Trapani: Gateway to Rustic Sicilian Life

Many dream of the idyllic and rural Sicilian life, imagining endless green fields, hilly backdrops, delightful pasta dishes, the signature ricotta cannoli, and of course, a variety of exquisite (and extremely affordable) wines.  Sicily has been a tantalising destination throughout history – from the ancient Greeks and Romans, right through. the modern day Italy. The natural landscapes and uniquely Sicilian ambiance fascinate a mix of cultures.  Where does Trapani fit into all this?

Let’s start with a little bit of historical context. Trapani, originally called Drepana, was founded by the Elymians to serve as the port of the nearby city of Erice.  Erice is an unforgettable medieval town nestled on a mountain, at around 750 metres above sea level.  This historic town has spectacular views: it overlooks the city of Trapani, the low western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic Punta del Saraceno and San Vito lo Capo to the north-east, and the Aegadian Islands on Sicily’s north-western coast.  Normally, I wouldn’t go into so much geographical detail, but it’s particularly relevant here.  Trapani’s vicinity to the locales mentioned above are its best asset.

Out of a week based in Trapani, one and a half days spent exploring the city were definitely enough.  Your Sicilian dream might not be met in Trapani: there’s not much greenery in Trapani, no fields or anything.  There is however a long, sandy beach further away from the port. Although there’s not much to see within Trapani, it’s a perfect place to stay if you want to explore the western part of Sicily.  It’s also a gateway to Erice and the Egadi Islands; these would definitely be easy and highly recommended day-trips.  From Trapani you can take the funicular up the mountain to Erice.  The port is the main embarkation point for the Egadi archipelago, which is where your Sicilain expectations can be met.  The Egadi islands are nearly completely undeveloped, and have much of that rustic Sicilian feel we all long for.

Travelling further on land is also relatively easy. Trapani has both a train station and bus station, providing links to practically all of Sicily.  While I recommend using the train at least once (for the experience, and the unique views the railways offer), the bus service is highly more convenient as it’s very frequent, cheap and fast (direct coach service, not regular busses).  The trains tend to loop around the island, taking you through many unnecessary destnations to collect people before going to the actual destination; a half-an-hour bus-trip could easily take 4 hours on the train (sadly, speaking through experience).  On the first day, make your way to the bus station to collect a timetable and you could plan accordingly.  Around the corner there’s also the tourist office, they won’t be much help there as none of them seemed to speak English, but they’ll very happily give you a map which turned out to be extremely helpful.

The small and up-coming city has a beautiful historic centre, much of which has recently been restored.   Due to the continuous periods of decay, battles, sieges and bombardments the remains of the ancient city are scarce. The buildings that have stood over the centuries belong to the baroque period, the late medieval or early modern periods. There are still some ancient buildings in tact that have been well-kept for centuries, that are worth visiting if you’re into those kind of things.  Of course, these are mainly churches. There’s the Church of Sant’Agostino dating back to 14th century, the Sicilian baroque churches of Maria SS. dell’Intria and Badia Nuova and the cathedral that was built in 1421 and refurbished in 18th century by Giovanni Biagio Amico. The Triton’s Fountain and the Baroque Palazzo della Giudecca or Casa Ciambra are two other monuments that apparently cannot be missed.  Truthfully, I walked past them by mistake and only found out about their apparent significance after returning home.

Along the narrow and meandering cobbled-streets of the historic centre you’ll find many restaurants (specialising in fresh fish from the port), designer shops, and Italian style markets selling knock-off Ray bans etc.  At the far end of the historic town, there’s a particularly charming restaurant called Ai Lumi, which seems to specialise in pasta more than fish.  There’s nothing more satisfying that a fresh plate of Sicilian pasta, with fresh Sicilian tomatoes and local cheese, following a tiring day out and about.  Don’t be upset if the waiters come across as a bit cold; they’re just afraid of you cause you can’t speak Italian (or Sicilian, actually).

Waking up in Trapani is a delight.  Apart from the gorgeous (and numerous) antique apartments that you could rent out for about 25 a night, there’s also the charming bakeries, patisseries and  green shops, around every corner.  You could literally walk into any one of them and find mouth-watering bites to indulge in.  While there, venture further than the main street, you’ll find some of the best bakeries in the back streets of the residential areas.  That was where I found the soft Paninis stuffed with juicy olives that changed my life forever.

While it is worth exploring the streets of Trapani, it is essentially a busy city, and a rather dirty one at that.  I could not imagine spending much time solely in Trapani; there’s only so much eating you could do before it the city and its pollution gets a bit suffocating. Ultimately, it’s a great destination for a day-trip, or a base for further exploration.

Ps. Photos only in Trapani.

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