Villas in the west of Sicily >>
Stepping westward along the north coast from Cefalù, one soon arrives at Palermo, Sicily’s capital city and a treasure trove of artistic riches whose Arab-Norman churches and duomo, along with the splendid cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalú, form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few kilometres out of town, through the Favorita Park, once the hunting grounds of King Ferdinand III, is the Liberty Style suburb of Mondello, home to a perfect horseshoe bay with fine white sand and shallow electric blue waters.
Continuing west, one passes through the fishing villages of Sferracavallo, Isola delle Femine (both home to some great seafood restaurants) and past the airport. Then one comes to Alcamo, a historic town of Arab origins, now a wine-producing centre, and Castellammare del Golfo, with its long sandy beach, a seafront castle and a marina.
The northwest corner of Sicily’s triangle is dotted with the fascinating towns Erice, Trapani and Marsala, one of the most impressive and best-preserved temples in the Mediterranean, Segesta, and glorious sandy beaches such as the one at San Vito Lo Capo.
Finally, though certainly not to be missed, are the idyllic Egadi Islands, whose crystal clear waters and fascinating history are just a short hydrofoil ride from Trapani and Marsala.
Nature, food and wine
The dramatic coastline below the picturesque village of Scopello, with its old tonnara, sea stacks, and rugged, prickly pear covered cliffs soon gives way to Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve, home to a series of small pebbly beaches, mountains that crash into the sea and some superb coastal walking paths. The reserve's western extremity is linked by a panoramic coastal road to the popular summer resort of San Vito Lo Capo, which boasts arguably Sicily’s most perfect beach.
A semi-manmade landscape of outstanding natural beauty, meanwhile, can be found on the coast between Trapani and Marsala, in the form of the salt pans and the Stagnone lagoon, home to the ancient Carthaginian island of Mozia.
The northwest of Sicily is a great destination for food lovers. Inland, the scenery is dominated by vast expanses of vineyards and olive groves. Indeed, some of Sicily's best wines – for example those of the Alcamo, Trapani, Erice and Marsala DOC areas - and olive oils are produced in this corner of the island. Restaurant menus offer a fabulous array of fresh fish and seafood dishes. Fish cous cous is one of the signature dishes, a tradition that is celebrated every September at San Vito’s international Cous Cous Fest. Other stand-out specialities include busiate al pesto Trapanese - a homemade pasta served with a pesto of tomatoes, garlic, almonds and basil - and spaghetti alla bottarga - salt-cured tuna fish roe grated on steaming pasta.
Fish cous cous is one of the signature dishes, a tradition that is celebrated every September at San Vito’s international Cous Cous Fest.
History and monuments
The Carthaginians landed in Sicily in the 8th century BC and set up colonies at Mozia, Marsala, Erice, Palermo and Solunto. Next to arrive were the Greeks, and the architecture and philosophy of Magna Graecia inspired the creation of northwestern Sicily’s most renowned archaeological site – the Elymian temple and theatre at Segesta.
The Romans ousted the Greeks in the east and then fought for control of Sicily against Carthage. One of the last acts of the First Punic War was a naval battle off the Egadi Islands, won by Rome. Marsala quickly became an important strategic outpost of the Roman Empire
Northwestern Sicily's vicinity to North Africa had always made it an important area for trade, and the Arabs, who invaded in the early 9th century AD, soon chose Palermo soon became the centre of Arab power on the island and the was significantly enlarged and improved under their rule.
The 18th century saw the arrival of English merchants, such as Woodhouse, Ingham and the Whitakers, who transformed the local Marsala wine into an international commodity.
Some 80 years later, in 1860, Garibaldi, the Hero of the Two Worlds, arrived in Marsala with his 1,000 men to begin the Unification of Italy, otherwise known as the Risorgimento.
Villas in the west of Sicily >>