Our drive from Palermo east to Cefalu was beautiful as we hugged the winding coastline and had the sea on one side, and mountains and ravines interspersed with olive groves on the other. Cefalu is a medieval town which nestles in the shadow of a small mountain and is dominated by the Duomo, another cathedral with fine mosaics though not as spectacular as those in Palermo. Warmer here than in Palermo, we dined by the sea on fresh fish in Via Roma Vecchia restaurant. We all agreed that an antipasto of smoked tuna and swordfish carpaccio with pears was the best we had tasted, ever. Antipasti and mains for the four of us including two bottles of wine was 135 EUR!
Our next stop was Erice, another very picturesque, walled, medieval town set on top of a mountain. Cold and misty and with the castle looming over the town, it was like being in a fairytale. We stayed in a convent which has been converted into a hotel (Villa San Giovanni) and has one of the finest views in the town. My sister and husband were given a suite which must have been the former quarters of the abbess as they had a little living room, a study with antique furniture and a large balcony overlooking the valley, a truly breathtaking sight. Erice itself is full of cobbled winding streets and lots of interesting churches. The walls date back to the Phoenicians and the castle was built on the ruins of the Temple of Venus built by the Greeks.
Erice is also famous for its pastries especially those made by Maria Grammatica Pasticceria which we got into the habit of popping into for refreshments when we tired of looking at churches. There were marzipan and other nut confections, little cassata cakes with dried fruits and various types of cookies. Apparently, convents used to make cookies as a way of earning money and Maria is reputed to have learned the art from the nuns many years ago.
A visit to Trapani at the bottom of the mountain where tuna used to be brought in and processed, was fascinating. The quaint old quarter with its interesting churches entertained us for the morning. Lunch at Salamurecci restaurant near the harbour in the old town was the highlight of the day where spaghetti con ricci (sea urchin eggs) was like tasting the ocean.
The drive to Marsala further along the coast, was most interesting. There are salt flats and marshes still used for salt production along the coast from Trapani to Marsala. At one time, windmills would be used to provide energy to move the salt water from basin to basin.
In Marsala, we of course had to sample various types of Marsala from sweet to very dry which to our delight were served with a platter of appetizers.
We had planned to leave on Sunday evening so we had the day free to visit Segesta, where there are ruins of a Greek temple and amphitheatre. A magnificent spot and truly worth a visit as the ruins are well preserved.
Lunch afterwards at Castellamare del Golfi on the ocean was a feast of the freshest seafood. We made our way to the airport in a leisurely fashion but when we got there, I discovered that I had misread the time when I booked the flight. I thought the flight left at 6.45pm but in fact, it was actually 6.45am! We were lucky to have gotten onto another flight but it cost us a fortune as we had to buy new tickets on a different airline. We had a 5 hour wait at the airport and didn’t get back to Rome until 11pm. My travelling companions took this setback in their stride but it was not a relaxed end to our trip as I had anticipated. The worrisome part is that I wasn’t even drinking when I booked the flights!