Rendezvous in Palermo, and head out of the city across the vine-clad hills to the southern coast. We visit the evocative Greek site of Selinunte with a grand, imposing temple, while the ruins of other temples are in huge pieces, looking like a giant’s abandoned toys. The sea is remarkably clear and blue here, and we can’t help but admire the Greeks for having chosen such a marvelous spot as we stroll down their ancient road. Visit the incredible Greek quarries, where time seems to have come to a standstill 2500 years ago. Here we find the work in progress for the unfinished temples and sculpted columns that are still silently waiting to be transported! A short drive brings us to an estate producing extra virgin olive oil, where we are invited to tour the facilities and lunch in the owner’s villa. Continue to our attractive hotel, our base for the entire tour, which is situated in a tiny port full of brightly painted fishing boats. Dinner at our hotel.
We head south along the via del sale, where sea salt is still gathered as it was 500 years ago, and huge piles of salt are drying in the sun. Here 15th century windmills, used to grind the coarse salt, harness the strong scirocco wind from North Africa. We take a short boat ride across the lagoon to the fascinating island of Mozia, once an astonishingly powerful Carthaginian stronghold destroyed some 2500 years ago. Here archeologists have unearthed some splendid finds that are on display, including the elegant, sensuous statue of the Young Man of Mozia. Our peaceful 5 km (3 mile) walk takes us through fields of wildflowers as we explore the ruins of this fascinating ancient city. In the afternoon, we visit Marsala, famous for the sweet wine of the same name, and taste some superb vintages in a tiny enoteca. This evening, dinner features local dishes such as pesto trapanese, fragrant with mint and almonds.
We head to the port of Trapani, and take a ferry* to the tiny island of Levanzo, where a local enthusiast accompanies us on a walk to a hidden grotto where amazing cave paintings from 7000 years ago are revealed by lamplight. A scenic walk takes us through the island past the romantic ruins of the Florio villa, and to a beautiful little bay lapped by crystal clear waters. After a lunch with fresh ricotta, we take a ferry past the island of Favignana where an ancient system of underwater nets is used to catch the prized bluefin tuna and hardy fisherman pit themselves against the thrashing tuna during the annual mattanza.
This morning we catch an early ferry* to the remote island of Marettimo, an idyllic mountain in the middle of the deep blue sea. One tiny village occupies a corner of Marettimo, while the rest of the island is a walker’s paradise. Fresh water springs gurgle forth from the steep slopes, nurturing an abundance of fragrant Mediterranean flora, making this the lushest of the Egadi islands. A narrow path hugs the craggy coastline with marvelous views out to the abandoned Spanish prison perched on a rocky outcrop. Here you feel the wonderful sense of getting away from it all, best enjoyed when not imprisoned! Return along the same route and enjoy lunch overlooking the port. Time to stroll through the little village or take an additional walk along the coast before boarding a late afternoon ferry. Free night for dinner.
This morning we head to the medieval hilltown of Erice, perched on the top of Monte Giuliano like a silent beacon for sailing ships, and visit the ruins of the imposing Norman castle. Free time to explore the town’s charming cobblestone streets and enticing pastry shops. Our walk heads past the ancient town walls, then wanders through unspoiled countryside with breathtaking sea views to a rustic hut where we enjoy a picnic lunch. Continue past fields of wildflowers stretching endlessly ahead as we zigzag back down the mountain. Tonight we celebrate with an acclaimed cook, who prepares us a feast of seafood couscous redolent with cinnamon, lemon and exotic spices.
Our walk immerses us in one of the most beautiful coastal areas in all of Italy, the Parco dello Zingaro, now thankfully protected from development. Here classic Mediterranean vegetation flourishes in a profusion of wild rosemary, capers and yellow broom above a clear, turquoise sea. Aching with hunger, we are welcomed to a celebratory farm lunch by our friend Giuseppe, who brings us plate after plate of traditional antipasti made with the farm’s produce, warm crusty bread and pitchers of strong dark wine. Finish with a refreshing granita di limone, and then stagger off to visit Segesta, with its majestic Greek theatre and solitary temple set in the quiet countryside. Transfer to the Palermo airport by 6 pm. Arrivederci!
*Sea conditions may force us to alter the order of the itinerary and/or to eliminate trips to the islands. In this case, we will visit other sites and walk in the countryside.
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