-See Sicily close-up with seaside and inland walks in the Trappani and Marsala regions
-Enjoy private, sit-down tastings at Donnafugata, Ceuso, De Bartoli and other leading wineries
-Hike around a Greek temple and amphitheater at the archaeological park of Segesta
-Gawk at the splendid Byzantine mosaics at the Cathedral of Monreale
-See ancient methods for making sea-salt and enjoy a boat ride in the surrounding lagoon
-Visit the hilltop town of Erice and the Baroque port city of Marsala.
Day 1: Byzantine mosaics.
When Palermo was the richest city in Europe in the 1100s, its outskirts provided hunting grounds for royalty. In 1166 the Norman King William II built a magnificent cathedral overlooking this fertile valley. Today the Cathedral of Monreale remains one of the masterpieces of Byzantine art, with floor-to-ceiling mosaics and gold leaf everywhere. After a morning pickup in Palermo, we’ll shuttle up to Monreale and begin with a visit to this spectacular church, soaking up the Eastern flavor of Sicily’s art.
Then we drive an hour to Camporeale for our complementary welcome lunch and wine tasting at Alessandro di Camporeale. Here members of the Alessandro family will rustle up such regional dishes as caponata (sweet-and-sour eggplant and bell peppers), Sicilian pecorino, and homemade pasta—all accompanied by fantastic wines, from crisp cataratto to spicy syrah. From Camporeale, we do a warm-up hike on country roads that wind past vineyards and farms towards Alcamo, getting our first taste of Sicily’s wine country. We then check into our hotel, which sits directly on the bay of Castellammare del Golfo, an active fishing village. Dinner features fish fresh from the Mediterranean. L, D Cala Marina
Day 2: Trek around Mt. Cofano.
Today we explore Monte Cofano, a nature preserve on the sea (40-minute drive from hotel). It occupies a Dolomite limestone promontory jutting out between two gulfs. Networked with trails, the park covers an area once inhabited by shepherds and tuna fishermen. First, we climb up a rocky path over a mountain pass; here grazing sheep and circling falcon will be our only companions on this solitary and scenic trail. As we descend to the sea, we’ll find traces of the old settlements on the hillside: abandoned terraces, the remnants of shepherd huts, an antique tuna-processing plant. The path then skirts the sea, weaving past huge boulders and rocky shores, interspersed with Mediterranean flora and fauna. (The full loop hike takes about three hours. A shorter option is also possible.)
In the afternoon, we head to the boutique winery Ceuso for a tour and tasting. Ceuso was started in 1990 as a labor of love by the three Melia brothers: a farmer, an enologist, and an agronomist. It makes luscious, oak-aged blends of nero d’Avola and French grapes, inspired by mentor Giacomo Tachis (of Sassicaia fame). Our hosts will be Giuseppe Melia and his niece Luisa, who will show us around the 1860 baglio (a fortified farmstead) that the brothers slowly restored. They’ll give us a first-hand account of the winery’s rise to success. Dinner is back in Castellammare, where we’ll find such dishes as seafood risotto and grilled swordfish with cherry tomatoes. And who can say no to cannoli? B, D Cala Marina.
Day 3: The Greeks at Segesta.
Today we visit the archaeological park of Segesta, a thousand feet up on Monte Barbaro. Once the political hub of the indigenous Elymian and Greek Ionian people, today it features two archeological wonders: a beautifully preserved Greek Doric temple and, higher up, a Greek amphitheater with an unparalleled view of the countryside and sea. We’ll visit both, then do a loop hike nearby. This will begin on gravel roads that pass through farms, vineyards, and agriturismi, then crosses over Monte Barbara on wooded trails, winding up on a road that overlooks the archaeological park. After pondering the ephemeral nature of world power, we’ll ask the eternal question, “What’s for lunch?”
Mid-afternoon, we head to the award-winning winery Spadafora, which takes its name from the noble family Spadafora (“sword unsheathed”). Its prince, Francesco Spadafora, will be our host. As winemaker, he’ll present a panorama of finely crafted wines, from indigenous nero d’avola to wonderful cabernet blends. You’ll see how much French grapes like the Sicilian sun! We return to Castellammare for another scrumptious dinner. B, D Cala Marina.
Day 4: Hiking the Zingaro nature reserve.
Today we hike on a peninsula that juts out like a finger in the sea, pointing towards San Vito lo Capo. Here lies the Zingaro Nature Reserve, a park with seven miles of pristine coast and 1700 acres of unspoiled nature. All along the rocky trails are steep cliffs, exotic flora and fauna, and paths leading down to hidden coves, where we can dip our feet in the water or jump in for a swim. The reserve also contains several educational museums in former fishing huts that illustrate an old way of life, showing how baskets and ropes were made from palms and ash trees were tapped for sap. Older still is the reserve’s towering prehistoric grotto, Uzzo, that sheltered the local population 8,000 years ago. After this splendid hike, we’ll refuel on seafood pasta in the nearby village of Scopello. Save room for a Sicilian specialty: granita di café, with a dollop of whipped cream, naturally. We then transfer to Marsala (1-hour drive), settling into our second hotel, a gracious former convent in the heart of town. Dinner is at one of Marsala’s better restaurants a short walk away. B, D Hotel Carmine.
Day 5: Erice.
Today we take a day off from hiking. First, we devote a little time to the Baroque town of Marsala. We’ll stop in the cathedral, pass through the gate where Garibaldi’s thousands marched, then poke into the fish market, where you might find prickly pear, pistachios, and pecorino siciliano. Then we head to the western tip of Sicily (1-hour drive), where Mount Erice rises 2,500’ above the sea. At its top is the town of Erice, a Phoenician settlement overlooking the western waters. Once devoted to the cult of Venus, its medieval streets are now full of Catholic churches, attractive boutiques, and a particularly excellent pastry shop. (Another cannoli, anyone?).
After a stop in the Royal Cathedral and some free time in Erice, we return to Marsala for our afternoon tasting at Donnafugata. One of Sicily’s most prominent wineries, it is owned by the Rallo family, which once made Marsala wine, then sold the brand name and switched to dry table wine in the 1980s. Naming their new enterprise after a character in Gattopardo (The Leopard), Donnafugata is consistently among the Tre Bicchieri winners for its nero d’avola–based blends and its nectar-like passito, Ben Ryé. Dinner is on your own in Marsala. B Hotel Carmine.
Day 6: Mozia & Marsala's sea salt.
Today’s hike is an easy and educational loop around the small island of Mozia, once a base for Phoenician sailors and tradesmen. In the early 1900s, Joseph Whitaker, member of a prominent Marsala-producing family, started excavating. The artifacts he unearthed form the core of a superb little museum. Other ruins still dot the island—stone gates, mosaic pavements, necropoles, even a submerged road. We’ll circle Mozia twice: once on a private boat to get an overview, then on foot to absorb the atmosphere as we walk amid prickly pear, agave, palms, and ancient ruins.
We then return to shore to see how sea salt is harvested. Since ancient times, Sicilians have used evaporation ponds and windmills to crystallize salt from the protected lagoons between Trapani and Marsala, where a steady sea breeze and protected coves make the conditions ideal. We’ll visit the saline, watching a film that shows the year-long process, then have lunch nearby.
In the afternoon, we head to De Bartoli, the winery that resurrected the real marsala as a praise-worthy meditation wine. We’ll see how marsala is perpetually blended and aged using the solera system, then sample De Bartoli’s array of dry wines (including Sicily’s first 100% grillo), marsala, and passito from Pantelleria. Our farewell dinner is outside of Marsala at an elegant hillside restaurant. B, D Hotel Carmine
Day 7: Buon viaggio! A shuttle to the Palermo airport by 11:00 A.M. and assistance with your travel plans. B.
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