As you drive away from the Taormina area towards the Nebrodi mountains, you get the sense of entering a completely different country.
Yet the Nebrodi and the mountains nearby are still Sicily. Beyond Randazzo the scenery turns into a typical Alpine landscape. Forests, lakes, small mountain villages, cows grazing freely by the roadsides. Suddenly you see them. These enormous mysterious megaliths: the Agrimusco, Sicily’s yet unknown most important Neolithic site.
The Argimusco are a series of enormous megaliths, spread over a very large area, at a very high level above the wonderful borgo of Montalbano Elicona, recognised as one of the most beautiful borghi of Italy.
Montalbano Elicona deserves a visit on its own. The old area is very intact, hugging an enormous castle of Federico II. Here one gets the real feel of living in the medieval period were it not for the cars that try to manoeuvre among the narrow roads.
The castle is worth a visit. Partly in restoration, it is open every day. One can admire the enormous halls of a castle that was meant to be a living space for a family that loved the good, healthy air of the mountains.
The exhibition area, mainly showing arms and clothes, is very important. Walking among the alleys or staying in one of the growing number of B&Bs is a real pleasure. The Arab area, with its very small houses, is still intact. All around you can enjoy pristine mountain landscapes. There is a real feeling of peace in the old town. The main church is a splendour, with important works of art, a haven of quiet unless the priest is playing its wonderful organ.
No one knows anything about the origins of these mighty megaliths
This is an area of good, genuine mountain food. The cheeses are beyond excellent. The baked ricotta is unique. The meats are local and the pasta with pork sausage sauce is a feast to itself.
Montalbano may be small, with a population of less than 2,500, but it still hosts various activities throughout the year, the most interesting of which is called Spirituality and which exploits this feeling in the old town itself but most importantly in the Argimusco.
No one knows anything about the origins of these mighty megaliths, some even 25 metres high. Are they natural? Are they man-made? Why did they sculpture enormous reproductions of the male and female sexual organs? Is that really the reproduction of a praying female? How could the eagle be so perfect if it is natural? Is there really more to these megaliths than meets the eye? But if they are not natural, who sculptured them and when? It is now ascertained that they are Neolithic but very little else is certain.
Their position between Mount Etna and the Nebrodi is in itself exceptional. So many questions that can be asked. What is certain is that walking among them gives one the feeling of being somewhere special. Many religious groups come here. Buddists feel a special spirituality. Franco Battiato, the Italian musician, finds inspiration here.
The Argimusco and Montalbano Elicona may be off the normal tourist track but they are certainly worth a visit. Lovers of nature need to stop here and feel the special air. This is not coastline, so it can be quite fresh. The people genuinely welcome you. They know they live in a special place, and want to share this beautiful landscape with you.
Dr Ray Bondin, a Unesco World Heritage expert, is preparing the dossier for the nomination of the site to the World Heritage List.