When we first entered Castelbuono in the mountains above Cefalu, we thought it was the sleepiest town we had ever seen. Not a person was on the street. Most of the stores were closed. Soon we realised, we had arrived in town for siesta. Slowly around 4pm, the stores started opening and people started congregating on the streets again. This photo essay looks at life in the town of Castelbuono in Sicily which doesn’t seem to have changed much over the centuries.
We had come to Castelbuono to see its castle which is supposed to be one of the best preserved castles in Sicily. Unfortunately it was closed. The next day was a public holiday in Italy and the castle decided to close at 1pm the day before the public holiday. Why not? They hadn’t bothered to tell anyone though or even announce it on their website. We weren’t the only one surprised by the sudden closure. I felt sorry for the tour guides who were leading groups who were stuck standing gaping at the large castle.
The town itself grew up around the imposing castle which was built by a local prominent aristocratic family. They made Castelbuono the centre of their landholdings.
The Church of Matrice Vecchia
The church of Matrice Vecchio is pretty special because of its crypt. The crypt is covered in beautifully preserved frescoes from the 11th century.
Shopping & Culture
Castelbuono in Sicily is known for the production of manna which is a tree resin that is used as a sweetener.
The owner of Putia told us that it is the same manna that was mentioned in the Bible as the food eaten by the Israelites as they wandered through the desert with Moses. She wasn’t quite sure how the manna trees grew in the desert so make of that what you will.
The town is also known for its panettone from Fiasconaro which is sweetened with manna. The store started off making gelato made with snow from Mt. Etna. The family then branched into other pastries of which the panettone has received international renown. They believe in using local products and making panettone the old-fashioned way (such as, for example, leaving it to rise for 36 hours!). Of course, we tried both the panettone and the gelato and they were as excellent as their reputation.
Although this sweet little town is located in the middle of nowhere Sicily, it has its fair share of festivals to attract tourists (such as the Feast of St. Anne the local patron Saint in July, an Indie rock festival in August, a mushroom festival in October and another food festival in December).
Life on the Streets
With nothing to do for 4 hours until our dinner reservations at Palazzaccio, we hung out in the town square and engaged in some people watching over a glass of wine (or two).
My husband got the kids some playing cards and they were happily amused.
One of our favourite scenes was played out in front of the Pope Piux X Catholic Men’s Club. The man on the left refused to engage with the other members who gathered in front of the club. As the afternoon wore on, there were so many members in front of the club he had to go sit on the inside and look out the window just to be alone. We had visions of him refusing to go home to his harridan wife but not wanting to hang out with the other men either.
Dinner at Palazzaccio
We had a wonderful dinner at Palazzaccio, a family-run restaurant, located on a pedestrianised street near the Matrice Vecchio. Not only were our reservations for 7:30 pm but we arrived on time. The restaurant had to turn on the lights when we entered! We were on our own until about 9pm when the regular customers showed up for dinner! We had a variety of dishes and there were children’s meals on offer.
Getting To Castelbuono
Castelbuono is easy to reach by car from Cefalu in northern Sicily. It is at the end of a series of winding roads from the coastal motorway which can present a problem if you are prone to motion sickness. From our villa outside of Cefalu it took approximately 45 minutes to reach Castelbuono.
We were told about Castelbuono by Angelo, the local representative of Massimo Villas, where we stayed. In addition to the castle and the church, he told us about the panettone, the manna and the restaurant. I’m not sure we would have found this charming town if we hadn’t had his local knowledge!