05 Feb Heading to Sicily? Go West
Sicily is the largest island in Italy and the Mediterranean. Sicily is close in size to the state of Massachusetts. The most famous landmark is Etna, one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. Millions of tourists are flocking to Sicily each year, many heading to Etna. But Etna is on the eastern side of Sicily and there is much more to discover beyond Etna. The western part of Sicily is home to Palermo, the largest city in Sicily, and Marsala further west. And in between are wineries to explore. So, when planning a trip to Sicily, head west as I wrote about for WineTraveler.
Exploring the western part of Sicily begins in Palermo, the fifth biggest city in Italy. With a history dating to the 8th century BC, there have been numerous cultural influences that are reflected in the city’s architecture, ranging from Arabic to Gothic. Palermo has much to offer. Before venturing out to explore some of the best wineries and wine tasting experiences, it’s worth spending some time in the city itself. There are palaces and churches featuring different architectural styles to visit. There are neighborhoods to stroll through and piazzas and squares to visit, such as the Baroque square Quattro Canti, or “Four Corners”. There is the botanical garden Orto Botanico in the heart of the city and the Museo Archeologico Regionale which features an extensive collection of artifacts from ancient Sicily. But if there is one place to visit that is truly memorable and unique, it is the Catacombe dei Cappuccini (Catacombs of the Capuchins). It is a macabre yet fascinating place featuring 8,000 mummies and skeletal remains that date back to the 16th century. These dead bodies are all dressed up in the appropriate clothes of their era and some are in very good condition, especially Rosalia Lombardo, a little girl who died in 1920 and looks like she is sleeping. It is definitely eerie but worth a visit.
Another thing to do in Palermo is to eat cannoli. One of the best ways to explore cannoli, and all the other delicious foods of Palermo is a walking food tour. Marco Romeo created Streaty, Palermo’s first city food tour in 2013. Streaty’s mission is to support small family-run businesses and save Italian street food traditions.
And for a seated meal, Corona Trattoria is a standout. A family restaurant, Corona Trattoria is run by brothers Orazio and Alessandro Corona and their parents Gianni and Angela. The restaurant decor is simple but elegant with pictures capturing different elements of Sicilian food and its sources. Corona Trattoria serves fresh seafood and dishes are fresh, delicious, and flavorful. They also have an extensive Sicilian wine selection.
When it is time to leave Palermo, head west to Monreale DOC where you will find Feuda Disisa, owned by the Di Lorenzo family.
The head 30 minutes northwest to the seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo, a historic little fishing port between the Tyrrhenian Sea and steep mountain slopes. Do not miss a meal at Ristorante La Tonnara, where you will get the freshest fish. Tonnara (“trap”) are the vast nets that have been used to haul in tuna. And spend a night or two in Castellammare del Golfo at the Hotel Cetarium located in Cala Marina, one of the oldest buildings in the city.
Thirty minutes south of Castellammare del Golfo is the Belice Valley, a small wine-producing area with vineyards nestled among the hills. At the heart of the Belice Valley is the town of Gibellina which was completely destroyed during an earthquake in 1968. While many people left, Gibellina’s mayor Ludovico Correo believed in the area and along with the farmers who refused to abandon their vineyards, Ludovio rebuilt the town of Gibellina. Gibellina Nuova (the new Gibellina) was built seven miles from the original town and is a town centered around contemporary art. In 1998, nine of the original family farms joined together to form a winemaking cooperative in Gibellina called Cantine Ermes, the largest cooperative in Sicily, and Tenuta Orestiadi is the gem of the cooperative.
The province of Trapani is further west of Castellammare del Golfo and you will find the agricultural estate Baglio Sorìa Resort & Wine Experience where guests can enjoy an eno-tourism experience. Baglio Sorìa has eleven rooms that look out over the Trapani countryside, Mount Erice, the salt pans, and the Egadi Islands. Baglio Sorìa is also the center of production in Trapani of Firriato wines.
A fifteen-minute drive from Firriato is Casa Vinicola Fazio, located in the Erice DOC. Here Lily Ferro Fazio is the face of Fazio Wines.
Located in the Province of Trapani, Marsala sits in the westernmost part of Sicily. It is known for the famous wine of the same name. Marsala is also famous for its salt pans which can be visited. One of the two main areas of production is a few miles north of Marsala in the Stagnone Nature Reserve. An old mill has been restored and offers visitors an introduction to the culture of salt, including a walk through the salt pans. Then enjoy a panoramic view and watch the sunset with an aperitivo and some food at Mamma Caura Ristorante.
End the trip in Marsala where some of the first wineries in Sicily were established. Some wineries have kept their historic cellars in Marsala, and they are open to the public. One of these wineries is Caruso e Minini.
Western Sicily has so much to offer and you can read even more in the original story in WineTraveler.