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Visiting Trapani and its multicultural province

  • Flavio 

On a sunny Friday morning, we left Favignana and headed to the nearby city of Trapani. We decided to spend a few days in Trapani for a couple of reasons: on the one hand, we wanted to explore the west side of Sicily, on the other hand, some sustained winds were predicted and Trapani is a well sheltered and safe harbor. So the decision was quickly made: we were going to spend three days moored in Trapani!

Trapani: a charming town

In less than two hours we sailed the strait that separates the Aegean Islands from Sicily. By 10 am we were moored at Marina Levante, in the port of Trapani. Two hours later, after a refreshing shower, we were already driving a brand new FIAT Panda that we rented at the nearby Avis location.

Approaching Trapani from the sea

We spent the morning in Erice: an ancient town located on top of Mount Erice, at around 750 meters above sea level, overlooking the city of Trapani. Although the town is primarily medieval in character, ancient remains include cyclopean walls with Phoenician inscriptions and fragments of the celebrated temple. The town originated as a settlement of the Elyrir (an ancient Sicilian tribe) and was fortified by the Phoenicians and contested by the Carthaginians and Romans. Later occupied by the Saracens, the town was conquered in the 11th century by the Norman count Roger I of Sicily, who called it Monte San Giuliano.

Erice: view from Giardinio del Balio
We are alone in Erice
The Norman Castle in Erice is also known as the Venus Castle (XII – XIII century)

I don’t think that during the few hours we spent in Erice we met more than 10 people: most of the shops, cafeterias, and restaurants were closed till the next Monday, as finally the health situation in Sicily was improving and it was time to release most of the strict COVID-19 restrictions. While it is certainly sad to realize how badly some businesses have been impacted by the lack of tourism, it’s undoubtedly true that visiting Erice with nobody around was a mystic experience and we felt like we had been catapulted back in middle age. We got lost walking its narrow streets and enjoyed some incredibly tasty pastries at Maria Grammatico.

Cannolo and Cassata: you can’t leave Sicily without tasting a few dozens of them…

From Erice, we drove to Marsala: a town built on the ruins of the ancient Carthaginian city of Lilybaeum, famous for the docking of Giuseppe Garibaldi on 11 May 1860 (the Expedition of the Thousand). The province of Trapani is also well-known for its wineries: the annual production is bigger than Tuscany and Piedmont’s together – something that we could witness as everywhere we drove, we got constantly surrounded by big wine yards.

Marsala: Church of the Purgatory

After spending the afternoon in Marsala, eating a good slice of focaccia, and getting our legs tired, it was time to drive back to Trapani. We decided to drive along the coastline to admire the sunset from the Stagnone.

Stagnone natural reserve (Marsala)

The day after was dedicated to Trapani and provisioning for the next weeks. The city center is definitely worth a visit and we loved spending some time at the fishing “street”: fresh tuna was sold at 15 euro/kg!

Before returning the car, we wanted to see some of the main attractions on the southwest side of Sicily: on a Monday we visited Mazara del Vallo, Selinunte, Sciacca, and Sambuca di Sicilia. Mazzara is an agricultural and fishing center and its port gives shelter to the largest fishing fleet in Italy. Selinunte was an ancient Greek city, we could not visit the archaeological site (which contains five temples centered on an acropolis), but we did admire the surrounding beaches.

Mazara del Vallo: guess the fish is fresh
Mazara del Vallo: Cathedral of The Holy Savior
Marinella di Selinunte

Finally, after spending so “many” days on land, it was time to return to our sailing adventure and leave the dock behind. From Trapani we sailed to Castellammare del Golfo: we hoisted the gennaker before getting to San Vito lo Capo, where we stopped for a couple of hours to admire its characteristic crystal water and white sand beach.

Rouding San Vito lo Capo: we are now officialy on the North side of Sicily

We then continued and arrived in Castellammare just before sunset. We secured Bolero in a sort of abandoned floating pontoon, and from there we managed to walk to the village and enjoyed our first dinner out after almost one year! It felt like glory and it was also a due way to motivate and cheer up the many restaurant operators: hopefully, they won’t need to face a similar situation again!

Castellamare del Golfo: we litterally occupied an abandoned pantoon

In Castellammare, we spent most of the time working, while in the evening we enjoyed the local cuisine. We learnt that Castellammare was born as Emporium Segestanorum, port of Segesta, one of the major cities of the Elymians. Then the Arabs occupied the town and called it Al Madarig. The Arabs also built the castle fortress, which was later enlarged by the Normans. Today the town’s economy is based on fishing and tourism.

Castellamare: another view of the town

Before leaving the Bay of Castellamare, we decided to spend the day chilling out at the nearby cala di Scopello: a small rocky bay with an ancient tuna fishery. The bay has received lots of publicity, including the shooting of Ocean’s Twelve.

Scopello and its tuna fishery

At night, as some strong wind was predicted, we dropped the anchor on the sandy bay of Guidaloca which offered good holding and protection (although the noise of the wind and the movement of the boat made our sleep a bit of a challenge…).

It’s been two months since we left Barcelona: we have seen plenty of different places and it’s getting hard to keep our memories well organized. We have never experienced the feeling of living with such intensity for a long period of time – I’m curious to see what our reaction will be once this experience will be over, but for the time being, we are still as excited as we were the day we departed from Barcelona. More to follow!

Wet-suits on for a long swim in Guidaloca

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