Hotel Palladio


a handmade hotel

Corso Umberto 470, Giardini Naxos, 98035, Sicily
Tel: (+39) 0942 52267; Fax: (+39) 0942 551329;


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In these pages, we suggest excursions to the closest localities, easily reached by car from the Hotel Palladio with a distance ranging between 6 and 40 km. Besides the popular locations illustrated in all the guides and the
Etna itineraries we show on other pages, we want you to discover also some fragment less known, but equally magnificent, of our many Sicilies, lingering on places that, off from the usual tourist paths, still keep their original face unchanged.

Giardini Naxos is at the crossroad of three splendid routes: the coastal road to Messina dominated by the eastern side of the mountains Peloritani, where medieval villages are embedded like jewels; the internal road that among an uncontaminated nature skirts the Park of the Alcantara River with its famous gorges; and finally the road that leads from the Baroque Acireale to Catania, going down from the imposing ridge of volcanic rock of the Timpa to the fishing towns of Acitrezza and Acicastello.


You will climb green hills to find ancient villages hanging over the sea and time, treasures of the architecture Arab Norman and Gothic and magnificent landscapes.

Here have been filmed the Sicilian scenes of the movie The Godfather who wanted to portray an archaic Sicily: little has changed since then. Climbing the hill you will find fascinating towns with churches of the Sicilian Gothic, a crypt with the mummies of the local nobles and, in the shore of a river, a magnificent basilica, an amazing synthesis of the architecture Byzantine, Arab and Norman.

from the hotel Palladio take the seaside road 4 Novembre and proceed straight on for 12km direction Messina following the coastal state road SS 114 till you reach the fork indicating S. Alessio.

** Sant'Alessio Siculo (about 12km)

Its cape is made out of a two peaks promontory, with a round castle on the first and a medieval fortification on the second, unfortunately they cannot be visited because, although they have been declared “National Monument”, they are up to now still private property. The building of the castle can be placed in a vast lapse of time which stretch between the X century and the end of the XIV century  AD:  the original structure likely dates back to the Arab period. A wall fence encloses the main building and two towers, one used as a watchtower and the other probably used as prison.

*** Forza d’Agrò (about 19km)

it can be reached by car following the SS. 114 up to the cape of S.Alessio and then as you reach an intersection you take the road on your left. In Summer there are bus links from Taormina. 

Above the Cape of S.Alessio, on the outermost hem of the Northwest  rim of Mount Tauro, Forza D’Agrò is at 420mt. of altitude: you will get there riding across a road full of bends, which dominates the valley. Before you reach the town you must stop at the Belvedere: the vast panorama, which ranges from the Strait of Messina to the coasts of Catania, will fill your soul and leave you breathless. Once at the town do not be scared by the new buildings which surround it, the heart of the place has kept its ancient charm intact; climb up along the alleys, wander inside the deserted houses and visit the splendid monuments. At the beginning of the town you will find another belvedere with the Church of S. Francesco of the XVI century and then the *** Church of the SS.Trinity of the 1576 situated up a flight of steps overcome by an Arch  durazesco (segmental round arch with a double archway). The church is in a pretty little square with palms, with a wonderful view and a cloister annexed, below is the Cathedral with a Baroque façade. A must to visit is the Norman Castle of the XII century that, according to tradition, was built under the wish of  the Great Earl Ruggero. It is situated on the highest and most impervious site of the Valley, at the end of  long and steep stairs made of stone. From 1876 the area of the Castle has been used as a cemetery.

*** Savoca (about 22km)

Proceeding on the SS 114 to S.Teresa di Riva, you reach a crossroad where you can read the indication to Savoca SP19

Also here you will proceed along a bended road in order to reach the town that has been used as a background for many scenes of the movie The Godfather, in which F.F.Coppola wanted to portray images of a Sicily still frozen in the past:  apparently everything stayed same as then. Savoca was an important religious centre, as testified by its suggestive centre with nich small palaces and interesting portals and the presence of numerous Churches: the Church of St. Nicolò

scenically situated in the valley created between two hill tops where you can enjoy a wide panorama of the coast, Cathedral with a bell tower of the ‘400 and a beautiful portal with a rosette of the ‘500 and the Church of the Convent of the Cappuccini, were many canvas from the ‘500 and ‘600 are kept. If you have a liking for macabre or an historical interest for the ways the Sicilian aristocracy tried to rival death, go down to the crypt of the Church of the cappuccini: you will find, smartly dressed and embalmed, according to the old tradition of burial, the bodies of 17 notables of the town. In order to revive yourselves go to the small square at the beginning of the town and have a good and fresh lemon granita (water-ice) under a pergola in the famous bar Vitelli, which has remained unchanged from the fifties and that keeps the pictures of the cast of The Godfather and the scenes of the Sicilian marriage of Michael Corleone, which Coppola filmed here.

** Casalvecchio Siculo (about 26km)

Once you leave Savoca you proceed along the SP19 towards the inland

Founded in the Byzantine age by monks from Syria and Egypt, it possess an interesting architectonic heritage, but it is out of town that you’ll find  a masterpiece of Architecture which is a must to see and that will largely reward you for the distance you walked to reach it: it is the ****Templum of the Saints Pietro and Paolo of Agrò dating back to about the 560 AD. It was made by the friars of S.Basilio, it was destroyed and sacked during the Arab domination and then rebuilt, in 1172, in the Norman age by Arab maestri, keeping in part the original structure. It represents a rare and a very original synthesis of  Byzantine, Arab and Norman elements. The Basiliana Church, once part of a big and rich Monastic complex which dominated the valley, now stands up lone in a glade in the Contura quarter in the river shore of Agrò you may reach it from Casalvecchio or from the coast following the sign-posting from the intersection of Santa Teresa di Riva. The beauty and the genius of its building have endured neglect and earthquakes. The exterior has got a strong pictorial effect given by the alternating bands of brick, sandstone, limestone and volcanic rock, the interior is bare (result of the plunder which deprived it of the Byzantine treasures and frescoes) but this makes more striking and suggestive its precious architecture, characterized by cloves domes and ogival arches. The inscription in ancient greek on the lintel of the main door tells us the name of the architect Gherardo il Franco, the only one of the "head master" of the Sicilian-Norman age, whose name comes out from anonymity.


You’ll discover the inland of Sicily, following the paths of the river between extraordinary natural scenery, medieval towns, castles and fortresses.

The towering basalt walls of the Alcantara gorges, adventure trails in the beautiful natural  water slide of the river or quiet walks among waterfalls and ponds in the opulent Mediterranean vegetation of the park, a medieval town and the castles that dominate the valley giving spectacular views of Mount Etna.

from the Hotel Palladio, take the Corso Umberto and proceed straight on towards Catania for about 3km till you reach the junction to the right to Calatabiano, after taking the turn follow the signs towards the castle

*** The Castle of Calatabiano (about 5km)

The Arab-Norman Castle (IX century) sits on top of the hill overlooking the valley and can be reached by a panoramic inclined elevator, which allows a splendid view of Taormina, of the bay of Giardini Naxos and of Mount Etna. The recent restoration work has brought to light a monumental archaeological site: the remains of a greek-roman installation, a Byzantine Kastron with its inexpugnable stronghold, the medieval castle with its halls, the court and a lovely chapel. The first reliable documentation on the castle of Calatabiano can be found in a map of Sicily where the Arab traveller and geographer Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Idris (1099-1164) represented the Island and its system of fortifications. Here the massive Etna appears on the left side and is lapped by the two rivers Simeto and Alcantara. Just along the banks of the river Al-Kantar (the bridge) are represented two mirror fortresses: Tauromenion and the Kalaat-al Bian (Fortress of Bian). Walking along by the castle you can enjoy an incomparable view of all the Valley of Alcantara.

From Calatabiano to reach directly the Alcantara Gorges you might continue towards Gaggi from where you take the state road 185 that leads up to the gorges, or for a more scenic route, you can go back on the SS 114 direction Messina and continue for 1km to the  junction to the highway. Here take the SS 185 towards Francavilla di Sicilia and follow it for about 12km till you find the entrance of the Alcantara Gorges, which is on the road; from the entrance you down to the gorges through the stairs or the lift

*** Alcantara Gorges (about 14km)

It is one of the most extraordinary natural phenomenon of the entire island: a terrific and wild gorge, born from a lava flow, over twenty metres deep and run through by the limpid waters of the River Alcantara, which flow, creating waterfalls and small lakes, between two magnificent walls of basaltic prisms that are vertical, fan-shaped or bizarrely bent according to how the lava cooled. It is possible to climb up some length of the riverside (about 150 metres) (river boots, etc. can be rented in loco) to see the gorges from within for a short trait. If you want to see the Alcantara gorges in all their beauty, at the hotel you can book a thrilling ascent of the river with experienced guides who also provide all the equipment to be able to cross the gorges from within, using them as a giant natural waterslide.

* Francavilla di Sicilia (about 18km) proceeding from Alcantara Gorges along the SS185

Francavilla di Sicilia hosts a beautiful Cloister of the Franciscan monks of the 1570. The convent has kept its original shape with the windows of the cells shaped like the “mouth of an oven”, with brownstone jambs, and it houses the works of  woodworking and carvings and popular painting.

** “Le Gurnetrail (about 20km)

from Francavilla take the road SP7-1 to Castiglione and turn at the third side street on the left, following the directions “Sentiero Le Gurne” of the 'Ente Parco Fluviale dell'Alcantara).

Past Francavilla, for those who love the naturalistic itineraries, it could be interesting going for an excursion at the wonderful Fluvial Park of Alcantara, to discover the Gurne, little lakes formed along the river. You may reach them following an easy path, along a rich and luxuriant  Mediterranean brushwood, bordering the Alcantara shores. The river in this part is very clear and you can see a rare water plant that can only grow in cold and very clean water: the “Ranuncolo a Pennello”, a plant which in Italy is quite rare and is more common in Central Europe. Following the various branches of the path, you can also reach the Centrale Idroelettrica, where a tall iron bridge links the two riversides and offers a very beautiful perspective to watch the waterfalls below. The path is about 3km overall (both ways trip), and it doesn’t require particular skills, however it is certainly advisable to wear comfortable clothes and suitable shoes. 

*** Castiglione di Sicilia (about 25km)

Proceed for 6km along the SP7-1 

Enchanting town perched like a nativity scene on a rocky buttress (621 meters above sea level) dominating the valley. The history of the town is partly the history of  Sicily: founded by the refugees from Naxos in 496 b.C., the town became possession of Ippocrate, tyrant of Gela, then came the Romans, the Byzantines, the Normans and the Svabians. The town still keeps evident traces of interlaced cultures, characteristic of Sicily: the remains of a Greek acropolis, a small rustic Byzantine temple, a Saracen tower and a Norman Castle, The Castel Leone that dominates the town from the height of an incredible buttress of  tufaceous rock where it stands and which is part of the building (today there are only the ruins left). The position held by the manor has been a sighting point since the old times and you may enjoy a very beautiful view over the Etna and the town. The charm of the town derives also from the Medieval memories which have been able to survive the earthquake of the 1693: you may still admire the medieval city establishment, made of narrow alleys that lead to the main square, Piazza Lauria, and the remains of a majestic Bridge that crosses the River Alcantara. Of a high architectural interest are the Main Church of the XVII century which has inside the original apse of the ancient Norman Church, the Church of Santa Domenica in typical Bizantyne style and the Church of S. Antonio Abbot with a splendid dome.


From a high cliff you descend towards the picturesque coastline with the ”faraglioni” (cliffs), originated by submarine eruptions, leading to a Norman fortress black with lava rock and to the harbour for fishermen.

The fishermen villages where geology, myth and literature intersect: here begins the volcanic activity before the formation of Mount Etna and these are the sites of the “Odyssey” and “I Malavoglia. Crystal clear sea, the colourful boats of the fishermen, the cliff with the suggestive castle and its pitfalls.

starting from Palladio hotel, take the Corso Umberto and go straight on for 1km till you take the highway A18 direction Catania, then exit in Acireale

** Acireale (about 28 km.)

Built on a huge cliff right over the sea, Acireale is the biggest among the towns on the East side of Etna. The original heart of the town is represented by Piazza Duomo, baroque in style, finished in the first half of the ‘600. After the earthquake of the 1693 the city is rebuilt under the directives of the Duke of Camastra and the painter Vasta. At the South entrance of the city there’s the spa of S.Venera that takes its origin from the thermae Xiphonie, maybe of Greek origin, potentiated by the Romans. Among the most interesting monuments we recall the Duomo, dedicated to the Annunziata and S.Venera which dates back to the years 1597-1618, restored in the ‘700; the church of the ‘700 of the SS. Pietro and Paolo; the  Palazzo Comunale baroque style; the church of S.Sebastiano characterised by a magnificent baroque facade; the Library and the Pinacoteca Zelantea, dated 1671.

towards  the Riviera of the Cyclops by car or walking down the long staircase that in the Timpa descends from Acireale as far as Santa Maria la Scala

** La Timpa (about km29) In parallel with the coast for a trait, then entering among the woods of citrus of the countryside of Acireale, runs, rising progressively, a suggestive rocky cliff: the Timpa, which is covered with a rich Mediterrean  brushwood and constitutes a unity of great geo-volcanologic importance, because there are represented volcanic events from the earliest to the more recent, that contribute to trace a history of Etna. The huge basalt and the various geologic structures of different architectural shapes create a wonderful natural landscape. Above it there is Acireale; on the coast, attached, there are the Fractions of Santa Maria La Scala and Capo Mulini. To see the Timpa well you can walk down the stairs that from within goes down from Acireale to Santa Maria la Scala

* Santa Maria La Scala (about 33 km.)

After Acireale proceed towards the Riviera and take the SP2 to Riposto where there is the crossroad to Santa Maria la Scala

Huddled beneath the majestic wall of Timpa, Santa Maria la Scala is a nice pretty town with a small port and church. A must to visit to see a fishing village still barely touched by tourism.

*** Aci Trezza (about 40 km.)

Proceed along the SS 114 direction Catania

It’s a picturesque fishermen town situated opposite the Faraglioni dei Ciclopi, islands of black prismatic basalt that enclose a sliver of sea of extraordinary beauty. These very peculiar formations, of which there are few other examples around the world in Iceland and New Zealand, have their origin in an impetuous underwater eruption of basaltic lava. The “Faraglioni dei Ciclopi” take their name from the Odyssey: they are the rocks which were thrown in vain by the Cyclop Polifemo against Ulisse already speeding away on the sea. From the small pier of the harbour leave the boats of the fishermen who accompany tourists and bathers to Lachea Island, home to a biological station of the University of Catania, or to the “Madonnina” (they are two of the Faraglioni). This stretch of water is a paradise for divers: there are holes where the octopus hides, walls covered with sea urchins and also with a few “occhio di bue” (rare variety of Abalone). The small harbour, with its multicoloured boats on the shore (here the fishing boats are still built by hand in a construction site near the waterfront) has to be visited also to remember PadronNtoni and the other Malavoglia characters (there is also a small museum in the “Casa del Nespolo”) and “La terra trema” that Luchino Visconti shot here, using in the cast the local fishermen, faithful to the setting of the novel by Verga which inspired the movie.

Dopo la mezzanotte il vento s'era messo a fare il diavolo, come se sul tetto ci fossero tutti i gatti del paese, e a scuotere le imposte. Il mare si udiva muggire attorno ai faraglioni che pareva ci fossero riuniti i buoi della fiera di Sant'Alfio ed il giorno era apparso nero   peggio dell'anima di Giuda(...) Le barche del villaggio erano tirate sulla spiaggia, e bene ammarrate alle grosse pietre sotto il lavatoio(…) Sulla riva c'era soltanto padron 'Ntoni, per quel carico di lupini che ci aveva in mare colla Provvidenza e suo figlio Bastianazzo per giunta (I Malavoglia, capitolo III)

After midnight the wind started to vblow like the devil, as if on the roof had gathered all the cats in the town, and to shake the fixtures. The sea could be heard bellowing around the stacks so  that it looked like there were the oxen from the Fair of Saint Alfio and the day appeared black worse than the soul of Judas (...) The boats of the village were drawn on the beach, and well bound to the large stones under the sink (...) On the shore there was only master 'Ntoni, for that load of “lupini” that he had at sea with the Providence and even his son Bastianazzo (I Malavoglia, Chapter III)

**** Aci Castello (about 42 km.)

Proceed along the SS 114 direction Catania

Following this shoreline (also called Riviera of the Lemons) al of a sudden you will find yourself in front of a really suggestive sight: the castle  made of black lava stone, secured over a rocky spur over the sea (the castle inspired a novel by Verga). The high cliff of submarine lava on which it stands is geologically important because it testifies the first phase of volcanic activity of the whole area of Etna, prior to the appearance of Mount Etna. The castle with its towers and traps, can be visited, entrance is free (opening hours: Summer 9am /1pm, 5pm/7.30pm, Winter 9pm/1pm, 3pm/5.30pm) and inside it houses the Civic Museum, with collections mineralogical, volcanologic, paleontological and with archaeological remains from the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods. The place is fortified since the time of the Romans, when there was the Rocca Saturnia, the manor was built in the eleventh century by Count Ruggero d'Altavilla, a Norman captain in the conquest of Sicily, when the cliff was an island thirty meters from the coast. Then, in 1169, a powerful lava flow from Etna came down to the sea and linked the rock to the mainland. Gone the drawbridge, the castle was the subject of conquest and plunder, the fortress was rebuilt by King Tancredi in 1189 and was later in 1787, under the Borboni used as a prison.

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