If you want to spend a holiday full of art, history and culture, Sicily is the ideal destination. Explore the cities and small towns of western Sicily: you'll fall in love with them!
Palermo, the island's capital, contains all the artistic, historical and cultural wealth of the civilisations which have passed through it. There's evidence of the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Swabians.
La cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary is itself a good example of the layers of different cultures which have modified its architecture over time: from the façade in Catalan Gothic to the apse with its Norman-Arab decorations. The remains of the Sicilian kings Roger II and Frederick II are preserved within it, and the relics of Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo. The festival in her honour, better known as u fistinu, is an event not to be missed. It’s celebrated on 15 July.
The Sacrestia dei Canonici displays the Cathedral’s Treasury: sacred vestments from the 16th to the 18th centuries, monstrances, chalices and the precious golden crown taken from the tomb of Queen Constance of Aragon, an example of medieval jewellery. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Museo Diocesano and the garden, the Orto Botanico.
If you continue on foot along Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main artery of the historic centre of Palermo connecting the two splendid gates, the Porta Nuova and the Porta Felice, you reach the Quattro Canti, an octagonal piazza at the intersection of several of the main streets.
Shortly after this you’ll come across the spectacular fountain in Piazza Pretoria, with its marvellous representations of gods, nymphs, monsters and allegories.
On essential stop is the Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, known as La Martorana, in Piazza Bellini. It’s Arabic in style with wall murals dating to the Byzantine era. Right next to it, there’s another marvellous church, the Chiesa di San Cataldo.
In Piazza Indipendenza you can admire the mosaics in the Cappella Palatina; this wonderful chapel alone justifies a trip to Palermo. The Cappella is inside a government building, the Palazzo dei Normanni, which was previously the residence of the kings of Sicily and is now a UNESCO heritage site. Don’t miss the oldest wing of the palace, located in the Torre Pisana, with the rooms of King Roger and the Astronomical Observatory.
Palermo is also the street food capital: pane e panelle and crocchè, sfincioni, arancine and pane cà meusa, are a few examples of the many savoury “Sicilian delicacies”, not to mention the brioche con gelato and the wonderful pastries, famous the world over.
Stop off at the seaside village of Castellammare del Golfo and visit Alcamo: it’s full of monuments and works of art.
Set aside an entire day for visiting Erice and Trapani.
Erice, listed among Italy’s most beautiful villages in Sicily, has the Castello Fortezza di Venere as its symbol. From the castle you can admire the whole valley. In the centre of town, which is dotted with medieval churches and convents, there’s the beautiful Duomo dell’Assunta. Treat yourself to a break and enjoy the sweet marzipan pastries and the famous freshly baked genovesi pastries.
The elegant town centre of Trapani, which can also be reached from Erice by cable car, is centred around the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the Via Torrearsa and the Via Garibaldi.
There are a succession of historic buildings and churches of considerable artistic value, such as the cathedral, with its beautiful Baroque façade, and the Chiesa del Purgatorio, the church in which the Trapani Misteri are preserved. These are a group of sculptures representing the Passion which feature in the Good Friday procession.
Outside the historic centre, the Santuario dell’Annunziata, a shrine dating to the 14th century, and the adjacent former convent of theCarmelites are worth a visit. The latter is the site of the Museo Regionale “A. Pepoli”, which houses sculptures and jewellery, and works in Trapani coral by masters of the craft.
Here you can enjoy fish, meat or vegetable-based couscous or the local pasta dish, busiate alla trapanese.
Segesta, in the province of Trapani, has a magnificent, monumental Doric temple, and a theatre in a picturesque sea and hill setting.
Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in the contemporary art of Gibellina, taste some excellent wine and discover where jazz has its roots…Salaparuta awaits you!
Don’t miss a walk at sunset to the archaeological park of Selinunte. Its scenery is impressive, as is its cultural atmosphere. You can enjoy a wonderful sunset overlooking the sea among its fantastic temples and historical ruins.
Your next stop is Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, the largest archaeological site in the world and a UNESCO heritage site. A tour of the valley never fails to appeal: in addition to the temples of Concord, Juno, Heracles and Zeus, the itinerary also includes the the nearby Byzantine necropolis, with the monumental tomb of Terone and the catacombs of Grotte Fragapane.
End your tour by tasting the gelato pecorino. This fantastic local speciality is a delicately-flavoured ice cream made of sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. It’s a little-known variety which is unique to the Agrigento area.
Find out more about the Western Sicily Tourist District