So, in a few weeks my cousin is coming to visit and of course has been asking about where to go when she’s here. Now, Sicily is a lot larger than most people imagine and oftentimes people think they can visit places from one side to the other with no problem at all. It’s here that I’ll let you in on an essential piece of information: It takes about 4 hours to travel from Trapani, on the Western-most tip of Sicily, to Catania, the centre of the Eastern side of Sicily. That’s not an insignificant drive. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re only going to stay the other side one night. Speaking from experience you’ll want two nights. And providing your flights are in and out of the same airport then you’re going to waste one day of the holiday purely driving, 4 hours there and 4 hours back.
There’s really no need to spend all that time travelling. There is plenty to see on each side of the island. This is even true for Western Sicily, the less popular side of Sicily.
Living in Western Sicily it got me thinking. How would I spend a week’s holiday around the Trapani province? With my local knowledge of the area (I live in Trapani province) this is my ideal itinerary for what to visit. I’m sure you’ll agree it has something for everyone. It is the complete 360º experience encompassing sun, sea, food, ancient history and archaeological sites.
Often overlooked, Trapani is really worth a visit to get the feel for a typical Sicilian town. Even National Geographic think so. While technically a city and the administrative centre of the province of Trapani, the town has and olde-worldly feel. As Trapani is sandwiched between sea on both sides it is strange in that it has no central piazzas. It makes up for this with the bustling main street through the centre of the old town, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, where cafes and restaurants spill onto the street. Take a trip around the flag-stoned streets of the old town and visit the Cathedral. Don’t miss the winding back streets where the you can find the Chiesa di Purgatorio (Purgatory Church) where Trapani’s world famous mysteries are kept. And then stop at one of the many bars and gelaterias for some prime people watching.
I can’t help it. I love Favignana, the farfalla (butterfly) of the Egadi islands (so-named because of its shape). It is the perfect day trip from Trapani, and the ideal place to soak up some of that Sicilian sun. What I love most about it though is the feeling I get when I’m there. Renting a bike and cycling around the sleepy streets with very little traffic, I always feel like I’ve just arrived slap-bang in the middle of a film set. It gives me that wonderful enveloping feeling of really being in Italy, like something straight out of Eat, Pray, Love.
While I always visit all the classic spots, Cala Azzurra, Lido Burrone and a visit to the town, my favourite place despite years of visiting remains Cala Rossa. There is just something so quintessentially full of Italian drama in heading down the cliff side and diving directly off the rocks into the pristine waters there. Favignana is without a doubt my escape place. Although I tend not to go in high season as it’s always very busy. There’s no finding your head-space then, never mind towel space for your sunbathing!
I always find myself going back to Mozia. At this point I could not even tell you how many times I’ve visited, which is really saying something because in comparison to other places it is not cheap. That’s not to say it’s expensive. I don’t believe anywhere in Sicily is really break the budget, but with the cost of the boat ride plus the island entry fee it is not as cheap as other places.
Maybe that’s why I like it so much, definitely fewer people decide to visit but they’re really missing out. Mozia was one of the key sites in the Punic wars. Originally settled by the Phoenicians and later falling under Carthaginian rule, the whole island is an archaeological site which is still being excavated. You can walk around the entire thing and visit the museum. The island is owned by the Whitaker Foundation and inside the museum you can find the world-renowned statue of the Giovane di Mozia.
Also when you get back you can enjoy a delicious aperitivo at Mamma Caura overlooking the Stagnone Lagoon and the Marsala Salt Pans.
Zingaro Nature Reserve
I have a love affair with the Zingaro. It’s been going on a decade and it still shows no sign of waning. If you asked me where’s the one place to visit around Trapani, for me this is it.
Just the drive to get there is a classic Italian treat. Winding roads up hillsides into seemingly nowhere— I can’t get enough. Being a nature reserve, the waters are crystal clear. Dive in and you are sure to be joined by shoals of fish. Not only that, you have to take a stroll to get to the many bays, and that stroll is through typical Mediterranean flora: dwarf palms, fig trees and wild flowers.
The coastline is stunning and it has terrific views because the paths through the reserve are along a hillside. In the cooler months you can go way up and see for miles. I would not recommend doing that in the summer though as the heat can be intense and there is very little in the way of shade.
My favourite way to visit the Zingaro though is undoubtedly by boat, with the fantastic Susan and Mauro of Hippocampus. They do a fantastic tour along the coast, stopping along the way so you can swim. Eventually arriving at the Faraglioni of Scopello for another swim, all whilst plying you with snacks and classic Sicilian aperitivo. Heaven.
Nothing beats the romance of a Medieval Italian Borgo, and Erice’s got it in spades. I may be a bit biased. Erice will always hold a special romance for me because I got married there. Seriously though, if when you picture Italy you think winding cobbled streets, quaint stone houses with unexpected courtyards, and adorable shops peeking out from medieval facades then Erice is sure to deliver.
It is the perfect place to wander around and enjoy a coffee. You should definitely try the speciality pastry—the Genovese. Guide books will tell you to go to Maria Grammatico’s, but my favourite is from San Carlo, and if you visit their bakery rather than just the shop you’ll probably be lucky enough to get one hot from the oven. Potter around the Sicilian ceramic shops and then head over to the Balio gardens and Castello di Venere to take in the spectacular view.
So, what is one of Sicily’s main attractions? You may be surprised to learn it is Ancient Greek architecture. The most famous Greek archaeology is surely in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Segesta’s temple is just as spectacular though, and much closer (although there is only one temple here there is the added bonus of an amphitheatre as well).
This temple is attributed to an Atehnian architect and was never actually finished, as evidenced by the lack of fluting on the columns and the fact the tabs on the base blocks (krepidoma) still remain. The theatre which lies further up the hill has incredible views over the Sicilian countryside.
So, there you have it. That would be my ideal week in Trapani. There are of course many more places to visit within range, but for a relaxing week with minimum travel I think these destinations have it all.