Castellammare del Golfo, a Mafia town transformed

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

The sleepy nature of Castellamare del Golfo belies its Mafia past.

Fishing boats line the harbor. Some offer excursions to learn about the trade.

The streets are full of shops and al fresco seafood restaurants.

The Scalinata Porta Marina (Porta Marina Steps) connects the Piazza Castello to the port.

We decided to ease our way into our Sicily adventure by spending two days in the sleepy fishing village of Castellammare del Golfo, less than an hour's drive from the Palermo airport. Strolling the quaint medieval streets, it's hard to believe that a relatively short time ago it was a hotbed of Mafia activities. In the 1950s, in fact, 80 percent of the adult male population had served time in prison with 30 percent of them indicted for murder. It was also the hometown of American mobster Joe Bonanno and even gave its name to the Castellammarese War, made famous by the Godfather movies, the Valachi Papers and Boardwalk Empire. There is no evidence of those days now, however, and visitors can feel free to stroll day and night through safe streets and alleys filled with the smells of garlic and seafood and shops selling Sicilian trinkets.

The town is fun to explore on foot, but the main attraction is the sea. To see as much as possible in just a day, we booked a half-day trip on board the catamaran, Lionel Richie.

The catamaran Lionel Richie is a wonderful choice for young and old alike.

The trip turned out to be the biggest bargain we have ever experienced of the many boat trips we have taken all over the Mediterranean. For only 25 Euros, we had comfortable shaded seats on a well-maintained luxury catamaran. The friendly captain and his assistant gave a running commentary of the sites we were seeing. When they weren't talking, we heard pop music from the 70s and 80s. The captain's love of Lionel Richie's music and era led to the name of the boat. Most passengers tapped along to the music which lent a party atmosphere to the trip. We stopped three times for swims at some of the most pristine sites imaginable.

Snorkeling and swimming is enjoyed at three separate stops.

The first stop was for 30 minutes in the waters facing Faraglioni di Scopello.

Most passengers took advantage of the free loan of snorkels and masks to explore the crystal clear waters. The longest stop was at the Cala Uzzo in the National Reserve of the Zingaro (gypsy). There we dined on typical Sicilian sandwiches of cheese, tomato, olive oil and oregano on freshly baked bread accompanied by local white wine and followed by delicious pastries. A unique stop was made at the Grotta della Madonnina where passengers were able to swim from the boat into a natural cave where local worshipers have installed a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Even those passengers who didn't take advantage of the swimming seemed to have a wonderful time snapping photos of views that could only be seen from the sea.

If you look closely you can see the blue and white statue in the Grotta della Madonnina.

Even the non-swimmers on board were able to enjoy spectacular views of cliffs and caverns.

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