“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” JW Goethe from Viaggio in Italia.
In 2013 I spent 10 idyllic days in Western Sicily over my Christmas holiday. To find out more about Western Sicily, head over to Lonely Planet and research their guide books! I still love buying or downloading guide books because I feel like they have sooooo many options in just one place!
Who needs travel tips?
It was an unexpected trip, and one that was more an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up than a planned event, so I went into it mostly unprepared, almost entirely un-researched, and with very little in the way of expectations. My only clue as to what to expect came from reading the 40 pages at the end of the local library’s copy of Fodor’s Guide to Italy. But, As LaoTzu said, “a good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
So, rather than fix a plan, I, like I do, jumped in head-first, knowing that I could only glean so much from words and maps and, in the end, would learn more thoroughly and experience the country so much more fully by allowing the culture, the people, the cuisine, the customs and the terrain to unveil themselves as each saw fit.
Thus I say to you: Benvenuto a Sicily.
If you’re thinking of traveling to Sicily, I’ll be posting a suggested itinerary and some Sicily travel tips in a future post but, for now, check out this amazing website https://www.visitsicily.travel/en/sicily/
From my December 2013 Travel Journal, amended:
Sicily, to me, is a land built on tradition and a place where time stands still. The pace of life was slow. Slower still in the winter months when tourists mostly stay away and the locals take a much needed hiatus.
I made my base in Bonagia, a small fishing town outside of the larger city of Trapani. My hotel was the Tonnara di Bonagia – a re-purposed Tuna Fishery from the 1600s – with a full European breakfast daily (Nutella filled-croissants, cured meats, fresh cheeses and bottomless cappuccino oh-my) and an incredible view of a small inlet/harbor where locals moored their tiny-but-mighty sea-worthy vessels. Truly a most beautiful spot to lay my head! Sadly I think the hotel is no longer in operation, but staying anywhere in the Provence of Trapani would be a nice choice if you have a car! Here’s a quick overview of the region (most of these are places I visited) http://www.italia.it/en/discover-italy/sicily/trapani.html
Sea, Sun and Solitude
I spent the days mostly in solitude – walking, hiking, or driving a tiny 2-door 5-speed Fiat500 fast, furious, and without care, caution or respect for stop signs, speed limits or personal space (as is the Sicilian custom).
Much of the Western Sicily I explored was quiet, serene, rugged, and achingly beautiful. Imagine lush, green, fertile land supporting grapevines, olive trees and citrus groves, all perched on cliffs and shooting vertically into the sky, stretching towards the sun from the sea below. And though the countryside was epically green and vibrant, it couldn’t compete with the Mediterranean Sea on all sides, flashing jewel-tones in make-Crayola-jealous colors of blue, green, and every shade in-between.
The small towns I visited were carved out of mountain tops, set deep into valleys, or frighteningly close to smashing waves and sea walls. All of them quaint, quiet, and ancient, filled with cobbled streets and stray cats. Some of the larger cities I visited (Palermo and Marsala) were almost too crowded when juxtaposed against the serenity I quickly grew used to.
Food and Weather
And the food – ohhh the food. It was fresh (if it’s not seasonal, you can’t buy it, order it or cook with it) and seafood-driven (swordfish was the most common, but squid and mussels and prawns as well as other fish I’ve never heard of were also readily available). The pasta was delightfully al dente. The pastries varied from marzipan-overly-sweet to utterly can’t-stop-eating-this-want-one-more delicious (basically anything resembling Cannoli or Gelato fell into this category for me). Cappuccino and Espresso were strong, hot and always available. The wine was inexpensive, light, pleasing to the palette and totally drinkable (I found myself leaning Nero D’Avola and Primativo, but pretty much local table wine was fantastic also!)
December might have been the perfect month to visit. The weather was ideal, but I believe I lucked out. I mostly found 65 and sunny to be the everyday norm, but for one rainy day, and was always comfortable at night just by adding a sweater or jacket/scarf. It was sheer heaven compared to the last time I visited Sicily (Catania in August oppressed under the sweltering heat of summer. You’ll see a future post about this soon!)
Go, and go again
I didn’t know what to expect from Western Sicily, but I wasn’t just awed by the sea, mountains and countryside, but unexpectedly delighted by the Roman ruins, the Salt Flats, Erice (a city on a mountain, some photos below), and the hiking at Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve (more to come on those). In the end there was more to see than 10 days permitted, but somehow 10 days seemed perfect.
What you see below is a concise photographic summary of most of the highlights of the land and the people I encountered. I was photographing with a Nikon D300 at the time and one all-purpose zoom lens. I hope you enjoy this and the future blog posts that will showcase a few of the other highlights of this country!
Gulf of Castellammare, Custonaci, and Siculiana
Trapani and Tonnara
Cappuccino, Cannoli and Calories