A fresh day trip in Castelbuono

Eleonora Ruzzenenti | Live the World

November 23, 2022

A few years ago during an holiday in the amazing medieval town of Cefalu'**, just east of Palermo, we decided to take a break from the sun, blue water and beaches and enjoy a change of scenery taking a day trip from the coast to the rugged Madonie mountain countryside. We experienced the rural lifestyle exploring the artistic and natural treasures of an authentic sicilian village, the tiny and beautiful Castelbuono** and its

Castelbuono is a small medieval village set in the Park of Madonie, in a wood landscape of oaks, chestnut trees, ashes and cherry-trees. Wandering around the city centre means to breathe the air of an ancient past, best represented by the Castello Ventimiglia commissioned by Ventimiglia aristocratic family in the 14th century, set closed to a Byzantine hamlet called Ypsigro. Walking through its narrow streets, is like entering another dimension, it’s like seeing a parade of knights and beautiful ladies wearing rustling brocade clothes and complicated hairstyles.

We started our journey from the beautiful church Matrice Vecchia. Built in the fourteenth century on the ruins of a pagan temple, the church has a Renaissance portico, a splendid Baroque portal, and an octagonal spire covered with majoilica tiles. The interior of the church was enlarged at the end of the 15th century and contains some interesting works, most notably a polyptych above the main altar depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, in which a saint is depicted wearing spectacles- some fine statues, frescoes and painted columns. The church Matrice Nuova, or rather the Church della Natività di Maria, was built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Inside it has a Latin cross structure interspersed with twelve stone columns covered in stucco, four of which, positioned on the two altars of the transept, can be attributed to the Serpotta (a famous Italian sculptor). Another small wonder is the Church of San Francesco, dating back to the 4th century, with the annexed Ventimiglias Mausoleum, a late medieval, octagonal building which can be accessed from the church through a Renaissance, marble portal in lauranesco style and which houses the tombs of the Ventimiglias, lords of Castelbuono. Along the nave of the church towards the exit, in the choir, you can admire one of the three oldest pipe organs of Italy, dated 1547, which still keeps all the original mechanical components: hearing its sound is like taking a leap into the past. Numerous other churches of fine artistic value, at least 20, are distributed in the territory of Castelbuono. The symbol of the village is the Castello Ventimiglia made in the 17th century for reasons of accommodation, when a number of Ventimiglia families moved here from Palermo - the castle never served any really strategic purpose, owing to its geographic position down valley. The construction presents Arab-Norman and Swabian features: the cube shape recalls Arabic architecture; the square towers, although incorporated into those of the façade, reflect Norman architectural style, as also the battlements; and the round tower recalls aspects of Swabian architecture. Today the Castle is the seat of the Museo Civico di Castelbuono with its several sections: Archeology, Urbanism, Sacred, Modern and Contemporary Art. Its rich program of exhibitions and cultural activities makes it a dynamic landmark for research, meetings and experimentations Along the main street, the Fontana della Venere Ciprea (rebuilt in 1614) with Andromeda above, Venus and Cupid in the central niche and four bas-reliefs with mythological scenes related to the theme of love.

Castelbuono is also known for its manna, a whitish stalactite composed by a vaguely sweet liquid, coming out from the ashes of Castelbuono and the nearby Pollina and clotting under the heat of the sun: the sap of these trees comes out from the incisions made on stems and branches and, once dried under the hot summer sun, it is collected and used as a sweetener, laxative, depurative and even for cosmetical and medicinal purposes. The manna, in fact, has important features and can be used to treat various diseases. A recently born consortium of young producers is working to revive the culture of the manna. Also very delicious are the panettone, the typical christmas cake, and the Easter Dove cakes flavoured with manna, now exported throughout the world. Castelbuono comes alive especially in the summer, in July, during the feast of St. Anne. With the Key handing over ceremony, the court of Ventimiglia resumes to parade through the streets of the city, especially in August, when, on the occasion of the ‘Ypsigrock Festival, the city is filled with young people and new sounds.

Nangalarruni Restaurant: I think this restaurant is the soul of the italian food, a perfect example of Italian restaurant! Lovely place and lovely food! The restaurant is located in a tiny street where you can sit outside in a cozy atmosphere. We have been welcomed warmly and could experience the Sicilian hospitality throughout the whole evening. The food was simply amazing! They make homemade pasta, fresh and juicy mushroom dishes, high-quality meats, incredible cheeses and much more. Apart from that, they have an extensive wine list. The Etna wine is highly recommended.

Pasticceria Fiasconaro Home of the local speciality, mannetto (manna cake), this much-loved pasticceria on the main street leading to the castle is also packed with treats such as homemade gelato, buttery cornetti (croissants), decadently sweet cassata siciliana (sponge cake with cream, marzipan, chocolate and candied fruit) and the unusual testa di Turco (Turk's head; blancmange with puff pastry in the middle) and one of the best panettone inthe whole world.

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