Tuesday morning it was bright and sunny. Gerry got out to take some early pictures, but I stayed back, just too lazy. We met Jon and Galina for breakfast in the hotel and set off about 9:45 am for our first destination of the day, the mountain town of Erice.
The top of the mountain was shrouded in clouds, and the temperature when we hopped out of the car was significantly cooler than we expected. Fog swirled around the buildings and through the streets, contributing to the eerie sensation of having been thrown back in time, to about the 12th century. The town is old, and well-restored. The streets are paved with stone, and the houses are all monochrome – a wonderful effect. Our reason for visiting Erice was a pastry shop, but the town’s little vicoli and towers, vie and shops were perfect for a “Friendly Walk” as all the maps were labeled! We spent our two hours quite happily strolling, taking pictures, and yes, of course, eating Sicilian pastries! Erice is actually a very ancient city. People have been living here since before the Phoenicians. The town now is mostly from the middle ages, but there is an excavation of a temple dedicated to Venus.
The view from Erice down to Trapani is just a glimpse fleetingly captured here and there between clouds and banks of fog. On the drive down the mountain, once we were below the clouds, we could see the coast, the blue Mediterranean, stretching out below us. Hairpin turns helped us reach the bottom quickly.
Just on the other side of Trapani, we stopped to see the salt flats. The area is also a nature reserve under the auspices of the World Wildlife Fund. We saw water birds, notably flamingoes, picturesquely fishing and wading in front of old windmills. The background was the long harbor skyline of Trapani with the brilliant blue sky you’d expect to see in Italy. It was a gorgeous day.
Ahead of us at this point was an hour’s drive to our hotel for the night, Tenuta Stoccatella, an agri-turismo, or hotel on a farm, near Memfi. We by-passed Marsala, home of the famous wine by the same name, in order to arrive there by 4:00pm.
We decided to eat dinner in the restaurant here, rather than drive back to the coastal areas to find a restaurant. (Instead we will go there for lunch tomorrow). The evening was very pleasant – a breeze that could feel cold at times, but still pleasant. We had a lovely sunset over olive groves and vineyards, already devoid of their grapes. We lingered over glasses of cold, local wine near the pool and then enjoyed our dinner. This agri-turismo is much more a hotel than the one we stayed in 11 years ago with the boys. We don’t have any contact with the people who work or own this property, something that I especially liked about our original experience. We have two more agriturismi on our itinerary. Things have changed a lot in Italy since I was here last and especially since I was here as a student in the 70s. Perhaps this is just another one of the changes.
One of the biggest changes I have noticed is that way back when I lived here in the late 70s, there were no bottles of wine on the tables, and one didn’t order a bottle of wine, one ordered the house wine in a mezzo litro or a litro. But perhaps that is a change in budget – my personal budget. In the 70s I was a student and could not afford more than the house wine!
The place we are staying is just beautiful. We are surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, as I have already mentioned. The world here is very green. As we were driving from Catania to Palermo last week, all around us was brown. It was the brown of newly turned soil, obvious neatly turned rows gave evidence of the recent plantings. Here though, in this westernly-southern area of Sicily, everything is green. Beneath the olive trees is bright green grass dotted with yellow and white flowers. And there are lots of other trees here too. Thinking back, I realize that there weren’t many trees at all on that first cross-island drive.
I apologize for starting to skip around! Let me go back to pick up the chronological narrative on Wednesday morning.
We left the Tenuta Stocatella after breakfast headed for the ruins of Selinunte, an archeological area right on the coast. It took a couple of wrong turns to get there, but we made it, and we got to see some lovely country roads along the way.
Selinunte has two main areas, and each of those has three temple ruins. From the ticket office to the ruins is a short hike (about 1.5 kilometers, so just a bit over a mile). The walk is easy. It is mostly over sand and the view to the Mediterranean is gorgeous. (We also had a spectacular day!) The ruins are mostly a jumble of fallen stone, but the remnants of the columns and the blocks of stone from the walls are immense. It is hard to imagine the size of the buildings they must have created.
Walking over the site I managed to get separated from everyone else. I knew I was walking in areas not regularly frequented by the tourists – just judging from the number of green spotted lizards I disturbed in their sun bathing and sent scurrying back into the dark crevices of the stone walls. Unfortunately, I made the others worry, and when I finally emerged from the trees and rocks, I was greeted with admonishments for having run off. Oops!
I enjoyed walking around in the temples. I was also looking forward to comparing this site with Agrigento which is our stopping place tonight.
We left Selinunte about 12:15pm and drove from there to La Forestiere, a B&B operated by the Planeta Winery. They also have a place for lunch, and we had made reservations for 1:30pm. We were the only people having lunch on Wednesday, and we found ourselves seated out on a terrace, bordered with different kinds of sage growing in large wooden raised beds. Beyond the sage, we could see the countryside sparkling in the sun. Above us, wisteria vines threaded in and out of a bamboo shade, and our table was elegantly set with silver and crystal.
Our server was a young woman who had worked at the winery for two years. She was very knowledgeable about the wines and also the olive oils produced by the winery under the Planeta label. She helped us choose a great white wine to accompany our lunch – a white from the Etna region.
Our lunch was delicious! The first course was a salad: lettuce on top of sliced tomatos, and topped with fennel and peaches in balsamic vinegar and oil. Actually we haven’t had a lot of raw, fresh food since we have been here, but I think that salad would have been delicious even if we had had it every day. Our second course was Pasta alla Norma, another typical Sicilian dish made with tomatoes and eggplant. Ottimo!
For dessert, a plate of fresh fruit provided an elegant and simple finish. We got to sample the different olive oils made at the winery, one light, one medium and one strong. Unlike Goldilocks, we bought the “too strong” to take home.
Feeling very mellow after a great meal in relaxing surroundings, we drove from lunch to our hotel in Agrigento. This is a “resort” hotel – not sure what made it so – but it was very nice and very convenient to the Valley of the Temples. We made a special effort to go out to see the acropolis in the evening. We got there at 6:30 and thinking that the site closed at 7:00 pm tried to talk the guards/ticket sellers into letting us go in to take pictures. Well, they agreed to that – selling us our tickets for the following day, and allowing us to use them for the evening too. That’s also when we found out that they sell the last ticket at 7, but you don’t have to be out of the ruins until 8:00 pm.
Wow! This is a must do – going to see the temples at night. Seeing them in the low light of dusk was great; seeing them as the sunset was greater; and seeing them as darkness fell and the sky turned blue was incredible! We also got to photograph then with the night sky, illuminated.
It really spoiled me. Somehow seeing them in the daylight, with tourists swarming all over them was just not the same thrill. But again, I am getting ahead of myself. We really did return the next day to walk the whole valley and see all the temples and the telamon! As I told Gerry, Galina and Jon ad nauseum, the telamon was one of the few visual memories I have of the Sicilian field trip my class took the year of my junior year abroad in Italy back in 1975. Maybe it was the exaggeration of the memory over the intervening 38 years, but I was not as impressed this time as I remembered being.
Wednesday evening we finished off the night with dinner in our hotel. All my devices were discharged, so for me it was an early night.