Those who choose to visit Castelbuono have many reasons to do so. The selection of food and wine is certainly a point of attraction, as well as the healthy air of its mountains and the warm welcome of its people. All of this seduces those who come to the Madonie Park, enticing a certain familiar desire that finds its perfect sum in the typical “Passiata“ (stroll).
The “passiata” is intended here as a social act, an itinerant sharing of the old town centre, a rooted tradition that’s still “performed” in Castelbuono by all its most devoted “actors”. A stroll that becomes an escape of sorts for Sunday tourists as well: an escape from the city’s chaos for instance or, in a wider sense, a true promenade up on the mountains, where the sun and the good weather both invite us to reconnect with nature.
The Ventimiglia Castle
So, in order to begin our passiata, we reach Castelbuono (the name alone gifts us with a state of grace and enjoyment), and precisely the Parco delle Rimembranze, where we park our car or simply get off the bus. Here, we can already breath some good hair, and delight our eyes with the surrounding view. If we follow the tree-lined avenue that goes up from the Park, we can spot the Northern side of the Ventimiglia Castle. Before we let ourselves be enraptured by the beauty of the castle however, let’s take a few moments to drink in the view: the surrounding mountains embrace and protect the town forming a natural valley.
We spot the town of Pollina, that eyes us like an Olympus rising North, and we can even get a glimpse of the Maurolico Tower. Further on, we see other two small towns as well, San Mauro and Geraci.
Our thirst for the view satiated, we keep going up until we reach the Castle square. We won’t go into detail concerning the castle and its medieval suggestions now, we’ll give this topic its well-deserved room on another occasion. Right now, all we want to do is recall that scene from the famous Tornatore movie, Cinema Paradiso: all the kids running towards the big staircase, to what in the movie was their school. Giuseppe Tornatore, mon amour!
Via Sant’Anna – the true beginning (or ending) of the stroll
We turn and cross the Arch of Saint Anne, a fitting tribute to the protector of Castelbuono, and it’s like a moment of initiation: we’re leaving the beginning of everything – the castle – behind us, and we’re starting now the true passiata. To the locals, it is a very precise route – tourists can on the other hand improvise – and it can be quantified in the same amount of distance covered over and over (and over and over) again, the true duration of it depending on the importance of the topics there discussed by its participants. Fun fact: sometimes the “stroller” can stop abruptly – making his/her companion stop as well – to mark the importance of something he/she just said, only to resume the walk a few moments later.
Walking along Via Sant’Anna, we’re moving down to reach the end of the main street, called “sopra il ponte”, that is “above the bridge”. Now, skipping over the linguistic peculiarity of “going down” to reach something that’s “above”, or even over the fact that there’s actually no bridge at the end of our path (there used to be though), it’s a good chance to make the strolling experience somewhat a metaphysical one: the physical structure itself might not exist anymore, but going “above the bridge” has become an idea, a concept and an essential social crossroad, with commercial activities going on, and even a small square, embellished now with palms and latin rhythms, to give it that final exotic touch. That’s the far end of our passiata, but there’s still plenty in between for us to explore.
Piazza Margherita – the heart of the town
Let’s get back to the Arch and to our initiation, the spot where one of the door that closed the Castle square was once found. Let’s just resume our walk from there, moving down, lazily, almost carelessly. There, we see some typical alleys, small and narrow, with their tall houses, all attached to one another, their balconies almost touching with the ones in front. After a short walk, we reach the true beating heart of the community, Piazza Margherita (the main square).
The XV century fountain at the center of the square catches our eyes (it’s used as the logo of many well-known companies), and works as the barycenter between the main attractions of the square: the old church (Matrice Vecchia) with its incredible crypt and polyptych, the ex Court Bank, later prison and now Risorgimento Museum (also where the clocktower is), and last but certainly not least, two excellent bars-pastry shops, Fiasconaro and Naselli, which we described here in more details if you’re curious to know more.
While we’re there, sitting at a table and enjoying Fiasconaro’s panettoni or Naselli’s 100% Sicilian artisanal ice-creams, if we’re lucky we can get to listen to some timeless music played by the people at the Circolo della Musica (kind of a music club), whose place opens directly onto the square. We started from an initiation moment, and now here we are, in a mystical and almost synaesthetic phase: the five senses will thank us.
Going down the main street
We go further down the main street, and between small alleys that hide and promote top restaurants, we look up and see a flash of blue: it’s the majolicas that cover the bell tower of the ex Chiesa del Crocifisso (an old deconsecrated church), now Centro Sud, a polyfunctional space used for concerts, plays and various cultural events.
Still further down, elegant and “feminist”, the Venere Ciprea and Cupid smooth the road: an astonishing small temple devoted to women, starting from above (with the Greek-Roman statue of Andromeda) and proceeding below, with four metopes of mythological subjects. The Venere invites us to smile and keep going, because as soon as we turn around the corner, we are finally at our destination, “above the bridge”: here, the four “babbi di litria” (litria’s fools, four small statues located on the door of the last church on our path) look at us, almost suspicious, inviting us to turn around and – faithful to the local custom – walk the whole passiata once again, this time backward. Discovering all the things still hidden on the way.