If you are in Sicily for a trip of one or more days, come with me to discover this small town in the province of Catania and its surroundings!
Located at the foot of Mount Etna, within an area that falls within both the Etna Park and the Nebrodi Park, Bronte is an unmissable stop on your trip around Sicily! With a population of just over 18,000 inhabitants, Bronte is world-famous not only for its landscapes and monuments, but also and above all for the product that represents its identity.
I am talking about the Pistacchio di Bronte PDO, the symbol of the city. Bronte rises between 300 and 900 metres above sea level and what makes it unique is its soil. Throughout the Bronte area and its surroundings, in fact, you can find expanses of lava soil that, thanks to its rich mineral salts, allow the pistachio to find its full expression!
The Bronte Pistachio, a PDO and Slow Food Presidium product, has unique and inimitable characteristics thanks to the soil on which it grows. It is also thanks to the climate, with annual temperatures ranging from 6° C to 29° C, that a very high quality product is obtained. Bronte is therefore an unmissable destination for pistachio lovers!
Surrounded by wooded landscapes, river areas, lakes and waterfalls, Bronte is also a town particularly suited to nature lovers. The slopes of Mount Etna are a stone’s throw from the historical centre, while the less daring can visit the surrounding lava hills. The city is connected to the mountains by paths and roads, which will make your trekking walks particularly comfortable!
If you prefer to surround yourself with culture and history, art or city folklore, Bronte is ready to not disappoint you either! Rich in amazing places to visit and learn about, the city near Catania is an ideal place for a walk to discover the monuments and churches.
If you too are one of those people who, increasingly attracted by the beauty and uniqueness of places like Bronte, have decided to spend some time here, come with me to discover all its secrets!
What to see in Bronte?
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The historic centre of Bronte, characterised by a strong Arab influence, is made up of narrow streets, widenings and stairways. The Arab domination in Sicily, which began with the landing at Mazara in the year 827 and ended in 1091 with the fall of Noto, has left an indelible mark that can easily be seen in the urban structure of the oldest parts of the city. It is here that some of Bronte’s most important historical monuments stand.
1. Bronte’s alleyways and the “Catoio”
The alleys of Bronte cannot fail to fascinate you with their unique and picturesque style, enriched by various cultural assets, including the Catoio. In dialect “U Catoiu”, it is located in Via Madonna di Loreto. It is a subway from the Arab era. It was used by the people of Bronte during raids by bandits to gather and protect themselves inside the houses in the courtyard to which it leads.
When you visit this historical site, you can admire a votive sculpture on the wall dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, named after the street where it is located. Other walls, on the other hand, have been decorated during more recent times by some local artists with representations of some moments in the life of the island, including the revolutionary uprisings of 1860. The Catoio, being within the historical centre of the city, can only be reached on foot.
2. Real Collegio Capizzi and its library
Just a few steps from the previous stop, you will find this famous building, which was founded in 1778 thanks to the perseverance and passion of its founder. Eustachio Ignazio Capizzi was the priest who strongly desired and built this complex of schools and colleges to cope with the need for young boys to move away from their city to pursue their studies. “To God the glory, to my neighbour the advantage, to me the sacrifice,” he used to say. The reference to what he had to do years earlier is very clear.
The school, a symbol of the history and socio-cultural identity of 18th-century Bronte, came into being as a result of the growing cultural diffusion that those years represented for Sicily. The library of the complex gathered in one place almost all the literary works of the time. It was systematically and frequently updated to ensure that Bronte never lacked a strong cultural identity. Located in Piazza Spedalieri, the institute reopened its doors to the public after almost half a century.
3. Church of the Sacred Heart
Built between the first and second decade of the 1900s, it is attached to the Real Collegio Capizzi. Its purpose is to separate the old and artistic part of the Collegio from the more modern and early 20th-century part. The church can also be reached by car from Via Umberto, with the possibility of parking along the course. Admission is free.
4. Mother Church of the Holy Trinity
The building was created between 1505 and 1579 through the fusion of two different constructions, the Church of Santa Maria and the Church of the Trinity. The union of these two churches gave rise to the largest religious building in Bronte. Much appreciated by visitors, it has been enriched, embellished and embellished over the centuries thanks to donations made by patrons, shepherds, farmers and citizens of the area.
5. Sanctuary of the Annunziata
Located in Piazza Antonio Gagini and with free admission, it was built throughout the 16th century. Inside you can admire the statue of the Madonna Annunziata, a work by master sculptor Antonio Gagini. According to popular myths, it protects the people of Bronte from the eruptions of Mount Etna. One legend tells how the statue, initially turned with its back to the volcano, changed position by turning its face towards it even though the faithful repositioned it in vain in its place. It was assumed that this continuous turning towards the volcano indicated to the citizens that they were safe from the eruptions of “Mungibeddu”. That is what the Sicilians call Mount Etna!
Next to the statue I have just told you about, you can find another one, that of an angel with a destroyed wing. A curiosity: its wing was destroyed by Gagini himself. He had commissioned this sculpture from one of his pupils. This pupil created a statue so beautiful and expressive that it caused the envy of the master, who damaged it irreparably in a fit of jealousy.
6. Nelson’s Castle – Church of St. Mary of Maniace
On the border between the territories of Bronte and those of nearby Maniace, in the so-called “Ducea di Nelson“, you can visit the Abbey of Santa Maria di Maniace, improperly called Nelson’s Castle. Very little remains of the original 12th century structure. Numerous renovations were carried out by Nelson’s descendants to adapt it to their living purposes, before it was ceded to the municipality of Bronte. These, in fact, lived here on their summer holidays from 1836 until 1981. Located 13 km from the centre of Bronte, this is one of the many Sicilian estates given to Nelson by King Ferdinand of Bourbon for crushing the Neapolitan revolution in 1799.
7. Torremuzza Castle
In the Bolo Valley between Bronte and Troina, you can admire the picturesque Torremuzza Castle dating back to the 6th-7th centuries. The name comes from the castle tower, which was cut in two by lightning. It stands on a spur of limestone rock that falls sheer to the bend of a river. Therefore only accessible from one of the four sides, the castle is naturally protected.
The hamlet that formed over the centuries around the castle, as per the wishes of Emperor Charles V, was united with others in the area in 1535, giving rise to the city of Bronte. The castle can be visited with an hour and a half walk, if you leave your car along the SP165 (from Bronte) or along the SS120 (from Randazzo). With a jeep, however, you can get close enough to it that you only have to walk a few hundred metres to reach it.
8. Museum of the Sicilian Cart
What better homage to Sicily could there be than a visit to a museum of Sicilian carts? The Bronte Museum of the Sicilian Cart, which can be visited free of charge but only by advance booking, about a five-minute drive from the city centre, contains over 300 pieces of history. Identity symbols of the island, Sicilian carts are traditional means of transport used throughout the territory until the 19th century. The Sicilian cart is characterised by the many carvings in the wood and the many brightly coloured decorations that make it unique. You can’t help but fall in love with it!
What to do in and around Bronte?
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Bronte and its surroundings have much to offer visitors. There are many activities you can do here, starting with a visit to the neighbouring Etnean villages such as Paternò, Nicolosi, Randazzo, Biancavilla, Maletto, Andrano and many others.
You can try your hand at photography thanks to the splendid landscapes that the Bronte area offer, or you can simply dedicate yourself to the total relaxation offered by the agritourisms with swimming pool in the surroundings. Not enough for you? You’re in luck because it doesn’t end here! In addition to its culture, Bronte is mainly characterised by its renowned local food and wine, the sports in contact with nature it offers, and its close ties with literature.
1. Local Food & Wine
The undisputed star is the Pistacchio di Bronte PDO! In fact, Bronte pistachio is characterised by a quality mark that guarantees its origin, typicality and close link with the territory at every stage of its life… From the land to the table.
This pistachio is also a Slow Food Presidium product. This is a community of people who, linked to the Slow Food Foundation, work to hand down the production techniques and farming/cultivation methods of certain products. The aim is to preserve and protect them. A kind of WWF of food!
Bronte Pistachio is similar in size to an olive and has a ruby red outer skin. It is harvested every two years. The colour is emerald green, while the aroma and flavour are distinctive, distinctly aromatic and tending to sweet. The Pistacchio di Bronte PDO comes from the perfect mix of ideal climate and lava soil. The 2600 hectares of land used for its cultivation provide a unique growing environment! Production exceeds 30 thousand quintals every two years for a total value of 15 million euro.
The exceptional types of olive oil, that benefit from the lava soil on which Bronte stands, are also highly sought after. Speaking of wines, a typical local wine is Nerello dell’Etna. As with Bronte pistachios and olive oil, it has unique characteristics due to the uniqueness of the soil on which the nerello mascalese vines grow and from which it is produced. However, the city of Bronte is also famous for its prickly pears and local fish. At this point, I cannot help but wish you bon appetit…
2. Sport and Nature
If you love sports in the midst of nature, you can go trekking on the slopes of Mount Etna to the Piano dei Grilli Refuge, or you may choose to hike at the Forre del Simeto or the Bosco dei Centorbi. On the other hand, if you are here during the winter season, you can go skiing or snowboarding!
If you love literature, you cannot fail to know how this area is closely linked to the lives of the Brönte sisters. Their surname seems to have originated here. Their father was such a great admirer of Admiral Nelson (awarded the title “Duke of Bronte”) that he decided to change his surname in his honour. Other authors made the city of Bronte the setting or subject of their stories and works. Examples are the Italian writer Giovanni Verga and the Scottish poet William Sharp.
4. Important Events
The Bronte Pistachio Festival generally takes place in autumn. It is here that you can try many typical local specialities that have Pistachio as their basic ingredient. A unique experience to taste the wonderful Pistacchio di Bronte directly in the place where it is grown. Other unmissable events are the patronal festivals. The first is the Feast of San Biagio, held in February. The Saint is also celebrated in August, but only if his feast day does not coincide with that in honour of the Madonna Annunziata.
How to get to Bronte
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You can get to Bronte in several ways. The first is by car. If you are not Sicilian or have no relatives here who can lend you one, you will have to rent one or take your own if you want to arrive on the island by boat. Possible alternatives are to use public transport such as trains (I recommend a ride on the Circumetnea) or buses. Bronte can also be reached by plane from Catania.
Now that you know what to see in Bronte, you just have to book your holidays in Sicily! 😉
Cover photo BuonoDelTesoro