The fall colors are at their peak, and local newspaper headlines warn, Some Minnesotans Could Wake Up Saturday to a Blanket of Snow. Our Sicilian vacation is a distant memory. With the fire place radiating warmth and and a glass of Nero d’Avola unearthing memories, we capture the sights and the flavors of our July 2014 tour of the western coast of Sicily.
Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi
Cico and Lola’s B&B Mammaliturchi on the southern Sicilian coast was so spectacular, so perfect, that it merited its own blog post. A short walk up the beach to the dazzling white Scala dei Turchi and a 15 minute drive to Agrigento and the magnificent Valley of the Temples, B&B Mammaliturchi is nothing short of paradise.
Sciacca is a small, medieval fisherman’s village built steeply into the rock that descends down to the sea. At sea level, fishing boats dot the waterfront and fisheries line the streets. Climb a steep set of stone steps, some which take you right past the doorways of local residents, and you will reach the heart of the town of Sciacca. Souvenir shops line the main street which leads to a piazza that looks dramatically out over the Mediterranean. Stop by the local pastry shop and try out some of the local bitter almond and ricotta-based treats.
Mazara del Vallo
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, Mazara del Vallo was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines among others, before finally coming under Arab control in 827 AD. During the Arab period Mazara del Vallo was an important commercial harbour and the main gateway between Sicily and Northern Africa. The historical center of Mazara del Vallo is known as the Kasbah, and it boasts distinct Arab architectural influences. It is also the best place in Italy to eat cous cous, a Northern African dish that Sicilians have adopted as their own.
Trapani and Erice
Trapani is known for its salt marshes, and picturesque windmills used to drain the water during the long process of drawing salt out. It’s also where you can catch a ferry to the heralded Egadi islands, which we didn’t have time for on this trip but fully intend to return to do. We made a quick stop to see the salt flats, gave in to curiosity and tasted it (yes, it really was salty), and then continued up, and up, and up and winding mountain to the town of Erice.
Erice is a medieval village that sits at the peak of a mountain, 750 metres (2,460 ft) above sea level. On a clear day, you can see Tunisia and Africa’s Northern coast. The day we visited it was anything but clear. It felt like we’d stepped right into a scene from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. In foggy, damp, cold weather we diligently trekked up the main street to Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which we’d read on the internet had the most amazing pastries. It is a humble pasticceria, as far as Italian pasticceria’s go, but their cannoli, genovesi and cassate were truly amazing.
San Vito lo Capo
When you live in place as cold as ours, some beach time is a must. San Vito lo Capo is among the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy. Located on the northwestern tip of Sicily, the winding drive through the mountains offers spectacular views of the sea below.
San Vito lo Capo’s beach is a long stretch of soft sand that leads to a mountain in the distance. The bright aquamarine sea is calm, warm and amazingly clear. You could lose your wedding ring in waist deep water, look down and see it sparkling on the sea floor below. The bright beach umbrella made for a splendid scene.
While the charm and slower pace of Sicily’s small towns offer the greatest appeal, a stop in the chaotic, complicated Palermo is worth it. The tour of the historical city is quick, and worth the cost of one of the open-air tour buses. A walk through the markets and the old Arab quarters is overwhelms by sight, sound and smell. We were most drawn by Palermo’s unique foods: panelle (fritters made of chickpeas and flour), sandwiches with milza (gall bladder), and breakfast with granita al caffè and large gelato-filled brioche.
Cefalù is a charming, small town on the northern coast of Sicily. Full of tourists in the summer months, it is delightful nonetheless with a convenient beach and lots of modern shops, Italian bars and eateries, many with lovely sea views. We dined at Il Covo del Pirata, and loved it. It’s location was amazing, with tables that looked right out over the water, yet it had a casual, family feel. We ate seafood to our heart’s content. Stop by early in the day and reserve a table with a view for dinner.