While many destinations lay claim to being ‘unspoilt’, ‘untouched’ and a ‘well-kept secret’, Western Sicily quietly gets on with being exactly what it is: a fascinating, ageless landscape spliced with a rich historical seam running through its proud Italian heart. It looks pretty good too…
I’ve written reams extolling the virtues of Western Sicily because, for me, this is one of the all-too-few destinations that can truly be called authentic – along with all those other superlatives. Unspoilt it is, indeed, but as long as I’m around a secret it will never be! I’ve steered many of my clients towards spending time in this wonderful region to explore its depth of history and culture, and Prestige Holidays has an excellent collection of agriturismo properties and resorts that allow you to feel a part of the ‘real’ Sicily.
Here’s some of what you can expect to see, feel, taste and experience when you head to a very different kind of ‘Out West’ in Western Sicily.
Marsala has a very important claim to uphold; I’ll lay odds you think I’m going to say it’s as the home of the fortified wine of the same name that’s been produced here for centuries and exported all over the world. Well, there is that, but in your rush to sample the sweet stuff don’t pass up a few other very interesting facts:
- It’s the westernmost city on the island
- It’s built on the ruins of a Carthaginian city called Lilybaion
- It’s where Garibaldi landed his troops on the Expedition of the Thousand (which enacted the union of the north and south)
- It’s the ferry access point to the Egadi Islands
- The Duomo is dedicated to St. Thomas Beckett (former Archbishop of Canturbury)
Situated just out of the city on the road to Trapani, this fascinating marine area is worth a trip to explore the salt ponds, which make for an eerie, otherworldly sight against the slowly turning giant windmills and starkness of the landscape. The lagoon is home to an abundance of flora and marine life, including more than 40 species of fish alone.
You can also hop across the lagoon to the important archaeological site of Motya, on San Pantaleo Island, which was established by the Phoenicians in the eighth century.
Now, back to that famous wine…
The Borgo of Erice
Erice was once the most powerful city on the island and a juxtaposition of five ancient civilisations: the Elimi, the Carthaginians, the Sicani, the Greeks and the Romans. The modern day visitor is left with the heritage of the best of each, and Erice is a true historical gem. Its magnificent elevated location at the top of Mount Erice also affords it breathtaking views over the harbour of Trapani and up and down the coastline.
While there’s a lot to see here, I recommend simply losing yourself in the tangle of streets that radiate from the central Piazza Umberto I, and seeing where you end up. Alternatively, follow the fortified walls around the outskirts of the town and you’ll stumble across the beautiful Castello di Venere and the cool, relaxing Giardino del Balio.
Food, Wine and Nature
Generally, aside from the history and culture, Western Sicily can be summed up in those three words: food, wine and nature. And after a week or so you’ll be wondering what else you’d ever need.
To experience the gamut of the region’s expansive beauty I recommend visiting the following places at the very least:
- Lo Zingaro nature reserve
- San Vito lo Capo (hold on to your heart as it’s renowned as the most beautiful beach on the island)
- The Egadi Islands
- Torre Salsa Nature Reserve
You can’t go wrong with the wine anywhere on the island really, but on the way down to Agrigento, behind the cliffs of La Scala dei Turchi, the inland landscape of the abundant region produces some of the most renowned wines in Italy.
And, finally, the food. Ahh, the food. What could I say about Italian cuisine that hasn’t already been said before? The answer is nothing – but Sicilian cuisine is entirely a law unto itself. With its wealth of exotic influences, one day you could be eating spicy North African inspired dishes and the next savouring the delicate flavours of just-caught local seafood. I do have one very important tip, however, and you’ll find it below.
My Recommended Hotels: Try One or Try Them All
Our collection of agriturismi in Western Sicily has been chosen not just for the authenticity of the accommodation, but also for the exceptional facilities. It’s up to you if you prefer to base yourself in one place for your entire holiday, but I can highly recommend several nights in each. Bookings in any of these Prestige Holidays’ properties include the use of a hire car to make exploring easy.
For authentic charm and proximity to Marsala, Erice and Trapani, the stylish
Relais Baglio Oneto offers elegant rooms with balconies to take in far-reaching views to the ocean, and a pool for those days when you just want to relax in the sun.
Close to Sciacca on the south west coast, Verdura Resort is a more contemporary accommodation option, with all the accoutrements of a luxury resort and a breathtaking vantage point with a private beach on the edge of the ocean. With its own golf course and wellness spa this is the kind of indulgence you could get used to.
La Foresteria Planeta is the dream accommodation for the gourmet traveller. This small rural retreat is nestled into an elevated landscape of vineyards and comes complete with its own kitchen gardens. With just 14 rooms it enjoys a delightfully intimate and friendly ambience.
Now can you see why I suggest you try them all?