Pick up in Palermo Airport at 5 PM and transfer by private bus to the
town of Marsala on the west coast
of Sicily. After checking into our hotel we have a welcome briefing
and dinner. In the evening there is a chance to stroll slowly around
the town and perhaps try the wine that has made Marsala famous.
Marsala and Levanzo This morning we
explore the historic centre of Marsala after which we
take a ferry to the idyllic island of Levanzo. One
of the Egadi Islands, the scarcely populated and extremely quiet
island was inhabited in prehistoric times as witnessed by the Grotta
entrance of the grotto (cave) there are paintings (charcoal drawings
fixed to the wall with animal fat) dating back to 7000BC depicting
hunting and breeding scenes, female figures (resembling the Mother
Goddesses) and male figures. Toward the deep end of the cave are
graffiti thought to have been drawn around 12,000 BC
representing oxen, deer and horses. It makes one wonder if early
man was not as primitive as we are led to believe.
But there is more of
interest than just prehistoric caves. This is a nature walk where we
observe endemic plants and interesting birdlife as well as lovely
Day 3 Selinunte An
hour away from Marsala is one of the most spectacular archaeological
sites in all of the Mediterranean region. Founded in the 7th century
BC by the Greeks, Selinunte stands on rolling green hills flanked by
two rivers and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The park covers
270 hectares with over eight km of trails. Starting from the three
Eastern Temples we walk through the Acropolis enclosed in its
massive walls all the way to the Sanctuary of Malophoros. To see the
entire park takes three to four hours of easy walking. Nearby, we
find the Belice Nature Reserve with 3 km of beach ideal for a beach
stroll before heading back to Marsala.
Day 4 Motya and Monte Cofano
This morning we check out of our hotel and head
north stopping to see the 20 sq km lagoon
known as Lo Stagnone, a haven for water fowl and nursery for fish
and crustaceans. The production of salt in these shallow waters
dates back to the Phoenicians and today some saline still
produce salt using traditional methods from 2000 years ago. A short
boat ride takes us to Motya, a tiny island in the centre of the
lagoon. Founded by Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, Motya was an
important and rich colony standing at the crossroads of the main
commercial routes of the Mediterranean. Our walk goes through the
remains of what was once a city that was destroyed in the 4th
century BC by the tyrant of Syracuse. Thanks to the Englishman
Joseph Whitaker, from a family of Marsala wine merchants, the site
was excavated in the 20th century.
In the afternoon we explore
the lovely Nature Reserve of Monte Cofano which includes caves that
have hosted human settlements since palaeolithic times.
Late in the day we reach the tiny village of Scopello where we spend
the next four nights.
Scopello and Segeste
start by exploring Scopello which
consists of a “baglio” (a
fortified structure of Western Sicily built around a courtyard and
once used as the centre of an agricultural estate),
small square with a church, a few houses and an ancient wood-fired
oven situated in one of the narrow alleys. Scopello prides itself in
the special bread that comes from this oven - pane cunzatu - a
delicious loaf seasoned with salt, olive oil, oregano, tomatoes,
local cheese and anchovies and served hot.
Nearby we see
an abandonned tonnara (tuna processing factory) that dates back to
the 13th century. Now it is a museum and part of the seafront lido
at the edge of a pretty cove and beach. From Scopello we follow a
path to a 14th century watch-tower with amazing views of the coastline and along this trail we find what remains of the
old Castello di Baida built in XIV century over the ruins of an
ancient arab settlement.
In the afternoon our bus takes us to Segesta, an archeaological site
with spectacular ruins including a Greek temple that looks as if it
were built yesterday although we learn it was actually constructed
around 430 BC. But Segesta dates back long before that. According
to Roman mythology the Trojan hero
Aeneas stopped off in Sicily during his long wanderings from Troy
and founded Segesta in the 12th century BC. As we walk to
explore the archaeological park with its Doric Temple and ancient
Greek Theatre we admire the stunning nature of the mountain setting.
Day 6 Erice
Today we explore a city of ancient origin but
medieval in its present appearance. Originally
founded in the
Bronze Age by the Elymians, an ancient people with their
own not-yet-deciphered language, the town of Erice was populated by many
peoples - the Sicani, the Phoenicians and later the Greeks.
Folklore even claims it
was visited by
mythological characters like Hercules and the Greek hero, Aeneas on
his way home from the Trojan war. Like many Sicilian towns, Erice
passed from one invader to another and each left their architectural
calling cards and their cultural footprints.
Amongst the most visited sites
are the two castles, Pepoli Castle and Venus Castle that was built
on the site of the ancient Temple of Venus. Other attractions
include churches like the Gothic Chiesa Madre built in 1314 and the
Mediaeval Church of Saint John the Baptist. The maze of cobbled
medieval streets is a pleasure to tour and the views are stunning
but visitors are eventually distracted by
sweets. You have never tasted a cannoli like that of Erice with its
fresh whipped riccota filling piped into crispy deep-fried pastry.
After a day of walking a few calories don't matter!
Naturale dello Zingaro
Adjacent to our hotel is the Nature Reserve of Zingaro on the
Western coastline of the Gulf of Castellammare. This was the very
first protected area established in Sicily when, in 1980, a big
environmental protest march managed to rescue this piece of heaven
from a planned motorway project. Today, the reserve is pristine and
beautiful with limestone cliffs above clear waters, small coves that
can only be reached on foot, and an extremely lush and varied
vegetation that offers a habitat for mammals and birds. At the
other end of the reserve lies the village of San Vito Lo Capo where,
strolling through its steets, we see what looks like a piece of
Africa in Sicily. Small and square whitewashed houses, private
courtyards, jasmin and bouganvillea testify the strong Arab
influence of this town. Although famous for its cous-cous, the
gelaterias of the town are also note-worthy. The problem is to choose a
flavour. There are so many it is hard to get past the five different
versions of chocolate.
Transfer by private bus to Palermo Airport arriving
Anyone who would like to continue to Eastern Sicily can take a train
from Palermo to Catania (about three hours).