This charming town developed in the 14th century around the castle built by the Ventimiglia noble family. This consists of a massive square building with square towers and has undergone many changes over the centuries.
At the heart of the town lies Piazza Margherita, overlooked by the Chiesa della Madrice and the old Banca di Corte, now accommodating the Museo Civico (that will move to the Castle as soon as restoration work is completed).
Madrice Vecchia – Built in the 14th century on the ruins of a pagan temple, the church has a Renaissance portico that was added in the 1500s, and a splendid central portal in the Catalan style. On the left side is a bell-tower with a fine Romanesque two-light window culminating in an octagonal spire covered with majoilica tiles. The interior of the church originally divided into three naves, was enlarged to four at the end of the 15th century. It preserves prized works, most remarkably, above the main altar, a splendid polyptych depicting The Coronation of the Virgin attributed to Pietro Ruzzolone or possibly Antonello de Saliba. Note, in the bottom right, the unusual figure of a Saint wearing spectacles. On the right is a statue of the Madonna delle Grazie by Antonello Gagini. Below the north nave, there is a fresco depicting the Sposalizio delle Vergini (Betrothal of the Virgins) showing a strong Sienese influence in the elegant features and the symmetry of the composition. Some of the columns separating the naves are painted with frescoes among which is the figure of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Via Santa Anna leads up to the castle. Through the Gothic arch, appears the massive building marked by a square tower at each of its four corners.
Cappella Palatina – The Palatine Chapel, on the second floor, is decorated with enchanting stuccoworks picked out from a gold-leaf beackground, attributed to Giuseppe Serpotta, brother of the most famous Giacomo.
Via Roma leads off from Piazza Margherita.
Museo Francesco Minà-Palumbo – Currently housed in the precincts of the former Benedictine convent, the museum stems from the passion of Francesco Minà Palumbo, a doctor living in the 19th century, with a fascination with botany. The result is a lifetime’s assemblage of conscientious and systematic collection, classification and representation on paper of the botanical species, reptiles and insects of the nearby Madonie Mountains, some of which are now extinct.
A little further on is the Chiesa di San Francesco and, adjoined, the Mausoleo dei Ventimiglia, an octagonal building dating from the late-Middle Ages.
Nearby stands La Madrice Nuova, which contains a fine Deposition from the Cross by Giuseppe Velasco and Baroque altars with spiral columns by Vincenzo Messina.
Along Corso Umberto I, stands the Fontana di Venere Ciprea (rebuilt in 1614) with Andromeda at the top, Venus and Cupid in the central niche and four bas-reliefs depicting the myth of Artemis (Diana) and Actaeon.
A sweet tooth? – The Pasticceria dei fratelIi Fiasconaro on Piazza Margherita makes the most delicious panettone (traditional Christmas cake), colomba (dove-shaped Easter cake) and, in the summer, ciambelle (almond doughnuts). On the opposite side of the piazza, excellent home-made ice cream is on sale from Extrabar (owned by the same family).
Where to eat - Il Vecchio Palmento, at 2 via Failla, a family concern, offers a selection of dishes prepared with local produce. 5km south of Castelbuono, the restaurant Romitaggio, housed in the medieval Convent of S. Guglielmo specializes in traditional Madonie’s specialities.
Glorious outlook – From the Hotel Milocca, in the vicinity of Piano Castagna, 7km south of the centre of town, extends a splendid view over Castelbuono, the Madonie Mountains and the Thyrrenian Sea with the Aeolian Islands. On particularly clear days, one can even clearly make out the different houses.
Local delicacy: the manna. Small whitish, lightly sweet stalactites hanging from ash trees; manna is the lymph of these trees which, when dried, is collected and used as sweetener and a laxative. Although once one of the town’s sources of income, it is now more of a curiosity sought by tourists, who can find it at the tobacconist’s at the end of Corso Umberto I (virtually in Piazza Margherita).
A fine walk – For those seeking a ramble away from it all, the Sentiero degli Agrifogli Giganti (the Giant Holly Trail) leads from Piano Sempria along a beautiful path through woods of holm and young oak to Piano Pomo, where a congregation of giant holly trees are to be found; for these are not mere bushes but huge trees 15m tall, some estimated to be more than 300 years old. To find the start of the path, leave Castelbuono and follow signs for San Guglielmo and Rifugio Sempria, where the car can be left. The route is some 3.5km (allow about 2hr 30min).
An alternative walk leads to the Pollina River and the evocative Gole di Tiberio (Tiberius’ Gorge). From Castelbuono, take the road down towards Cefalù, approximately 1km after the bridge over the Fiumara, follow the asphalted road on the right. At Contrada Marcatagliastro (where the asphalt peters out), leave your car and proceed on foot to the river (about 4km). The gorge is on the right.