Huge knots of seaweed hung upon the jagged and pointed stones, trembling in every breath of wind; and the green ivy clung mournfully round the dark and ruined battlements. Behind it rose the ancient castle, its towers roofless, and its massive walls crumbling away, but telling us proudly of its own might and strength, as when, seven hundred years ago, it rang with the clash of arms, or resounded with the noise of feasting and revelry.Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens describes a castle in ruins, but imagines it in its prime. That is how I felt when we arrived at the Limatola Castle, about a 45 minute drive north of Naples. The stones of the castle are now discolored and covered in moss, but it was still easy to imagine what it would have looked like during the medieval period as it towered over the surrounding town. I can see why it has become a popular backdrop for weddings, a destination for travelers to stay (I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend the night in a castle?!), and the venue for the incredible Limatola Christmas Market.
Adam and I had always talked about visiting a European Christmas market, and we couldn’t resist a trip to Limatola in the first week of December.Some tips for visiting the market, held annually in November and December: Make sure you get there early because there can be a long line to get in and parking is limited. Be sure to plan your exit as well. As it got darker, the streets surrounding the castle were packed with people and cars trying to get in and out.
At the Christmas market you can find stands that are selling locally made jewelry, Christmas decorations, meats, cheeses, wine, and so much more! Adam and I tried some local cured meats and cheeses, so we can say with confidence that it is very tasty. Adam was also very excited to see Kürtőskalács (traditional Hungarian chimney cake). This dessert consists of a cylinder of dough covered with sugar and cinnamon, which is roasted over a spit and served steaming like a chimney. You can’t really go wrong with that! Inside the castle there were musicians and jugglers, completing the illusion that we had traveled back to medieval times.
The Christmas market followed a set route throughout the castle, leading through the battlements and watchtowers, a beautiful chapel, several open-air courtyards and gardens, and the enclosed high courtyard at the heart of the castle. As we made our way around the castle, we were treated to some beautiful views overlooking the little town of Limatola and the mountains surrounding it. The interior rooms of the castle were amazing with high ceilings and some beautiful frescos. In the high courtyard, we found more local vendors and artwork. One thing we saw at the castle and also being sold in Naples are statues and figurines of Pulcinella. The masked clown Pulcinella has been featured in puppetry and theater throughout Italy since the 17th century (and is the inspiration for the British Punch and Judy puppet shows, Punch being an English version of Pulcinella). He is a beloved figure in Naples and is often seen as an unofficial mascot for the south of Italy.
The Christmas market featured many food and wine stalls (including some delicious-looking fried seafood and, of course, pizza), but we decided to stop for a late lunch at the castle’s restaurant, Le Scuderie del Castello Ristoranti. The restaurant is located in the beautifully renovated stables of the castle (“le scuderie” means “the stables” in Italian). We didn’t have a reservation in advance and the market was very busy, so we had to wait for a table. However, the food was great and it looked like a work of art! During the market, the restaurant offered two fixed price meal options: the menu di mare or the menu di terra. We decided to go with the menu di mare because we wanted to try the seafood. The meal followed the traditional Italian structure: aperitivo, antipasto, primo, secondo, and dolce (dessert). To top it off, the restaurant also gave us their house wine for free with our meal (we tried the Castello Di Limatola bianco)! The wine was very good and we have not been able to find it anywhere else, so be sure to try it if you visit.
After our long five-course meal, we were lucky and got to watch the sunset from the walls of the castle. If you get the chance to visit the Christmas market, be sure to stay for the sunset and enjoy the beautiful colors in the sky. And even if you miss it, soon after you’ll see a spectacular site as the Christmas lights on the vendors’ tables and all along the castle blaze to life! At the end of our day, we exited the castle along a long sloping causeway leading down the hill to the town of Limatola below.
Some additional tips for visiting the market: the exit of the castle is not in the same location as the entrance, so be sure you know where you parked. Also when we visited, many people came to the castle late to see the lights, and the roads surrounding the entrance were packed. The roads leading back to Naples were not very well lit, so you may want to leave ahead of the crowds.
We enjoyed every moment at the Limatola Castle Christmas Market. We loved this unique opportunity to see a new town, explore a medieval castle, and experience a great European tradition. We hope that you will visit and get into the holiday spirit!