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The quiet charms of Menfi

WINE, BEACHES, CYCLING AND CULTURE

Villas in and around Menfi >>

Not to be confused with its rather more illustrious Egyptian and American cousins, Menfi, Sicily is a small agricultural centre sitting between Selinunte and Sciacca in southwestern Sicily. Surrounded by rolling vine-covered hills that descend gently down to the  to the dunes and white sandy beaches of the coast below, it has the disarmingly humble charm of an authentic, working Sicilian town.

Menfi's ancient origins date back to the time of the Sicanian King Cocalo, who founded the town of Inycon and built a palace there, long before the the first Greek settlers arrived in Sicily. Greece was not unknown, however, and the area of Inycon entered the book of myths and legends when the great Daedalus (father of Icarus) arrived. In hot pursuit was King Minos himself, enraged that the creator of the Cretan labyrinth had absconded. King Minos, so the myth continues, met his death near Inycon at the hands of Daedalus’ daughters.

The rolling hills that surround Menfi are carpeted by acre upon acre of vineyard, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the town's
raison d'être is wine-making.

Nothing much else is heard of Inycon until the arrival of the Arabs, who founded the village of Burgimilluso on the site of modern-day Menfi. Its castle was developed and further fortified by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, in the first half of the 13th century. After several centuries of decline, in 1638 the village was repopulated and became known first as Terra di Memphis and then, some 50 years later, as Menfi.

Much of Menfi, including Frederick II's castle, was destroyed in 1968 by the terrible earthquake that ripped through the Val del Belice. The town was rebuilt on a modern grid system and, while not particularly pretty, the new centre has a couple of the main thoroughfares (Via Garibaldi and Via della Vittoria) populated by bars, restaurants, historic palazzi, and shops selling locally produced food, wine and olive oil. Frederick’s castle was rebuilt in modern style on its original footprint and rises in Piazza Vittorio Veneto next to one of the town’s historic buildings, Palazzo Baronale Pignatelli. Other survivors of the earthquake include the 18th century neoclassical Palazzo Ravidà, and the similarly aged Palazzo Planeta, now home to Buganvì, a cultural and gastronomic hub hosting a wine bar and wine shop, a café, a delicatessen, an art gallery, a teaching space and more.

The rolling hills that surround Menfi are carpeted by acre upon acre of vineyard, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the town's raison d'être is wine-making. Menfi became a DOC region in 1995 and produces around 17 different wines governed by its DOC regulations including Menfi Chardonnay, Menfi Grecanico, Menfi Insolia, Menfi Catarratto, Menfi Vendemmia Tardivo, Menfi Feudo dei Fiori, Menfi Rosso Riserva, Menfi Nero d’Avola, Menfi Sangiovese, Menfi Cabernet Saugivnon, Menfi Sauvignon, Menfi Syrah, Menfi Merlot, Menfi Bonera, and Menfi Bonera Riserva.

Amongst the most prestigious producers is Planeta, which has two cantine in the area, Ulmo, near Sambuca di Sicilia, and Dispensa, just outside Menfi itself. Planeta is our partner for our unique in-villa wine delivery service, allowing guests of The Thinking Traveller to order wine in advance and find it awaiting them on arrival at their villa. We can also arrange private tours and tastings at Planeta’s cantine, a wonderful way of immersing oneself in the viticultural traditions of the area.

Menfi's wine is celebrated each year in June at the Inycon Festival. Local producers open their doors to the public, the centre of town is alive to the sound of popping corks and live music, and stalls groan with the gastronomic bounty of the land, not least the excellent olive oil.

Menfi’s culinary traditions are based on locally grown fruit and vegetables, sheep's cheeses, traditional handmade pastas, and seafood. On the coast you will find some excellent beachfront restaurants, including Da Vittorio in Porto Palo and La Pineta in Selinunte. Planeta’s restaurant, at its La Foresteria hotel, meanwhile, offers delicious reinterpretations of the local cuisine based on recipes handed down through generations of the family.

Menfi’s coastline is a paradise for beach lovers. An unspoilt expanse of dunes, white sand and translucent waters runs for some 12km along the coast below Menfi, from Porto Palo in the west to San Marco, near Sciacca, in the east. It is easy, even in the high summer season, to find one’s own stretch of empty sand, though there are also plenty of lidi to choose from if you're looking for facilities. Menfi’s beaches have been awarded Blue Flags for over 20 consecutive years, a testament to their cleanliness and ecological pedigree. One of the best ways to explore Menfi’s beaches is by bike, a fun undertaking that's made eminently possible by the over 90km of dedicated cycling routes that wind around the area.

In terms of cultural exploration, Menfi is a great base. Head a few kilometres west and you’ll arrive at the fabulous archaeological of Selinunte and its nearby quarry, Cave di Cusa. An easy drive northwest, meanwhile, are the historic towns of Mazara del Vallo, Marsala, Trapani and Erice. To the east is the historic port town and fishing harbour of Sciacca, the cliff-top archaeological site of Eraclea Minoa, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento.

Despite all these riches, "Menfishire" has managed to retain its unassuming, understated, off-the-beaten-track charm. The locals welcome visitors with pride and warmth, happy to share their peaceful land with those who appreciate the simple, genuine things in life.

Villas in and around Menfi >>

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