Although I adore the Sicilian coastline, there is another less familiar Sicily of medieval architecture and jaw dropping landscapes that I love just as much. It is off the beaten path, this is sure, but the venture to the medieval village of Erice perched on the top of Mount San Giuliano is richly rewarding.
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The Greeks, the Romans, and the Phoenicians once inhabited the medieval village of Erice. All these invasions created a castle and medieval fortress and wall that still stand today. Erice spent years ignored by tourists and now tourism has surged, which has encouraged many hotels and businesses to arise. Though the town has been reinvigorated, tourism season is still a bit too brief for the city to maintain itself. It lasts from roughly May to September – October, but the remaining months of the year is left for the 300 residents of the small town.
Due to its small population and isolation from the city of Trapani, Erice doesn’t have schools, Laundromats, or even it’s own bread bakery! For all these amenities, the town needs to head down to Trapani. It is truly a town that has remained at its core true to its “antique ways.” In fact, if you are looking for a fresh croissant that does not consist of cream or nutella (the specialties of the area!) you must wait until approximately 10:30AM for the workers to come back up from Trapani carrying these small breakfast delicacies. Until then, all that remains is leftover croissants from the day before or creamy delicacies, that are a bit heavier for foreigners to eat at 9 in the morning. After all, the locals motto is con calma – no rush. So do not come here expecting everyone to be fast like in New York, things here are slow and people take their time. But that’s what we need in our life sometimes, to slow down and enjoy the small things in life.
The town begins at Porta Trapani gateway, where the cable car drops you off. From here the main street of Vittorio Emanuele leads the way to the heart of the town—Piazza Umberto I. Narrow cobbled streets lead to the hilltop castle Castello Venere (Castle of Venus) that was a shrine once dedicated to the goddess Venus (and during the Greek times, used to worship prostitutes!). The view from this fortification is what makes Erice so special. You can view Trapani from one side and San Vito Lo Capo from the other.
Come prepared to hear church bells ringing every hour of the day, and not just from one church, but from 16. Erice is known as the city of 100 churches with 16 still open and functioning today. The most important is the 14th century Duomo dell’Assunta.
Being so high up in the mountains, means that the weather is cooler all year round. This is a great excuse to fill up the towns famous almond biscuits, Genovesi Ericine and pastries, proudly stacked up in the windows of several pasticcerie on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. I mean, how else are you going to protect your body from the cold right? The only way is to indulge in a scary amount of pastries. The go-to pasticceria in Erice is Maria Grammatico, located just a few steps from Piazza Umberto I. Once a nun now turned world-renowned pastry chef, Maria is famous for her Genovesi Ericine and marzipan creations all made with locally produced ingredients and Sicilian almonds. Sicilian convents have been famous for their almond-based sweets and pastries so Maria took her skills and brought it to the isolated and religious town of Erice where she made a name for herself. I opted for the more local sweet, the Genovesi, a pasty cream (usually ricotta or milky-custard) inside an egg-enriched pastry dough sprinkled with a touch of powdered sugar. It’s a perfect marriage between pastry and cream, especially when eaten warm! This was one of my favorite pastries in Sicily, aside from the ricotta filled cannoli’s of course (which my mom indulged in). They were so good…my mom sent me out at 11PM to go grab a second cannoli from Maria Grammatico!
It’s the food, the people, the history, the simplicity, and the religion that make Erice a charming and one of the best well-preserved medieval towns you’ll ever stumble upon in Sicily. Come for the views, stay for the history (and pastries!) and immerse yourself in the history through a genuine and medieval stay at Erice Pietre Antiche. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org should you need any information or help on where to stay and what to do during your time in this centuries old town.
- Maria Grammatico Via Vittorio Emanuele 14, Erice, Sicily; 0923-869390; mariagrammatico.it
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