Having visited both now I confirmed what I had long suspected, hoped, and dreamed. A modest approach to visiting Italy, void of highly pretentious moods and wildly priced eating and hotels. An itinerary that more closely expressed the raw beauty of the cities and the quiet coved-sanctuaries found along the coast. The unexpectedly kind interactions, service, and meals you'd gladly pay twice for. But most of all, the experience of common culture and all its imperfect quirky perfection. I was finally exploring the northwest of Sicily, really not Italy at all, and it starts with the Sicily of Sicily--Palermo. The itinerary is very much like hitting Rome then heading down the coast, but better, in my opinion, because now it's Sicily. Northwest that is, and it's additionally important to note because the area is known for its modest atmosphere and far less touristy appeal. Code for a modest traveler must visit.
A quick and convenient train brings you from the airport right into the center of Palermo. Here all you need is feet and some planning. The center of Palermo and its surroundings is the what and why of being in the city. I grabbed a Bnb near the train station at Vicolo del Salto in Kalsa and was set. Two nights for an unforgettable experience with the local community enjoying the beautiful rustic maze of the center. That night I snuck over to Ristorante La Galleria for my first Pasta C'Anciuova E Muddica Atturrata. A modest morning started steps from the Bnb at the New Art Wine Bar, then on to the historic architecture, homes, museums, and tasty markets that intertwine into a convenient exploration. Eventually rounding back to try a sandwich from Pani cà Meusa Porta Carbone. That evening I had the pork at Taverna Dei Canti and enjoyed their bustling sidewalk seating. Returning to my Bnb the calm evening bar scene stretched along the walkway and led my path. While in Palermo I stuck with trying the historic Palermo dishes and street foods, I'd have plenty of time for seafood and others down the road.
The next morning it was steps back to the train station and off to Cefalu. A must-grab for the night in a simple room at Hotel La Giara before heading west. The rustic seaside town in all its charming perfection. A sample platter and glass of wine at Enoteca Le Petit Tonneau do wonders before a stroll through the streets. A tiny balcony with a perfect view of the pier I'd be visiting shortly. After the stroll, the day ends with an ocean swim to cool off at the wildly identified, picturesque pier front. There's something to be said about the pleasure of enjoying the ocean from a rustic concrete pier or rocky cove. Vintage and gritty in feel and a welcomed change from that of a sandy beach. After a power nap, the evening was calm and slightly refined while still pleasantly rustic. A glass of wine before dinner at one of the streetside bars before an octopus salad at Tinchite Taverna e Putia. And a walk through the town square before ending the night. Bright and early it was back to the train station to head west. Back to Palermo--change train, on to Piraineto--change train, and hop off at Castellammare del Golfo.
A quick taxi from the train station and I was enjoying a panini by the pool at Hotel Punta Nord. After a good relaxation, I was ready to walk the streets. A small unique town with a historic fortress wall leading down to the beach. The small fishing harbor provides great seafood dinners as fine options. And a small town square area has several other options as well. But after a glass of wine above the wall at Al Pasha Cafe, I knew where I was headed. Just off the street on the main drag is the modest perfection of La Buona Forchetta. Simple and quirky in feel, like a hole-in-the-wall gem found in a strip mall in America. But this is the real thing, in Sicily--a real Sicilian eatery. The next morning I grabbed some more lounge time at the pool before my next taxi at noon. I had pre-negotiated in advance a single taxi for my transfers in the area. I was en route to the wonderful hillside town of Scopello. And as with every stop along this itinerary, a rustic storybook to perfection for any 80's American kid.
The best way to describe Scopello is like a little Tuscany hillside town overlooking the ocean. So basically a good as it gets for that type of mood. There's just a handful of places to stay and eat and things can get booked quickly. A view is a separating factor but I was more than happy to check into Hotel Baglio Di Scopello behind the view. A great value, a great pool and you'll grab plenty of views either way. After check-in, I immediately walked around and headed down the hillside to the water's edge. The Tonnara was closed for an event so there are other makeshift paths to an ocean swim. That night it started with a glass of wine in the town square at Ristorante Bar Nettuno. Then down the street to La Cialoma for my first seafood dinner. A little pricey for Sicilian standard but far worth it for the service, quality, and view. The next morning after breakfast it was hiking time. One of the main reasons I came to the area, other than its insanely beautiful of course. The Zingaro Reserve is an unforgettable easy hike along the hillside of the ocean. And a choice of several ocean coves depending on the length of your journey. That night I kept it simple and enjoyed wine and an excellent spread on the patio of the local mart Alimentari - L’Oro di Sicilia. A must.
The next morning after breakfast I went and jumped into the ocean at the Tonnara. A very, very lovely spot on this planet. Then it was on to my next stop in Erice, my taxi waiting sharply at noon. The drive into Erice is a memorable one, as is the arrival and the evening in the historic stone town. Perched high on the mountainside with wide views, an ancient maze of picturesque stoned streets, charming shops, eateries, and cafes. The experience just oozes with history. Including a stay at Hotel Elmo and dinner at La Pentolaccia. I enjoyed my first Couscous alla Trapanese. The next morning I had breakfast with a great view in the hotel's restaurant. After that, I was headed off the mountainside down the tram but running hours changed that. So a quick taxi it was to the port of Trapani. I was heading into the vacation part of my vacation. With a quick ferry to the unspoiled island of Favignana. I can't emphasize enough how smooth and easy all this transportation throughout the trip worked. A rental is truly not needed and far more expensive and consuming.
Arriving at Favignana was a special one for me. I had studied this trip thoroughly and created it to end here. It was everything I hoped for it to be and far more. My stay on the island began with two nights at La Casa del Limoneto. A small rustic Bnb that is secluded and engulfed by lemon trees. A magical place with extraordinarily kind hosts and a breakfast served with fresh goods. A sanctuary steps away from the contrast of the stone town. That first afternoon I just walked the streets and got my bearings. After relaxing back in my room for a bit, and grabbing some book time on my rustic-lemon-tree-covered-patio, I was back off for my first glass of wine at Magneva and dinner at Pescheria Florio. A no-frills pub-style fresh seafood outlet and restaurant. I took my time with a platter of thinly sliced raw tuna with lemon wedge and lettuce on the side. And accompanied by wine and an evening view of the town square. The next morning after a great little breakfast on the patio, a hike to the top of the islands Castello di Santa Caterina. A spectacular view. And helpful to gather your bearings for the days later electric-bike ride to several picturesque and wildly blue ocean coves.
Some lounge time after the day's hike and ride and eager thoughts of dinner. That evening I again hit the rustic beachside patio of Magneva then on to dinner at New Albatros. A lively sidewalk seating scenario with great drinks, small bites, and local vibes. The next morning after my last lemon-tree-covered breakfast I was changing gears. I grabbed a rental scooter and my next stay outside of town shuttled my bag. For the next two evenings, I'd be enjoying my apartment-style room at Top Residence Marcella. One of the best set-ups I could have asked for and overlooks the best beach cove on the island. With the additional beach and rock cove scenes just a quick ride away. For the next couple of days I just purely lounged with jazz playing, and my book and enjoyed the ocean. But most of all, I scootered into town every evening for wine and fresh goods to make my dinners. A special time and very special place. On my last morning, I took one more plunge into the ocean before coffee and breakfast and took off for my ferry. Leather slip ons tested once again.
Arriving back in Trapani a made my way to Il Cappellaio Matto for a glass of wine and panini for lunch. A lovely area and much like that of a mini Palermo. I checked into my Bnb and grabbed a nap before my last evening of pleasure. And the evening surely was. I first enjoyed some local wine at the tiny streetside wine bar Tenute Adragna and then made my way to my grand finally. Pizza dinner at the pull-up stool counter at Pizzeria Calvino. Simply the best pizza I have ever tasted, like nothing I have ever had. And the no-frills mood could not have been a more enjoyable ending to my journey. It is after all the true pleasure of my time in Sicily. An imperfect modest elegance that accents the mood every step of the way. A very deeply moving experience it is. The next morning I returned to the airport by train and checked into B & B Villa Rosa dei Venti for a 6am flight. And once again, I was greeted with exceptionally warm, kind, and extremely comfortable assistance with my return home.
ProTip: With extra time, grab a rental or a transfer to San Vito Lo Capo before Erice visit. And on the train ride back stop in Marsala or many others.
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