Photo Essay: The Charming Town of Castelbuono in Sicily

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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.

A photo essay of Castelbuono a typical small town in Sicily

The Castle

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.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
The imposing Castle that no one got to see the inside of.

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.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
The town is nestled in the mountains.

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.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
The 15th century church is built on the ruins of a pagan temple.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
An elderly priest is lead into the Matrice Vecchia.
The Sicilian town of Castelbuono
One of the beautiful frescoes in the crypt.

Shopping & Culture

Castelbuono in Sicily is known for the production of manna which is a tree resin that is used as a sweetener.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono
A bonsai version of the Manna tree.

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.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
Putia is an art gallery whose owner told us she has the only gallery for miles around.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
One of the many ceramic stores in town.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
The restaurants are small and make use of whatever outside space they can.

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.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono
Panettone wrapped and ready to go.

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).

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono
The town square in front of the Matrice Vecchia

My husband got the kids some playing cards and they were happily amused.

The Sicilian town of Castelbuono
Little Miss Cardshark

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.

A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
The anti-social man at the Men’s Club.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
We saw this lady talking to her neighbour across the street from their terraces.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
A fountain in the centre of town.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
Two men shooting the breeze on a bench in town.
A photo essay of tiny Castelbueno in Sicily
One of the many religious shrines that you find in random corners in Sicilian towns.

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.

food from palazzoveccio in Castelbuono in Sicily
Clockwise from top: a selection of starters, pasta, horse meat with cheese and pork loin

A photo essay of Castelbuono a typical small town in Sicily

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!


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27 thoughts on “Photo Essay: The Charming Town of Castelbuono in Sicily”

  1. I love these little Italian towns and while I am sure the castle would have been worth it, I must say I sometimes prefer to just wander and take in the atmosphere. So funny that it was closed- opening hours are so random in Italy, you’ve got to love it!

    1. The flexible time keeping is part of the country’s charm. We went to a cooking class that was supposed to be lunch but took close to 6 hours (!). Sitting around eating and drinking and talking afterwards no one noticed the time. Other places you would’ve had some seriously grumpy cooking school staff.

  2. What a cool, mellow town to go experience! Despite the holiday it still looks like a wonderfully genuine time. We too faced odd closures and being forced to relax in Italy. I think it’s traveler’s rite of passage.

    1. I think everyone should learn enforced relaxation! We are all so ‘on’ nowadays it’s hard to just chill and do nothing.

  3. What a charming place, time really seems to have stopped here. I was reminded of the scenes from the movie Godfather, while looking at the pictures. Nice post.

  4. What a wonderful way to capture the feel for the town….just soaking it all in. I love how you got to witness the different personalities, along with the food. What an adventure!

  5. I can’t say I totally shocked that they closed the Castle without telling anyone. Sicilians like to operate that way lol. Thankfully the town itself looks interesting. We’ve been to Cefalu and although I’ve read about Castelbuono I’ve not been. It was interesting to see the streets of the town.

    1. It was the afternoon before a national holiday. They probably just wanted to start it early. We were relatively nearby but the organised tour people would have come from Palermowhich would have been a 2+ hour drive.

  6. It is a pity that you missed the castle. Am sure it would have been amazing. However, I have to say that your trip without it too, is amazing!

    1. Thanks! Yes that is one of the best preserved castles in Sicily and the interior was supposed to be really lavish.

  7. Oh no! I think I have fallen in love with this town. You have captured so many nice, daily scenes. It is funny that residents were taking a siesta when you visited. I have heard about this happenings in towns located in Puglia and Basilicata.

    1. I’ve been to Northern Italy so many times and they don’t have that tradition. Little Sicilian towns most definitely insist on a long afternoon break. I’d love to go to Puglia and that whole bottom boot area but yes you are right I’ll need to remember the afternoon off tradition.

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