Focus on Sicily: Temples, castles, baroque buildings, pastry shops and restaurants, wine cellars and salt marshes.
Leaving Palermo behind (see here for last week's article on the Sicilian capital: italiani.net/index.php/speciali/1595-due-giorni-perfetti-a-palermo.html)
the winding road leaves the sea behind and runs smoothly towards Trapani/Segesta. To visit the largest island in the Mediterranean, the car is a must and for travelling with your own, the advice is to arrive in Sicily by sea, as Goethe did on his Grand Tour.
The company Grandi Navi Veloci, departs daily from Naples and Genova to the port of Palermo (www.gnv.it/it/) and three times a week from Civitavecchia during high season and once a week during low.
The journey begins in the inland and on the west coast of Sicily, a portion of territory that is still pristine, ancient, almost forgotten. The journey from Palermo to Marsala is bursting with history as well as nature, gastronomy and art. The road unwinds through spaces and horizons which seem boundless, rolling hills, vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see which in autumn become scarlet, orange and ochre strips of land.
Over some hilltops sit old farmhouses and on some slopes grow lush forests. As around the Temple of Segesta, which stands alone and stately on a clearing surrounded by dazzling greenery, even in the midst of autumn. Just over an hour's drive from Palermo, when the road leaves the coast and moves far inward, amidst poetic landscapes and countryside, you will find one of the best preserved Greek temples of the classical period in Sicily and in the world.
Built in the 5th century b.C., the temple is located inside the archaeological area of Calatafimi Segesta, on a hill adjacent to Monte Barbaro. Segesta was, along with Erice, the main settlement of the Elymians and an ally of Athens, as well as a bitter enemy of Selinunte, which she managed to destroy with the help of Carthage in 409 b.C. Segesta was in turn destroyed by Agathocles of Syracuse in 307 b.C and today, within the archaeological area, there are some remains of the town wall at the top of the mountain as well as a beautiful theatre. After visiting the temple, the advice is to walk along the uphill road that reaches the archaeological site above and enjoy the breathtaking views that surround the area.
From Segesta to Erice the road crosses hills and vineyards, kilometres of vines embracing the countryside. We discover only after that Sicily is the region of Europe with the highest number of vines. To drive up to the village of Erice, the road climbs and envelops around Monte San Giuliano, a harsh and massive mountain, which allows for postcard views of the surroundings: on the one hand, the cape of San Vito Lo Capo and on the other side Trapani, the Egadi islands and an expanse of blue sea. Erice is a little gem, perched on top of the mountain, with an unparalleled view of Sicily from a height of 751 metres.
You can visits all of Erice on foot in a little more than an hour, its narrow streets are paved and perfectly maintained and the crisp mountain air will make you momentarily forget you’re in Sicily. Must sees are the Castle of Venus of Norman period, built over what used to once a temple dedicated to goddess, the Cathedral, the churches of San Giuliano and San Giovanni. Before leaving stop by at the wonderful shop of Maria Grammatico (www.mariagrammatico.it/index.php/it/la-storia)
an ode to Sicilian pastries that Mrs Grammatico learned to prepare with the nuns when growing up in the orphanage of Saint Charles, leading her to become world famous. The counter full of desserts will leave you unsure about what to order but don't miss the Cassatina (possibly one of the best in western Sicily) and the Graffa with ricotta and enjoy them, weather permitting, in the lovely and green inner courtyard.
Its only a handful of kilometres from Erice to Trapani and Trapani is a real pearl: the Louis Vuitton Cup of 2005 was a thrust to urban renewal and the historic centre has been transformed, its baroque buildings repainted, the main streets of the city adorned with stylish shops. Structured like a T, Corso Vittorio Emanuele which runs lengthwise and the two arms that depart in opposite directions from the Palazzo Senatorio (now the Town Hall) are flanked with baroque façades, cafes and boutiqes.
Must sees are the San Lorenzo Cathedral, the seafront and its Moorish side streets, the embellished and rich exterior of baroque palaces Riccio di Morana and Fardelle Fontana and the Church of Purgatory, where the mysteries of Trapani unfold during Easter week.
The heart of the city is surrounded by the sea and the narrow streets of the old part of the town intersect on this spit of land that stretches towards the blue of the Sicilian channel, the connection point between Europe and the Arab world, which had and still has strong influences, especially food-wise. Don't go away from Trapani without tasting the fish cous cous. So don't go away without stopping at the Cantina Siciliana (www.cantinasicilianashop.it) historical restaurant and Slow Food favourite. The realm of Pino Maggiore, owner and chef, local soul and emblem of Sicilian hospitality whose tireless passion takes you through the dishes to discover the region and its history, is a restaurant furnished with Sicilian folklore objects and wonderful blue and white ceramic tiles on the walls. The remarkably good "cuscusu" is made to perfection and the menu, mostly based on seafood, offers a wide choice of local and regional specialities, including cuts of tuna and Busiate with homemade pesto trapanese.
For sleeping, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the B&B Ai Lumi (www.ailumi.it)
a charming bed and breakfast located within a beautiful baroque palace. Friendly staff, the rooms are all different and boast coloured tiled floors, beamed ceilings and a balcony overlooking the main street.
From Trapani the journey continues inward. You have to go inland to reach one of the world's major Land Art works: the Cretto by Alberto Burri in Gibellina. It suddenly appears, laying on a hill surrounded by the countryside, the first impact is powerful.
Spread out in the wilderness, the Cretto serves as a commemorative plaque of the city of Gibellina, destroyed by the earthquake of Belice in 1968. Burri payed homage to the town by filling the gaps left by the buildings with concrete blocks and recreating the original structure of the urban layout.
From the Cretto the journey continues back towards the coast, heading to enchanting Marsala, a baroque town famous among the many things for having given birth to the fortified wine and for the landing of Garibaldi. The relaxed flair of the small town, appointed in 2013 City and European capital of wine, with its turquoise sea light that illuminates the beaming stone buildings, gives it a charming atmosphere and you can visit Marsala entirely on foot. Must sees are the beautiful Piazza della Repubblica and the Chiesa Madre, Corso Garibaldi and the Museo Archeologico Baglio Anselmi that boasts the remains of a Punic ship, an important testimony of the first Punic War, fought by the Romans against the Carthaginians for the conquest of Sicily.
Do not miss a tour and tasting at the Donnafugata winery, that alone is worth the stop in Marsala. You will be warmly welcomed in their cellars, where fans and onlookers from all over the world come to learn about the company and their wines. You can choose from 6 different tasting journeys, which vary depending on the number of wines tasted and their possible pairing with typical Sicilian products. If you are real wine lover, then the tasting of rare vintages is the one that suits you. (visit.donnafugata.it/it-it/).
To conclude this part of the trip, visit the pretty and tranquil salt marshes along the road between Marsala and Trapani, where stunning pink flamingos live. There is also the ancient archaeological site of Mozia, on the island of San Pantaleo, which was one of the most important Phoenician settlements in the Mediterranean and still survives as an important archaeological Phoenician testimony.
The island was bought by Joseph Whitaker at the beginning of the 20th century, and his villa is now a Museum hosting Phoenicians artefacts. The Museum of salt mining on land deserves a visit too, housed in one of the beautiful mills that dot the shoreline.
In Marsala, head for a meal at the Bucanieri (www.ristoranteibucanieri.it/a6_home.html): an elegant restaurant in front of the sea, near the historical cellar of Donnafugata. The restaurant is famous both for its top quality meat cuts and for the fresh catch of the day. Don't forget to order the amazing raw seafood antipasto, the bruschetta with bottarga and fresh tomato, the red mullet arancini and the delicious tuna meatballs.
As in the first part of the journey, the Lonely Planet Guide of Sicily continued to be our compass, a trusted guide and companion on this journey to discover the treasures of the Western Coast of Sicily.
To have a deeper vision of western Sicily: