Monday we turtled out of Palermo (there’s no other speed there) to visit western Sicilia. On the way, we stopped at the Temple of Segesta—not to see the temple, which was built in the fifth century BC and is one of the best preserved Doric temples in the world, but to use the restrooms! It was a good thing we didn’t tour the temple, because the day ended up being really long (but wonderful), and, after all, the temple was never finished (therefore not worth the bother—love the Italians!). As it turned out, we saw plenty of Greek temples on Tuesday, so no problem.
Our first stop was a tour of the Florio winery in the town of Marsala. Florio has made Marsala wines for 170 years and the winery, some of which was bombed during World War II, is beautiful. I’ve been on a lot of winery tours, and this one was the best—beautiful winery, terrific guide (who worked in Napa Valley for a time), and generous tastings of a dry Marsala and a lovely dessert wine. Across the street from the winery we could see a German bunker. The Allies invaded Sicilia in 1943 to begin the Italian Campaign, and Sicilia was so grateful that for a while it wanted to become one of the United States!
Next we stopped at an olive farm for a tour and lunch. The olive oil tour was nothing compared to the one I had in Casperia, but the lunch was fabulous—the first of the tour’s “light” lunches. Our tour guide, Giuseppina, always laughed when she said “light lunches,” because the nine of us typically began with six or seven antipasti followed by two large platters of pasta (each with a different sauce) and dessert, which ranged from an olive oil gelato (shockingly rich and delicious) to panna cotta to a selection of four Sicilian pastries. I was usually full before the antipasti course was over, but what an array—delicious caponata (before Sicilia, I hadn’t really loved eggplant—now, bring it on!) or marinated peppers; green salads loaded with corn, tomatoes, cheese, eggs, carrots, and whatever else was in the kitchen; zucchini or other vegetables cooked in the regional style; fried cheese; bread; olives; bruschetta; and other scrumptious treats. We usually ate around 1:30 or 2, and most of us couldn’t eat dinner each night! We could (and did) buy wine with each lunch, and as a result, we got to taste many lovely local wines that aren’t available in stores. I’d take this tour again just for the food and wine (although Mr. Kim apparently didn’t agree, telling us at our final lunch that he didn’t want any more penne with tomato sauce).
The owner of the olive farm invented one of my all-time favorite dry pastas: busiate Trapanesi. It looks like short spaghetti, is hollow in the middle, and looks like it’s been gently twisted. The result is a pasta that holds sauces really well. Apparently you’re not likely to find it outside of Sicily because the inventor won’t sell her trademark or patent or whatever they have in Italy. One of our busiate dishes was served with pesto alla Trapanesi and the other with a carbonara sauce. Go to Gourmantine’s Blog for a peek and the fabulous busiate con pesto alla Trapanese recipe. Kate and I each bought two packages of busiate, and, so sad, Kate was able to fit only one into her suitcase, so Michael and I HAD to keep the other one! Thanks, Kate.
Next stop: the Trapani salt marshes, where salt has been harvested for centuries. Sadly, the salt is harvested in the summer, so we saw only the marshes, the medieval windmills, and a few salt hills. I was so excited to see the salt marshes and so sad to find them so quiet.
We then drove to medieval Erice, a hill town perched 2,400 feet above Trapani. Although it looks medieval today, ancient Eryx, as it was called, and other parts of western Sicilia were settled by Elymians around 1000 BC. On a clear day you can see Cap Bon in Tunisia, but I can’t verify that, because when we were there, it was overcast and we could barely see the Mediterranean Sea. Apparently in winter a fog called the Veil of Venus hangs over Erice, making the medieval city look mysterious. I can relate to that, having lived on the foggy Oregon coast. I believe we were the only people in Erice—we saw few others out walking, and many residents move off the mountain during the winter. Erice is famous throughout Sicilia for its pastries, and Giuseppina lead us to a wonderful pasticceria, where many of us sampled nougats, marveled at the realistic-looking marzipan, and bought divine Sicilian almond cookies. No WONDER I couldn’t eat dinner that night!
It was dark when we drove back to Palermo, and I wasn’t the only one who grabbed a short snooze on the way home. Naturally when we arrived in Palermo, traffic was chaos—Christmas shopping, said Giuseppina (ha ha, says Sue). Mr. Kim, John, Kate, and I met in the bar for a gin and tonic and then parted ways for the evening.
Weather = mixed but no rain. Company = outstanding! Food and drink = top-notch! Winery tour = the best ever! Trapani salt marshes = fascinating, I’m just sure! Erice = beautiful and mysterious (but no people)! Total score=6 of 5