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A guide to Castellammare del Golfo

A CASTLE ON THE SEA AT THE HEAD OF A GULF

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Castellammare del Golfo is not just the name of a town, but also a descriptive summary of its main characteristics: a seafront castle overlooking a large gulf.

The town's name also neatly sums up its history, which profoundly connected to the sea. Originally founded in the 6th century BC by the Elymians as a commercial port for Segesta (going under the rather grand-sounding handle of Emporium Segestanorum), Castellammare continued to serve as an important, if somewhat provincial, trading post until the early 20th century.

The castle stands on a rocky headland jutting out into the sea and dates back to Arab times. Its fortifications were subsequently developed and expanded by the Normans and that incorrigible builder of castles, Frederick II. Muhammad al-Idrisi, the Arab geographer charged by King Roger II to chart his territories in the mid-12th century, wrote that “no castle is better situated or constructed than this one, with its deep trench carved out of the mountain. Access is via a wooden drawbridge.” Three sides of the castles were lapped by the sea, a feature that remained unchanged right up to the 1980s, when a promenade-cum-quay was built on two sides. The castle is open to the public and houses an interesting Ethno-Anthropological Museum.

Visitors to Castellammare del Golfo tend to spend their time either on the harbour-front promenade below the castle, where there is a little beach, a marina, and a good choice of seafront restaurants serving up freshly caught seafood, or on one of the town's two beaches: Cala Petrolo, a sandy bay just around the headland from the castle, and La Plaja, a 10km-stretch of sand running east along base of the gulf. This latter is populated with a good selection of lidos renting out sun loungers, parasols and watersports facilities, and a number of seafront cafés and restaurants.

The road leading west out of Castellammare del Golfo climbs steeply up to a fabulous bel vedere, from where the views of the town, beach and sea below are stunning. Continue a little further on, and you’ll soon arrive at the picturesque village of Scopello and the magnificent waters, coves and coastal scenery of Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve.

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