If you find yourself in Western Sicily then Erice should really be on your list of places to visit. In fact, Tripadvisor rates it number 14 in its list of Top Things to Do in Sicily—yep, in all of Sicily. That’s a pretty impressive achievement for a small medieval borgo (town) situated on the top of a mountain.
So, why should you give this little gem a go? Well, I would describe Erice as the Sicilian equivalent of a quaint little Cotswold village. It’s a place to while away your time exploring the endless cobbled streets and alleyways, stopping into the little tourist shops (some authentic, some a little less authentic) and enjoying an espresso at the many different cafes. However, don’t be mistaken, there is more to Erice than initially meets the eye.
1. The Chiesa Madre
- Take a look inside the Chiesa Madre. Located in piazza Matrice on the left after entering Erice through Porta Trapani is Erice’s ‘Mother Church’. Originally a cathedral it no longer holds that title as Erice no longer has a bishop. From the outside this church would seem to be nothing special, in comparison to most Italian churches it is extremely plain, but go inside and all that changes. It’s worth the visit just to see the intricately stuccoed ceiling. Trust me you won’t regret it!One of the most interesting things in the church is a stone tablet on the left wall which records the dates of the transportations of the Madonna di Custonaci from its sanctuary in Custonaci to the town of Erice, stating the reasons behind each of these journeys. It records Erice’s history through, droughts, earthquakes and even plague.
2. Eat Genovesi!
- Have a Genovese. You haven’t experienced Erice unless you’ve tried its most famous pastry. The Genovese— strangely named after Genoa— is a round, sweet, shortcrust pastry filled with crème patisserie and dusted with icing sugar. If you’ve read anything about visiting Erice before coming here, you’ll probably be heading off to Maria Grammatico’s for your Genovese, but in my opinion the best Genovese in Erice is currently the one you can buy at pasticceria San Carlo. If you’re really lucky you might even stumble upon their workshop where you can eat one fresh from the oven!A note on the name Genovese— no-one is really sure where it comes from, but the most likely explanation is that they are so called because their shape reflected the shape of the Genoese sailors’ hats as Trapani and Genoa once enjoyed strong trade links.
3. The Giardini del Balio
Visit the Giardini del Balio. These gardens might not seem that impressive for their greenery, and you’d be right, but their beauty instead lies in their unparalleled view. On their south side on a clear day the view stretches down the coast to Marsala and beyond. The vista spans the Sicilian countryside across Paceco and Napola. From the view point at the end of the castle on the north- eastern side the view stretches down the coast to Monte Cofano and San Vito. From here you can also look down on the charming Toretta Pepoli.
4. Venere Castle
Have a look around the Castello di Venere. I have read a lot of reviews from disillusioned tourists bemoaning that this castle is just a bunch of ruins, but please don’t let them put you off. Inside there are many things to see if you know what you’re looking for. For this reason I really do recommend shelling out the couple of euros for the guide as it will make all the difference. While there are information placards for some things inside the castle, some of the more interesting things are only listed in the guide. The views from within the castle are quite spectacular as well. In fact I like this castle so much I even got married there! Who knows you might end up being party to a beautiful Sicilian wedding during your visit!
5. The Chiesa di San Martino
St Martin’s church is one of the most spectacular among Erice’s very many churches. Again like the Chiesa Madre its external facade bears little resemblance to the ornate interior. Richly decorated with stuccoes and frescoes it is also home to a beautiful wooden statue depicting San Martino. The ‘Congregation’ room, was used for meetings of the Confraternity of St. Martin and Purgatory. It is also decorated in stuccoes possibly from the hand of Giacomo Serpotta. This is most likely as the frescoes are the work of other Palermitan artists, the Manno brothers.