Travel Notes blog
Our Local Specialist recommends: Barbara's local guide to Western Sicily
by Laura Bardell-Smith
9 min read

Our Local Specialist recommends: Barbara's local guide to Western Sicily

Our Local Specialist recommends: Barbara's local guide to Western Sicily
Learn to love Western Sicily like our Local Specialist Barbara does. Our latest blog post unveils all of Barbara's top suggestions for beaches, cultural attractions and, of course, lovely luxury villas with all the best amenities.
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Barbara D'Agostino, our Local Specialist in Western Sicily, has a longstanding love and passion for this unique region of Italy. Discover why she has decided to make Western Sicily her home by exploring some of her favourite cultural spots, gastronomic treats, sandy beaches and, of course, the finest luxury villas in Sicily.


Meet Barbara

Hello, my name is Barbara, your Local Specialist on the beautiful island of Sicily. Before working with The Thinking Traveller, I was employed by the United Nations in Rome. My role there granted me the unique opportunity to travel the world extensively, including the US, Mexico, France, Spain, Greece, Austria, the UK, Thailand and the UAE, allowing my knowledge and passion for the luxury travel industry to flourish. But for as long as I can remember, my greatest love was always Sicily and my ultimate dream was to make it my home.

I remember so clearly the day I was working as a project and office manager in Rome and finally decided that enough was enough – I had to make my dream of working in Sicily a reality one way or another. When I got back to my desk after a meeting, it was fate. The Thinking Traveller’s newsletter was resting in my inbox and there I discovered the advertisement for my current job... and the rest is history. After packing up my life in Rome, I was on my way to create a new life in Sicily. As destiny would have it, soon after arriving I met my now-husband. Sicily truly is for lovers!

I adore Western Sicily because it is less touristy, has terrific food and expansive swaths of lovely agricultural areas and vineyards to explore. It's always a pleasure to introduce my guests to our Sicily luxury villas, the best beaches, exciting gastronomic traditions and little known cultural attractions in the area. I genuinely love my job and couldn't imagine doing anything else!

As for my cultural background, I am of Australian and Italian heritage. My father was originally from Calabria, Italy and emigrated to Australia, where he met my mum. My dad worked as a shoemaker and later went on to open a restaurant in Paddington, Sydney under our family name, where I worked as a waitress after school. There, I developed my love for food and learned the importance of good customer service and multi-tasking – two skills that I use extensively when working with my guests here in Sicily.

When I'm not working, I like to spend time with my husband and our five dogs, get back to nature by tending to my fruit and vegetable garden and work on our new home. I’m excited to say that our highly energy-efficient property will become a self-sufficient mini-farm in the near future! My ultimate goal is to live a simpler, stress-free life by surrounding myself with nature, homegrown food and animals, all while enjoying the wonderful sea views over the Gulf of Castellammare.


Barbara's Sicily travel guide

I’m so excited to share with you my own personal travel guide. From beaches, culture and activities to restaurants and food (LOTS of food!), here are my favourite things to do, eat and see in Western Sicily.

The best beach in Sicily

Allow me to introduce you to my favourite beach in Western Sicily, La Pineta Marinella di Selinunte. La Pineta Marinella di Selinunte is part of Foce del Belice Park, a protected nature reserve that shelters a variety of protected flora and fauna. Large stretches of warm and soft golden sands welcome any visitor lucky enough to visit. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the beaches I've frequented in Australia. It features crystal clear and amazingly clean water (which is one of the many reasons it has been awarded Blue Flag status), a fantastic casual beach club and lido and amazing food just a few steps away – I couldn't think of anything more to ask for when planning a perfect day trip to the beach in Sicily.


The best restaurant in Sicily

Serving a rotating selection of seasonal Mediterranean and authentic Sicilian cuisine, La Pineta Selinunte, located just steps from my favourite beach (yes, they share the same name!), is without a doubt my most loved restaurant in Western Sicily. On warm nights, you can sit on the sand and admire the torches lit all around you as you dine - it’s almost as though you are in Bali.

When you visit, you may be lucky enough to try monkfish, spaghetti alle vongole, fresh and succulent mussels and my favourite – the lobster pasta. La Pineta Selinunte is a must-visit when renting a luxury villa in Sicily if you desire a dining experience featuring unparalleled service, stunning seaside views and a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere.


My favourite cultural spot in Sicily

Erice, an amazingly well preserved medieval town, continues to leave me in awe each time I visit. Your journey there will start with an exciting cable car trip that travels 751 metres above sea level, offering amazing views of the Egadi Islands when the weather is clear. Once you arrive at the top of the village, prepare to take a step back in time as you wander the maze of small cobblestone streets, admiring the brightly coloured and intricately designed ceramics. When you arrive at the main piazza, you will be blessed with the most breathtaking views over San Vito Lo Capo. After a long day of walking, I suggest following up your tour of Erice with a meal at Gli Archi di San Carlo. This little restaurant is tucked away within a beautiful courtyard and serves all their authentic Sicilian recipes on traditional Erice ceramic platters – making your meal a masterpiece to behold.

Learn about booking passage on hydrofoils and ferries to the Egadi Islands by clicking here.


My favourite local food and beverage in Sicily

Traditional Sicilian food is informed by the region's ethnic and cultural heritage, effortlessly blending flavours and ingredients made famous by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Swabians. My favourite savoury dish has to be pasta with prawns and pistachio, which features a lovely basil, parsley and mint-infused pesto studded with earthy pistachio nuts and fresh, plump prawns. For an afternoon pick me up or evening treat, I can often be found sipping a chilled glass of homemade latte di mandorla (or almond milk).


My favourite activity in Sicily

Sicily is a gourmand’s paradise. As such, my favourite local activity is eating! The best way to experience the Sicilian farm-to-table food scene is by visiting a local country agriturismo (a family farm that hosts meals) to enjoy the day's varied menu of fresh seasonal ingredients and locally produced wine. There's nothing more soul soothing than being in the quiet countryside and enjoying great food with the ones you love.


The locals' best kept secret

Western Sicily’s best kept secret is the storied Marettimo Island. It's the farthest and most remote of the Egadi Islands but so worth the ferry trip. When you arrive, it's as if you have stepped into another world that is equal measures quaint, peaceful and historically significant. I love to visit there when I need to escape the busy tourist hot spots in other parts of Sicily. As soon as I disembark from the ferry, I go straight to the La Scaletta Restaurant & Bar and have a granita and brioche whilst sitting on their small terrace overlooking the boats in the port. I’m filled with an instant feeling of peace and relaxation.

Barbara’s top recommendation: Be sure to stock up on the honey when visiting Marettimo – it's some of the best in the world!


My favourite villas in Sicily

Has my Sicily travel guide gotten you excited to start planning your next luxury villa holiday? In that case, please allow me to suggest two of my favourite villa rentals ideally situated to explore Western Sicily.


The lovingly restored harbour-front cottage with brilliant sea views and easy beach access Hiera is a fantastic base on Marettimo Island. Hiera shelters up to four guests over two contemporary bedrooms and is well suited for a group of close friends or a romantic getaway. This villa allows you and your guests to easily explore this fascinating island, as you will be situated just a pebble's throw away from a stunning beach and a short stroll to a series of excellent trattorie, which serve satisfying and simple food. From there, a gentle meander will bring you to the start of a series of lovely walking paths that circle and scale Marettimo's beautiful and mountainous interior. If all that exploring leaves you weary for rest, sit back in Hiera's relaxing al fresco rooftop tub which looks out over the sea, or enjoy a convivial meal at the shaded dining areas also located on the sunny terrace.


Al Jafar

An intriguing, refined, welcoming and luxurious castle centrally located to everything that makes Western Sicily special: Al Jafar welcomes you. This villa provides magnificent views of the sea and a quick 12-minute car trip to the medieval town of Erice. My love for the diverse history of Sicily makes this eco-friendly authentic Arab castle as irresistible as the property's in-ground pool. Inside, you will find four bedrooms that sleep up to eight guests spread over three floors and at the top of an independently accessed tower. You will feel like royalty strolling along the ancient walled garden, looking out across the whispering olive groves.

This villa's furnishing and design are of the highest standard, from the sleeping quarters to the chef's kitchen, where your in-villa cook can make use of the property's vegetable garden and farm-fresh eggs. Start each morning with my favourite drink - latte di mandorla - and an outstanding savoury and sweet complimentary breakfast spread before setting off on a guided tour of the nearby Greek sites Segesta and Selinunte. Because of its size, outstanding and consistently well-received staff and endless opportunities for adventure, Al Jafar is one of the best family villas in Sicily.


Have Barbara's suggestions ignited a passion within you to experience the best of what Western Sicily has to offer? If so, please don't hesitate to contact our team to start planning your Sicilian villa stay. We are eager to help you make your Italian dream holiday a reality.