Driving around Western Sicily

The 6 senses in 6 days, driving around Western Sicily (scroll down to find the recommended tour with details on sites and tips per day)

I just couldn’t wait to get off the plane to replenish all my senses with a fresh intake of my adored Sicily. It’s my home, where I was raised. The perfume fills my nostrils and my mind starts picturing images of my family at home waiting for my arrival. I feel already their warmth and arms squeezing me. My ears can already hear their voices, already imagining what they’ll say as soon as they see me, and my grandmother talking loudly while waving her arms and hands in a frenzy. That was when I started getting hyper excited! Each corner of this island has its story and precious memories. The sense of urgency distracted me; I was reminded of how desperate I was to see all of my family. Summer 2015 was going to be the best ever, as it was going to be my English grandmother’s 90th birthday, and I was going to be able to see all of my relatives coming from the UK, America, Africa and of course the Sicilian ones all at once and in the space of a couple of days. Having satisfied my first impelling need, the second urge was to get to the beach and then get my hands on some Sicilian food. It’s not sufficient to just state that food is delicious, as simply anything you eat tastes better than in any other part of the world (no bias here!)

“It may be a no-brainer to most, but never eat at places that offer a “menù turistico” or similar, just pretend you didn’t see the place and walk past it. The best thing to do is to ask the grocers’ and café owners where to eat – they’ll help you out for sure: “Mi può consigliare un posto dove si mangia bene ad un prezzo conveniente?” And repeat stressing the words “Ma bene!” looking at them in the eyes and raising your brows. Make sure you have a GPS or Google Maps, because road signs aren’t great and locals do not speak English. Most businesses in Sicily take a siesta in the afternoon, often from 1:00pm until 4:30pm or a bit later. As for the Palermitan nightlife, I would recommend you checking out these places on their Facebook pages before you go as they have updates on their coming up events.”

The 6 senses in 6 days…

Day 1: Woke up early, to reach the beach of Mondello, a small seaside resort with a wonderful beach just a short bus ride (15 mins depending on traffic). It is more or less a suburb of the city, and is the only place (apart from the high street in the centre) where Palermitans would actually leave their cars to have a walk, or “passeggiata”, and have an ice-cream. The best ice-cream is the one at the Baretto right opposite the main roundabout that you see as you get right in front of the sea. So first stop there, then second at the “Ombelico del Mondo” to chill out right on the beach, equipped with deckchairs, umbrellas, children’s play area and café. The beach and sea are perfect for kids, and of course for me! There is a constant low tide perfect for wallowing in the sea.

All along the beach it is generally crowded in the summer, but there’s a sunny holiday atmosphere at Mondello, and like the locals, tourists like to take time off from their business of sightseeing, and relax with a few hedonistic hours by the turquoise sea. I personally prefer going to Capo Gallo or Addaura (rocky beaches with sandy patches) for a swim or away from Palermo, stopping at Isola delle Femmine “La Rosa dei Venti” or further away. A must is a day out at a beach like Balestrate, lo Zingaro (pack as if you were going camping, there is quite a walk to reach the paradisiac pebbled and sandy beaches) or San Vito Lo Capo (all 3 on the western side of Palermo).

I then went for a drive to Cefalù (only a 35 mins drive east from Palermo) is another holiday beach town, famous for its small old town and cathedral. There is always a festival or event being organized. It is also a destination for its Nightclub “Le Calette” and nightlife in general. After visiting Cefalú and having had a swim, I chilled out in Castelbuono, where you must try Fiasconaro’s “Panettone ” with their pistachio, red fruits, nut, almond spreads to go on top of each slice. The top-restaurant where you must go is “Nangalarruni” (Jew’s harp in Sicilian dialect). The whole town is car free, you must park in the town’s outskirts. There is a great Jazz Festival going on every summer in the main square at the foot of the Norman castle from which the town gets its name.

Day 2: Spent the day visiting Palermo and Monreale. Every 14th July, people from Palermo stop all they are doing to celebrate and honour our beloved patron saint, Rosalia, a girl from a rich and noble family, who refused her privileged conditions and retired at a very young age to a cave on Mount Pellegrino (beautiful panorama of Palermo and you can visit the sanctuary, very important destinations for pilgrimages). But why do Palermitani love her so much? Because back in 1624, she saved the city of Palermo which was infested by the plague. She appeared in her cave to a hunter and asked him for her bones to be taken back to the city. As the hunter reached the city with her bones on his cart, the plague miraculously disappeared. To celebrate this event, every 14th of July, a Mass is held to thank the saint for her miracle, after which a litter leaves the square in procession and is carried on shoulders to the Quattro Canti and then the Foro Italico, the heart of Palermo. And this is where the fun begins: when the procession reaches the Foro Italico, there are fireworks and singing which will give you goosebumps. There are also plenty of concerts and exhibitions in her honour. The festival of Saint Rosalia is not only a religious event, but also a moment of fun and sharing in the Sicilian community (a must is to stop for a “panino con la milza, formaggio e limone and/or panelle e crocché” at “Focacceria S.Francesco”).

As we did not have time and were too tired, we decided to walk around Palermo before the festival started in the evening and parked in this square here (safe and free parking). Easy way to get as close as possible to the main monuments, and then get out of the centre avoiding traffic on the way back. The route we did on foot was Cattedrale – Villa Bonanno, Cappella Palatina, San Giovanni degli Eremiti, Ballarò market, went down Via Casa Professa towards Piazza Pretoria, continued along Via Maqueda to reach Teatro Massimo and Piazza Politeama. Walked back to the car.

Day 3: Agrigento (Valley of the Temples) and Scala dei Turchi (beautiful beach destination – reach Porto Empedocle and look for road signs coloured in brown) the right road to the beach gets very steep, where you may be lucky to find free parking space just before. The beach is well equipped, but the most important is to continue walking to your right, leaving the beach café called “Lido” behind you and follow the sandy path. Then you continue along the seashore to only stop once you reach the white rock surface, similar to an enormous marble staircase. You will discover one of the most beautiful coastlines you have ever seen. The origin of the name comes from the many invasions of Turkish pirates and the “stairs” are formed by eroded marl, clay and silt similar to calcite and limestone. We set back to Palermo by around 7pm. We had dinner at 10pm at “Lo Strascino” – delicious!

Day 4: Island of Mothia, Trapani and Erice – I drove all the way to Mothia to visit the salt culture and give him a better idea of Sicilian beauties and traditions. We took the boat to the island (click here for info). I found the visit very relaxing and enjoyed the boat trip that gave us a view of this outstanding and unique small archipelago. We set off by 11am to reach Erice. I parked the car for free in one of the lanes around the parking lot and went up the mount-top by cableway (fabulous views and hassle-free because you avoid driving up the very narrow and steep road that gets you to the top). Amongst the most visited sites are the two castles, Pepoli Castle and Venus Castle. Other attractions include the sixty churches including the Gothic Chiesa Madre (1314) and the Mediaeval Church of Saint John the Baptist. Otherwise the maze of cobbled medieval streets is a pleasure to wander around and the views are stunning. On a cloudless day, the Egadi Islands off the coast of Trapani (if you spend 2 days in this area – I recommend visiting the islands and have lunch at one of the restaurants right of the small harbours “order Spaghetti con i ricci and vongole”) are clearly visible, while to the west the panorama takes in vast strips of eastern Sicily, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the coastline towards San Vito Lo Capo, Monte Cofano and the Gulf of Castellammare (stop at the Bar La Sorgente on your way as it is just of the motorway exit to taste the Cassatelle and croissants with pistachio cream). Erice today plays host to a series of renowned international scientific conferences and, in particular, an annual congress dedicated to Astronomy. Don’t stop there for lunch but go back down to Trapani and have it at “Ai Tipici”, which is open until 3pm (we had the Busiate Allo Scoglio). We then went for a walk around Trapani and stopped for a swim at “Lido Paradiso”. We showered and got changed for the evening. Went for a drink in one of the bars in the lanes of Trapani and for a late dinner had to stop at another well-known eatery “Pizzeria Calvino” (it was 10pm by then). Drove back to Palermo.

Day 5: Trip to the Aeolian Islands. Where I re-fell in love with Panarea (all info needed here). On this holiday we only had a day for this visit, so we chose Panarea and Stromboli. Amazing nature and views, which gives you the chance to check out the variety of beaches offered (Stromboli has black sand – don’t worry it doesn’t stain your clothes at all!). It is very tiring to do all in one day. Most of the stime is spent on the ferry or coach if you are leaving from Cefalú. Even if you have a car, I would recommend parking it in the free car park at Bar Santa Lucia, so you get some time to sleep before driving back to Palermo (don’t forget to have breakfast there at Bar Santa Lucia (take away food is excellent too, especially the rosticceria). The coaches leave from the petrol station right opposite. I chose to do the mini-cruise Stromboli – Panarea by night (some recommendations – don’t waste time eating on the islands and buy your lunch also at Bar S. Lucia before taking the coach; also order a pizza to take away and eat on the ferry on the way back, also use the toilets on the ferry. I’d order it 30 mins before the return journey and specify the time your ferry is leaving to the lady at the till).

Day 6: A day out to San Vito Lo Capo (if you have time, book a night in a B&B and spend at least 2 days). It is famous for its white sandy beaches, its crystal-clear sea and its famous Cous Cous dishes. It proves to be a ‘good logistics base for visiting the Zingaro Nature Reserve, the temples of Selinunte and Segesta. As usual, I went to have dinner at “I Profumi di Cous Cous” – divine!

By the end of this tour you will have developed your 6th sense…discover it in Sicily!

 

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