Our visit to Castellammare del Golfo at the end of October left us completely enchanted. Nestled on the North West coast of Sicily, this delightful town captured a special place in our hearts. With its narrow roads to explore around the castle, pretty marina and amazing restaurants and pizzerias we couldn’t wish for anything more. The nearby golden sandy beaches and breathtaking views only added to its charm.
How To Get There
The nearest airport to Castellammare del Golfo is Palermo, which is an easy drive, about 35 minutes, along a main road which follows the coast. The driving only gets a little more tricky as you enter the town, where the streets are narrow and lined with parked cars.
We hired a car and picked it up from the airport which was really straight forward and is definitely the quickest way to get to Castellammare del Golfo other than by taxi. There were lots of options of different car hire firms all with collection only a few hundred meters from arrivals.
We did look into public transport but read that it is not that reliable in Sicily, particularly when it is out of peak season, so we opted for car rental. This worked out at just over double the price it would have been to get a taxi from the airport, so really good value, as we then had the car for the rest of our stay.
History of Castellammare del Golfo
This beautiful town is arranged around the Arab-Norman castle next to the harbour. A castle fortress was first built here on a rocky outcrop connected to the mainland by a wooden drawbridge, after the Arabs took control in 827 AD. The original fortress was then enlarged at a later date by the Normans when they took over the island.
Now there is a stone bridge that leads to Piazza di Castello, a small courtyard with the entrance to the museum, which is housed inside the castle itself. We were lucky enough to be staying in Piazza di Castello in one of the houses that was built more recently for fishermen in the castle grounds.
The museum is free to enter and there is the option of leaving a donation if you wish. It is dedicated to the different aspects of Sicilian civilisation and displays everyday items, giving you an insight into Sicily of the past. The exhibitions mainly focus around tools and processes of local trades, as well some domestic items from different eras.
It is not a huge museum but it has some interesting displays and visiting gives you the opportunity to see inside the castle. As you stroll through the museum, keep an eye out for stunning views of the harbour and the gulf from this elevated viewpoint.
Restaurants in Castellammare del Golfo
In every restaurant we ate, we had fantastic food either with spectacular views, a chance to soak up the atmosphere of the street or enjoy cosy restaurants full of locals. We simply did not have a bad meal in our entire week’s stay so it is really hard to say which the best places to eat were. All the restaurants we visited had their own charm, whether it was fresh fish at the glamorous harbour side restaurants or delicious pizza in a little pizzeria tucked away from the main square, we always left raving about the food we had just eaten.
However, if I was forced to make a decision here are my recommendations:
The best pizza – Gusto
Gusto is a small modern pizzeria not far from Piazza Petrolo, situated in its own little square with a fountain as a centre piece, Piazza Europa. The selection of pizzas was great and they had some interesting twists on the normal toppings. We had a Pizza Bianco with truffles which has to be the best pizza I have ever tasted. Our girls were happy too as we had a table on the balcony and they were able to watch their pizzas being cooked (always great entertainment!!).
The best seafood – Salvinius
We returned to this restaurant twice as it was that good. It sits in a central position on the harbour commanding great views and an excellent spot for people watching. The first time we visited they had no room inside the restaurant as it was fully booked (always a good sign) so we sat at a table right next to the harbour and ordered a selection of different delicious pasta dishes.
The second time we visited we made sure to book in advance as we knew how popular it is. On this occasion, we ordered their catch of the day which you could select yourself and either have it grilled or baked in salt. It was cooked to perfection and expertly served to us by the very friendly staff so there was no messing about with bones (which my husband hates!).
The best atmosphere – Egesta Mare
We found this restaurant by chance one evening when wandering around the narrow streets between the harbour and Piazza Petrolo. Its entrance is by a set of steps which were covered in plant pots and lit up with twinkling lights.
When we stepped inside we were immediately greeted and made to feel welcome in this cosy restaurant. The building used to be a monastery and you can still see the arches and stone walls but the decor is homely with an array of interesting decorations giving it character and charm.
As well as the service being friendly they offer a wide range of Sicilian specialities. It was clear from the clientele that it is a favourite with locals, as there was a huge family gathering of about 20 people on the table next to us. We left with full bellies and smiles on our faces after an extremely enjoyable meal.
There are two beaches in Castellammare del Golfo, both sandy with fabulous views and each with their own advantages.
Cala Petrolo is located right next to Piazza Petrolo, about 5 minutes walk from the harbour. It is accessed by two sets of stairs which lead down from Piazza Petrolo to the small arc of sand that sits sheltered by the high sea wall. The beach is mainly sandy but does have quite a lot of stones as you enter the sea which also gets deep quite quickly so be careful with small children.
In the summer there is a Lido where you can hire sun beds and parasols and can grab a drink or a bite to eat. When we went in October this wasn’t open so we had the beach practically to ourselves (too chilly for Sicilians with temperatures in the mid twenties!).
The main advantage of this beach is its proximity to the centre of Castellammare del Golfo, but it also has great views of the castle and out across the gulf. We could see this beach from our balcony so it was perfect if we just wanted a hour or so on the beach and the girls loved collecting sea glass that had washed up on shore.
Spiaggia Plaja is about a 25 minute walk from the centre of Castellammare del Golfo along the coast. It is an easy walk but if you prefer there is a regular shuttle bus in the summer which will take you straight there.
This beach was our favourite of the two as there was more space for the girls to play and less stones. The beach actually stretches for 5km towards Terrasini and along this golden sandy beach there are many lidos and beach clubs offering sun beds and refreshment. This beach seemed to be kept cleaner than Cala Petrolo, where you could often find rubbish washed up maybe because we were there out of season. Also, it the water stays shallow quite far out to sea so it is much safer for swimming.
As I mentioned before, we were lucky to find accommodation in Piazza di Castello, which was just perfect for us. As you step through the front door, you are immediately greeted by a view of the turquoise sea with mountains in the background framed by the glass door that leads out to the downstairs balcony.
On the ground floor there is a sitting room and small kitchen decorated beautifully making the most of the history of the building but with a modern twist. There is also a bathroom downstairs with a large shower.
Then there are 3 bedrooms over the next 2 floors and also 2 more bathrooms. On the third floor there is a covered roof terrace with spectacular views out to sea where we enjoyed lunch or an evening meal with a glass of Sicilian wine.
Although the property is simply beautiful, the main attraction for me is its location. In the morning I enjoyed either a walk up the main street to visit the deli for provisions, stopping for a cappuccino and a delicious chocolate filled croissant on the way or a stroll around the harbour looking at the boats bobbing up and down and the fishermen selling fresh fish, if I was early enough.
While we were there we checked out a few other options for accommodation, both in the centre of Castellammare del Golfo and nearer to Spiaggia Plaja. If you would like to find out more see our guide to accommodation.
Things To Do Nearby
One of the great things about this location is the varied places you can visit; from hikes in Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve to trips to the city of Trapani there is plenty to do in the local area.
Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve is about 25 minutes drive from Castellammare del Golfo but can only really be accessed by car. On the way you pass Scopello, a tiny village in a gorgeous setting, considered by many as the most beautiful in Sicily.
There used to be a tuna factory here that has been turned into a luxury hotel and due to its popularity they now charge €15 per person to enter the village. However, if you park on the road close by you can still get a view of the rocky coastline and the picturesque village from above and then carry on to the nature reserve or one of the beautiful little coves along the coast.
There is an entrance fee for Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve of €5 per adult and €3 for 11 to 14 year olds but parking is free in the main carpark. As part of your entrance fee you get a map of the nature reserve and you can spend the whole day exploring the beautiful scenery. We opted to walk along the coastal path towards Cala Berretta where we planned to stop for a picnic.
The path weaves its way along the coast offering dramatic views in all directions and there are plenty of little coves to stop at along the way. The walk to Cala Berretta was about 3km and took about 45 – 50 minutes as there were a lot of steep climbs and descents. If you want to go all the way along the coastal path it is about 7km in total but with our two girls the 6km round trip was plenty.
Scopello looks absolutely beautiful and I think it would be worth a visit if you are planning to spend the whole day there, maybe as a couple, but with 2 children it was a bit pricey for us especially as we would only have been there for a few hours.
If you decide to pay the entrance fee, you can use the luxury hotel facilities and purchase food and drink from the on site restaurant all with the most amazing view. As well as being a simply stunning setting it was the location for the final scene from Oceans Twelve, so film fans can find themselves in the same spot as George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Trapani is a lovely city about 45 minutes away from Castellammare del Golfo. It is an easy drive along a main road which goes from the east coast to the west coast where Trapani is located. We didn’t go with any intention to see all the historic buildings and churches but just enjoyed wandering around the streets and stopping for a coffee or a bite to eat as we went.
We enjoyed peeking into little courtyards and finding tiny beaches to eat our Sicilian street food on then wandered back to the square where we had parked the car.
Why We Love Castellammare Del Golfo
We felt like we had really struck lucky when we arrived in Castellammare del Golfo as we had booked tickets to Sicily on a bit of a whim and looked into everything else afterwards. As we were travelling out of season we decided not to go for one of the beach resorts as we were worried they may be very quiet at this time of year. We were proven to be correct when we visited nearby Trapeto and it was like a ghost town.
Castellammare del Golfo still felt very much alive as there is a good mixture of locals and tourists. It has charm, stunning views, history, amazing food and beaches close by and I have to admit we all fell in love.
Laura loves travelling across the UK and abroad. She has two children and a husband who are often her travel companions. Beach holidays, cosy cottages, treehouse adventures and brunching are just a few of her favourite ways to spend her travel time.