Splendour and charm, traditions and stories of the past, beauty and wonder: you breathe all this in as you walk through the streets of Erice, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Its history was embellished by the poet Virgil, who mentioned Erice in his epic work, the Aeneid, making it a stop on the travels of the Trojan hero Aeneas, the mythical founder of Rome.
To explore Erice, leave Porta Trapani and enter an alley full of narrow streets and small squares, flanked by churches and noble palaces which allow glimpses of majestic views. The churches in particular stand out, so much so that Erice was known as the "City of a Hundred Churches". In reality, there aren't quite so many, but they're all unmissable
In addition to the Norman-style Chiesa di San Martino and the Chiesa di Sant’Albertino degli Abbati, the oldest church, the Chiesa Madre, dedicated to the worship of Santa Maria Assunta, is worth a brief mention. Its bell tower has a quadrangular plan and is embellished with two-light windows; the building was also built for defensive and lookout purposes. There are nine crosses in the church’s right wall. Legend has it that they came from the Temple of Venus and were brought here by Federick of Aragon when he was on the run during the War of the Sicilian Vespers and stayed in the town.
One of the most beautiful spots is the Spanish quarter. This area is said to have been built in the period of Spanish domination to house the Spanish soldiers: a requirement for every Sicilian city. In Erice a small fort was built, of which are there are still some fascinating remains, and achurch dedicated to the worship of Sant’Antonio. However, the Spanish quarter was never completed, as the soldiers were housed in the nearby castle.
The symbol of Erice is the Castello di Venere, built by the Normans. When building it, they used materials from the Temple of Venere Ericina from which it takes its name. The castle was encircled by towers, next to which there’s the Balio, a marvellous English landscape garden from which you can enjoy an outstanding view.
On one side you can see the Tyrrhenian coast of the gulf of Trapani, with the tip of San Vito lo Capo on the horizon, and on the other there’s the port of Trapani, with the salt pans and the Aegadian islands.
Beneath the castle walls there’s the Torretta Pepoli. If you visit the Polo Museale “Antonino Cordici” the integrated ticket for this museum includes the castle and the tower.
If you want to sample the famous dolci ericini, you can visit the historic confectioners. You can sample the typical products of this area whose recipes were created by the monks and nuns of the cloistered monasteries.
There are marzipan pastries with a lace-like decoration filled with a citrus preserve, or genovesi ericine pastries, filled with confectioner’s custard, dusted with icing sugar and eaten warm. There’s the classic dry version of mustaccioli biscuits and those with honey, with their aftertaste of cloves. Last, but not least, there’s frutta martorana, artificial fruit made with almonds and delicate, natural colours.
These delicacies should be accompanied by Marsala Riserva Superiore or with the typical Erice liqueur, liquore Monte Erice, with its characteristic green colour.
If you’re going round the shops, take a few moments to admire the famous Erice rugs, handwoven from pieces of coloured cloth, and the hand-painted pottery.
In high season, you can go to Erice from Trapani via the cable car; the view is spectacular!
If you want to go hiking, the Porta Castellammare–Tre Chiese route is first-rate, perfect for exploring the three churches. The circuit looks out over the gulf of Bonagia and goes round the mountain, passing the rugged churches of Santa Maria Maddalena, Sant’Ippolito and Santa Maria Maggiore. The path, signposted and mapped out by the CAI, the Italian Alpine Club, is an easy one and it’s really beautiful.