stayed at Aragon Home Holiday, in the Yuba apartment, right next to the castle. We got a two-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms...and yes, the world's most decadent jacuzzi tub.
The decor was sparse, but we had everything we needed. And for about $75 a night, it was budget-friendly. (PS if you are taken aback by how low the prices are for hotels and apartments in the south of Italy, don't be. It's not a scam. Especially in the off-season, prices really are that low for great accommodation options).
Montalbano Elicona is a sweet little town, and worthy of a stop for a night or two if you're traveling around Sicily.