Erice: Medieval Town Nestled on a Mountain

Erice is an unforgettable medieval town nestled on a mountain, at around 750 metres above sea level.  While I’ve explored a number of Sicilian towns, none were as captivating as Erice.  It’s a history galore.

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.  It’s spectacular, naturally fortified position, high above the natural harbour of Trapani is only of its charms.

In the northeastern portion of the city there are the remains of ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls showing different stages of settlement and occupation in antiquity.  There are two castles that remain in the city: Pepoli Castle, which dates from Saracen times, and the Venus Castle, dating from the Norman period, built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped.  There’s also The Torretta Pepoli, an enchanting villia/casatle built in 1870 on the slopes of Mounte Erice, below the Torri del Balio.  The small castle was a place for meditation, but over the years it became run-down.  Views of the Torretta from the promenades above used to be quite enchanting.  At the time of my visit, the castle’s exterior façade was being renovated – sadly this was not all done tastefully, some of the walls have been painted white instead of restoring their natural appearance. 

The quaint little town is ideal for a day trip full of romantic walking, eating, relaxing, and snapping many Instagram-worthy photos.   While strolling through the streets you might want to be careful where you step; the local (fluffy, and friendly) dogs love casually sleeping in the middle of the roads, completely unaffected by the hundreds of feet pacing past them.

Seeing as I found out about Erice while in Trapani, I couldn’t stay overnight as I had already paid for an apartment and everything.  Erice (and also the nearby island of Favignana) is one of those places I’d return to for a long stay when I desperately need an escape from the modern world; not the exploration-trip millennials are all about, but more of a soul searching, unwinding kind of stay.  I’d imagine walking through the lofty town in the middle of the night, possibly after a bottle of wine (or two), would be quite magical and romantic.

Walking through the ancient town’s narrow, meandering cobbled-streets and the clingy buildings was undoubtedly the best part of staying in Trapani.  The air from atop Erice is fresh, the roads are all clean, in stark contrast to the city of Trapani (and a lot of Sicily) below it.  Since it’s so high-up, it tends to get rather chilly even on boiling summer days, you might want to take a cardigan or thin sweater up with you. Comfortable shoes are highly recommended.

GETTING THERE

Erice can be accessed through the city of Trapani, either by car, by bus, or using the cable-car system.  A round-trip with the bus would cost around €4, but you would be tied with the limited bus schedule.  Unless you have a car, the cable-cars are the best option:  it costs €9 for a round-trip, and you can hop-on anytime you want. When else will you have the chance to sit-back and enjoy the views of freshly farmed Sicilian fields, with silhouettes of the nearby mountains, cities and shores?

If you’re the outdoorsy kind, there’s also the option of hiking up the swirling roads, shaded by trees and with open views of the fertile fields. Although, considering the time and energy it would require, it’s probably best to indulge in one of the great local restaurants (it’s Italy, they’re all going to impress) and walk down a few hours later.

STAYING THERE

If you want to spend more time than a mere day sauntering through the winding streets, there a number of appealing B’n’b’s and apartments up on Airbnb.  Some are charming and typically Italian, others are more modern and hipster friendly:  ranging from €30- €90 per night, you’re spoilt for choice.

EATERIES

It’s Italy- just pick one, any one.  Just keep an eye out for prices, and maybe walk around to compare a bit first to avoiding falling into a delicious tourist trap.  The same goes for the pasticcerias- almond, everywhere!  Erice is famous for its almond biscuits and pastries; coconut-almond balls, almond stuffed cannoli, soft almond biscuits- almond pastries in every possible shape and form.  These are definitely the best pastry shops in the region, so if you’re only visiting for a day, you might want to stock up.

Browse through the photos below, all taken in Erice.

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