On our recent trip to Sicily, we decided to have a general game plan without getting to much into the weeds of planning a trip. We wanted to experience Sicily for what it is and really just immerse ourselves in the culture. So, though we had a general list of Tim’s family’s villages we wanted to see, we really didn’t have any other plans. While searching google over drinks one evening, Tim located a mountain-top village called Erice that was listed somewhere as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Sicily. And honestly, I know all these blogs are subject to each writer’s opinions… but they haven’t steered me wrong yet. Since Erice was the closest and easiest to get to from our hotel, we decided to give it a try. We went for just an afternoon one dayand I liked it so much I wanted more time there. We drove back a couple days later and spent all day there. It was absolute heaven. Here are five reasons you’re likely to love Erice as much as I do.
Seeing the world from above is one of my favorite things and I often like to climb towers and castles and ride ferris wheels to see city skylines so when I was rewarded with an entire day in the sky, I was extremely happy. The view from every single side is stunning. Perched completely on the top of Mount Erice, the village affords views of farmlands to the east and south, the Tyrrhenian coast to the west and north and Trapani, the city where some of Tim’s family hailed from to the southwest. I can’t describe it in words better than a photo can show you the beauty, so I’ll just leave these here for you to enjoy.
Looking at the village of Erice now, with castles, town walls and inlaid stone streets, it’s easy to see the influence of the Middle Ages. But the city itself is much older than that and has been held by several different cultures including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Spanish and Normans and upon closer inspection, influence of each of these different cultures is visible throughout the village.
Built on the very apex in one corner of the triangle shaped city, the castle offered the most beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and sea. The still standing castle of Venus dates from the Norman times and is located on the original site of the ancient Temple of Venus, a few walls of which are still standing.
In addition to the Middle Ages architecture visible throughout the city, you can venture out to the “Quarter Spagnolo” or the Spanish Quarter. Here on the edge of the village you can enter into a fort built using tax dollars self-imposed by the Erice people to house the Spanish soldiers. The fort and quarter were abandoned in 1632 and stood as such for nearly 400 years. In 2005 it was restored and is now a museum.
We didn’t have a sit down meal in Erice as we were only there for lunch and cake for breakfast left us pretty full most of the morning. But we did have the most amazing arancini of our lives there. The little to-go restaurant, La Tonda Fritta, (literally the fried round) is located just inside the town gate and isn’t much bigger than a closet. They offer at least 30 different types of arancini in any flavor you could imagine. They have meat, chicken, seafood and vegetarian fillers and even vegan arancini. The staff was amazingly kind and ensured we knew when to eat which of our arancini as some where extremely hot inside and they didn’t want us to burn ourselves. The guy even gave the instructions to me in Italian when I told him I spoke a little. I appreciated that as often in places with lots of tourists they don’t let me practice my Italian as they are usually need to practice their English. I tried the caprese arancini which was absolutely amazing. Tim had the BBQ chicken one which was just as delicious. As I write this I find myself dreaming about these arancini and wonder when I get to go back.
The Artistic culture
Throughout the village not only can you admire historical art, but you can also admire modern art exhibits right on the street. My favorite of which was a street called the peace street where quotes about peace by famous people (Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, etc) were elegantly painted on brightly colored tiles. Maybe this was my most favorite because I found myself able to read the quotes for the most part, even though they were in Italian.
In addition to the museum and the street art, you can simply enjoy the vast talent of Erice residents in all the local shops. Now of course there are the few souvenir shops that sell remade Sicilian pottery, but you can definitely find some made right in house. In fact, we bought a spoon rest from a store where a lady was sat there painting waiting for customers, dozens of colorful sketched ideas tacked up behind her. Nearly every street we ventured down had a ceramic store or two, so ensure you get off the main road and explore the tiny side streets. You never know what beauty you’ll find.
The Small Village feel
Even though tons of tour buses decend (ascend?) on the village each day, it still feels like a lovely small town to me. The main streets get crowded here and there but it’s not hard to find a quiet stroll on a side street or the edge of the village. The streets are small and hardly any cars drive through the center of town (in fact, you can’t unless you live or work there so don’t try it). Addresses, shop and restaurant signs and even the police hours of operation are all painted in beautiful colors on Sicilian tile leading to a wonderful fairy-tale like feeling wherever you are in the village.
Getting There – You can either drive up or take a cable car. Driving up is cheaper if you park in the free parking lot (read field) on the southern edge of town. Driving up, however, can also be challenging if you come up the old goat trail road on the south side of the mountain. Its switchbacks are narrow and extreme and it’s not likely you’ve ever been on a road like that before. That being said, if you go slow and you’re driving a small enough car, you should be fine. It’s definitely an experience.
Taking the cable car or funivia, is the easier but slightly expensive way to get up there. A round trip ticket will cost you €9 per person. Parking at the lot in Trapani where the cable car picks you up is €1.50 for the first three hours and an addition €1 per hour after that. For a maximum of €10/day. Don’t worry about getting back down either as the cable cars run until late in the evening.
The Erice Art Foundation – You can buy a five location ticket that includes the Castle of Venus and the Spanish Quarter and the museum for €12/person. These tickets can be bought from the small building located in the first parking lot you come to from either the cable car station or walking up the hill from the free parking.
Bathrooms – there are public restrooms located next to the ticket booth, but ensure you pay the guy in the trailer the 50p it costs to use these restrooms. Other bathrooms are located in the museum if you buy the above mentioned ticket. Otherwise, ensure you use the restroom when you get drinks or food in a restaurant as there aren’t really any other public toilets.
I even got a receipt for my 50 p bathroom fee…