If you find yourselves in Palermo and wish to visit more than the city has on offer, you should take the following advice:
Palermo is well situated and is a good departure point for takings trips to Western Sicily. From here in fact, with a hire car or by public transport, it’s easy to get to the following hot spots with cheap daily trips that you can even do on your own.
The first itinerary that comes to mind is without a doubt: “Palermo-Segesta-Trapani-Erice”.
It’s advised that you get out of the city early before the traffic gets bad. A 50-minute drive (on the highway in the direction of Trapani) should bring you to the archeological site of “Segesta”. Here you can take a one hour break, the right amount of time needed to visit the alluring Greek Theatre and the colossal Doric Temple, erected between the 5th and 6th centuries AC.
Back in the car, it’s another 40 minutes drive to Trapani and eventually, to the salt mines. A long stretch of water and windmills provide some background to their history which you can read more about in any of the guidebooks. Once you’ve left the salt mines, you’ll be able to visit the city itself and eat a quick meal. The local specialties are “Le Busiate” (homemade pasta with traditional sauces) and Fish Cous-Cous.
After a quick stroll to digest your food, you should go towards the cable railway which will take you from Trapani to Erice. The afternoon light makes for a memorable sight from the cable cart. You’ll actually be able to see the three islands of Pelagie (Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo) submerged amidst the crystal clear waters of this remarkable piece of the Mediterranean. I strongly suggest you take a camera with you because in just a short amount of time you’ll reach the peak of Saint Julian’s Mountain where another incredible view awaits you: the medieval city of Erice.
The cable cart trip will make you feel like you’ve just back in time because once you get off you’ll find yourselves in an entirely different time period.
The various alleyways, churches, convents and finally, the castle of Venice, will open your eyes to a surreal world which you’ll be able to take part in for a few hours. I’m sure, that like me, you’ll be captivated by the magnificent panoramic views of the gulf of Castellamare from Venus Castle.
For those of you with a sweet tooth, I must inform you that Erice is famous for its warm Genovese cakes (real works of art made in the local bakeries) that you’ll be able to find in all the bakeries in the historical centre.
Anther trip that I’d recommend is an archeological excursion to “Valle dei Templi- Eraclea – Minoa-Selinunte”. Again, my advice here is to set off early in the morning and to have a decent breakfast. Time here is precious!
If you leave by car at 8:00 am and take the quick road from Palermo to Agrigento (Highway 121), in less than two hours you’ll arrive at the Greek ruins in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Here time and nature have left these sites as they were, relatively untouched since the Greeks during the course of the VI – V centuries A.C.
Among the most striking and best-preserved works are the Concordia Temple, Zeus’ Temple and Giunone’s Temple.
In just a few hours, you’ll be able to visit the entire valley and take many unforgettable photographs.
Once you’ve got back into your time machine (remembering to fill up on gas), you should take the highway 115 Trapani/Sciacca in order to get to Eraclea Minoa in less than half an hour. On your way, if it’s really hot and you can’t do without a dip in the sea, make a pit stop at Capo Rossello in the “Scala dei Turchi” area. It’s a wonderful place with particularly white rocks and cave formations on the beach. Diving into the Turkish waters is an incredibile feeling. The time allowed for this break is an hour (…or more if you decide to pass up the opportunity of seeing the Eraclea Minoa ruins… but I think not). Once you get to Eraclea, you’ll see a definitive example of Hellenistic civilisation which came back to life during the archeological digs begun during the middle of last century.
Of particular interest are: the theatre and the antique Hellenistic style houses.
If you haven’t fallen asleep already, you should have enough time to make it to Selinunte. Get back onto highway 115 and continue in the direction of Trapani. In about 60 minutes you’ll arrive at your destination. Selinunte is one of the oldest Greek cities in Sicily. It appears to have been built up around the 7th century A.C. and soon after destroyed, first by the Cartageinesi and then by the Romans. Today you can still see the old Acropolis which features the ruins of its five remaining temples.
At this point, it’s time to go home and you just need to get onto the A29 in the direction of Palermo.
For lovers of islands and scuba diving, I advise you to take a trip to “Ustica”.
Departure time is 8:15 in the morning from Palermo port with the Siremar boat company. It’s a hydrofoil that takes around 75 minutes to get to its destination. Once on the island you’ll need to decide if you want to see it from within the city walls or from the seaside. If you decide to go with the first option, hire a scooter or, if you’re quite fit, a bicycle (Ustica isn’t exactly flat). You could have a break at the small aquarium near the marine reserve, get your guide to escort you to the reserve at Grotta Rosata (so-called for the colour of its walls thanks to a particular type of agley), have a dip in the Natural Pools at Punta Spalmatore, until you get to the top of Monte Guaria di Mezzo (248 metres above sea level) where you’ll be able to enjoy an amazing panoramic view. The last stages of this journey are to visit the Fort, the Archeological Museum and the Torre dello Spalmatore (where you’ll be able to watch short scuba diving films), the library and lots lots more.
On the other hand, if you prefer to keep to the ocean, hire a dinghy or a fishing boat to travel around the island. In this case, there will be someone at the port ready to give you assistance. Try not to fall asleep though because the boat leaves again at 3:00 pm. Only in July and August does a second boat leave at 5:00 pm. Of course, these times are subject to change, so it’s always best to ask!!!
The last trip is for anyone who loves nature and winding roads. This tour takes you to “Medonie and Cefalù”. We’ve already talked a little bit about Cefalù in the section on beaches and here I would like to remind you about the majestic mediaeval Duomo which was erected by Ruggero II and, the Sanctuary of Gibilmanna. To get there however, you’ll need to take a rather winding mountainous road.
The tour of Madonie continues with a stop at Castelbuono where you’ll be able to visit the famous Ventimiglia Castle and taste the finest pastries from the Madonita bakery, owned by the Fiasconaro family.
Going along the mountainside, you’ll eventually come to the top of Madonie to Piano Zucchi and Piano Battaglia which you should visit in any season. Of course, in the winter, you’ll most probably come across a beautiful snow covered landscape. After having taken a walk and breathed in the fresh air, you can head back down the mountain in the other direction and pass through the towns of Collesano, Isnello and Gratteri which, throughout history, have completely preserved their cultural and artesian traditions.