La Sicilia! A Photo-Essay

The fall colors are at their peak, and local newspaper headlines warn, Some Minnesotans Could Wake Up Saturday to a Blanket of Snow. Our Sicilian vacation is a distant memory.  With the fire place radiating warmth and and a glass of Nero d’Avola unearthing memories, we capture the sights and the flavors of our July 2014 tour of the western coast of Sicily.

Our tour of Western SicilyThe Sicilian countryside

Bed & Breakfast Mammaliturchi
Cico and Lola’s B&B Mammaliturchi on the southern Sicilian coast was so spectacular, so perfect, that it merited its own blog post.  A short walk up the beach to the dazzling white  Scala dei Turchi and a 15 minute drive to Agrigento and the magnificent Valley of the Temples, B&B Mammaliturchi is nothing short of paradise.

Scala dei Turchi

Sciacca
Sciacca is a small, medieval fisherman’s village built steeply into the rock that descends down to the sea.  At sea level, fishing boats dot the waterfront and fisheries line the streets.  Climb a steep set of stone steps, some which take you right past the doorways of local residents, and you will reach the heart of the town of Sciacca.  Souvenir shops line the main street which leads to a piazza that looks dramatically out over the Mediterranean.  Stop by the local pastry shop and try out some of the local bitter almond and ricotta-based treats.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

Stefano and Luca sample local pastries in the back end of a Fiat 500-turned street art.

 

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca's main piazza.

Sean, Nonna Maria, Luca and Stefano pose for a photo in Sciacca’s main piazza.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca's city steps.

Luca and Sean descend Sciacca’s city steps.

Mazara del Vallo
Founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, Mazara del Vallo was ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines among others, before finally coming under Arab control in 827 AD.   During the Arab period Mazara del Vallo was an important commercial harbour and the main gateway between Sicily and Northern Africa.  The historical center of Mazara del Vallo is  known as the Kasbah, and it boasts distinct Arab architectural influences.  It is also the best place in Italy to eat cous cous, a Northern African dish that Sicilians have adopted as their own.

Mazara del Vallo

Arab-influenced architecture in the Kasbah neighborhood of Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

The Kasbah, Mazara del Vallo.

Mazara del Vallo

We had delicious cous cous at Trattoria alla Kasbah in Mazara del Vallo.  (Luca is in his “cross-eyed photo-bomber” stage.)

Trapani and Erice
Trapani is known for its salt marshes, and picturesque windmills used to drain the water during the long process of drawing salt out.  It’s also where you can catch a ferry to the heralded Egadi islands, which we didn’t have time for on this trip but fully intend to return to do.  We made a quick stop to see the salt flats, gave in to curiosity and tasted it (yes, it really was salty), and then continued up, and up, and up and winding mountain to the town of Erice.

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Image from http://customitalytours.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/segesta-erice-marsala/

Erice is a medieval village that sits at the peak of a mountain, 750 metres (2,460 ft) above sea level.  On a clear day, you can see Tunisia and Africa’s Northern coast.  The day we visited it was anything but clear.  It felt like we’d  stepped right into a scene from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  In foggy, damp, cold weather we diligently trekked up the main street to Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which we’d read on the internet had the most amazing pastries.  It is a humble pasticceria, as far as Italian pasticceria’s go, but their cannoli, genovesi and cassate were truly amazing.

San Vito lo Capo
When you live in place as cold as ours, some beach time is a must.  San Vito lo Capo is among the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy.  Located on the northwestern tip of Sicily, the winding drive through the mountains offers spectacular views of the sea below.

San Vito lo Capo

A spectacular view from above on the road to San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo’s beach is a long stretch of soft sand that leads to a mountain in the distance.  The bright aquamarine sea is calm, warm and amazingly clear.  You could lose your wedding ring in waist deep water, look down and see it sparkling on the sea floor below.  The bright beach umbrella made for a splendid scene.

San Vito lo Capo

The beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

The clear, calm water at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Bright umbrella dot the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Sun, sand and sea at San Vito lo Capo.

San Vito lo Capo

Drammatic views at San Vito lo Capo.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach.

Enjoying a frittata di pesce on the beach at San Vito lo Capo.

Palermo
While the charm and slower pace of Sicily’s small towns offer the greatest appeal, a stop in the chaotic, complicated Palermo is worth it.  The tour of the historical city is quick, and worth the cost of one of the open-air tour buses.  A walk through the markets and the old Arab quarters is overwhelms by sight, sound and smell.  We were most drawn by Palermo’s unique foods: panelle (fritters made of chickpeas and flour), sandwiches with milza (gall bladder), and breakfast with granita al caffè and large gelato-filled brioche.

Milza

Milza – a Palermitano delicacy.

brioche con gelato

Breakfast in style in Palermo – brioche con gelato.

Cefalù
Cefalù is a charming, small town on the northern coast of Sicily.  Full of tourists in the summer months, it is delightful nonetheless with a convenient beach and lots of modern shops, Italian bars and eateries, many with lovely sea views.  We dined at Il Covo del Pirata, and loved it.  It’s location was amazing, with tables that looked right out over the water, yet it had a casual, family feel.  We ate seafood to our heart’s content.  Stop by early in the day and reserve a table with a view for dinner.

Cefalù

The town of Cefalù, seen from the beach.

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Cefalù

Il Covo del Pirata

The view from the restaurant Il Covo del Pirata, in Cefalù.

Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi

the-terrace-at-b-b-mammaliturc

Minneapolis to Frankfurt. Frankfurt to Rome. A loud and crazy birthday party in Rome for three splendid 5-year-olds, and then off the next morning to Catania.

With Etna in the distance rising above the hilly landscape, we drove through the Sicilian inland to the Southern coast. Finally, after two or three laps around impossibly narrow roads in the tiny town of Realmonte, we arrived at our destination: Bed and Breakfast Mammaliturchi. Within 5 minutes of our arrival we knew that it was worth every minute and every mile of that long journey.

Francesco met us as the gate, showed us our parking spot, and led us around to the vast terrace on the beach-side of the home, where the view of the sparkling blue sea is breathtaking.  The sound of the waves crashing against the shore washed our tiredness and tension away.  It only got better when Francesco and his wife Loredana (affectionately known as Cico and Lola) showed us our rooms – large and breezy with a wall of windows that overlook the Mediterranean.

In a matter of minutes we shed our travel attire, donned our beachwear, and descended the stairs back to that marvelous terrace and the broad and quiet beach below to begin our vacation.

The Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring.  One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be.  B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint.  In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

The Home

Cico and Lola’s dazzling white stucco seaside home is trimmed in brilliant blue, a color scheme that mirrors the sand, sea and sky and that is reflected in the tasteful, modern and playful decor throughout.  Every convenience is available – parking, laundry, wi-fi, and even air conditioning, although despite visiting in July, we never needed it due to the comfortable sea breeze that gently blew through the windows at night.  The home offers direct, private access to the beach, a shower to rinse off in, and breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the beautiful patio.

B&B MammaliturchiThe Trip Advisor reviews of B&B Mammaliturchi were good and the photos alluring. One never knows for sure, though, if a place rented over the internet will truly be what it claims to be. B&B Mammalituchi did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded our every expectation.

The Location

B&B Mammaliturchi is located on a quiet stretch of the Southern Sicilian coast.  It is a 5 minute walk along the beach to Scala dei Turchi, a fascinating geological formation of chalky white limestone cliffs, shaped in like a staircase.  Scala dei Turchi translates in English to Staircase of the Turks, and it is from here that B&B Mammaliturchi gets it’s name.  Legend has it that during the 16th century when the Ottomans expanded westward into Europe, the Turks arrived in their ships, and found it convenient to anchor up against these cliff, which served as a “staircase” for them as they debarked their ships.  When the locals saw the Turks arrive, they exclaimed in fear, Mamma li Turchi (Oh Mother, the Turks are here!)

B&B MammaliturchiB&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

B&B Mammaliturchi

 

The bed and breakfast is also located a mere 15 minutes by car from the city of Agrigento and the archeological site Valle dei Templi, one of the most outstanding examples of Greek architecture anywhere in the world, and one of Sicily’s main attractions.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi

Finally, it you can bear to pull yourself away from the slice of paradise that B&B Mammaliturchi offers, the charming towns of Sciacca, Mazara del Vallo, Marsala, Trapani, and Erice are a short drive away.

The Hospitality

Without question, the amazing amenities and location of B&B Mammaliturchi are matched and even surpassed by Cico and Lola’s warm and generous hospitality.  Exacting yet friendly, they offer an exceptional level of service while making guests feel like old friends.  They gave us tips and recommendations on local attractions and sites (like La Sosta, home of the most amazing pistacchio gelato ever), and they attended to our every need.

Each morning we awoke to an Italian breakfast of cappuccino, espresso, juice, toast, jam, Nutella and fresh-fron-the oven croissants are served on the terrace, where we watched the morning joggers and early beach-goers in the cool, sea-side breeze. Guests are free to explore off-site restaurants and bars for lunch and dinner, but quite frankly there is no reason to.  Cico and Lola’s generous, authentic Sicilian meals served open air on the terrace were a high point of our stay.  Featuring seafood that Lola bought fresh off of the fisherman’s boats each day, these were genuinely among the most memorable meals we’ve ever enjoyed.

B&B Mammaliturchi

A better Sicilian vacation we could not have found.  Cico and Lola are the perfect hosts in an absolutely spectacular destination.  As one Trip Advisor commentor wrote, everyone should treat themselves at least once to a B&B Mammaliturchi vacation.  We’re already contemplating when we can return.

B&B MammaliturchiB&B Mammaliturchi