Visit Enchanting Erice Sicily’s Medieval Gem
Visiting Erice Sicily is a must when in the western part of the enchanting island. This picturesque hilltop town is a historic gem that beckons travelers with its rich history, stunning architecture, and breathtaking views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Nestled into the summit of Mount Erice, the location allowed residents to defend themselves while remaining close to the maritime rewards of the sea.
This guide will explore the wonders of Erice, covering its location, transportation, history, attractions, reasons to visit, and the ideal time to experience this petite, Sicilian treasure.
Where is Erice?
Erice is nestled on the summit of Mount Erice, approximately 750 meters above sea level, overlooking the western coast of Sicily in southern Italy. This medieval town is perched on a strategic vantage point that offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a tranquil escape. The protective ramparts have now become an important feature of the surrounding landscape.
How to Get to Erice
Reaching Erice is an adventure in itself. The town is accessible by several means of transportation. Here are some options:
Trapani to Erice Cable Car:
We began our travel to Erice in Trapani (a short distance away), on the western tip of Sicily. Read more about our road trip from Palermo to Trapani. Erice is approximately 40 kilometers from San Vito lo Capo, another charming stop along the sea with beautiful beaches.
Take the cable car, “Funivia di Erice,” for a scenic ride up to Erice. The journey provides breathtaking views of porto Trapani and the surrounding coastline. On a clear day you can see out to the Egadi islands. Times on the cable car change in the off season. Make sure you are looking for the correct dates.
INSIDER TIP: If you plan to have dinner in Erice, prearrange transportation back to your hotel. We could not get an Uber on our way back and ended up walking the 2 miles plus at 10pm.
Renting a car is a convenient option, allowing you to enjoy a leisurely drive through the picturesque Sicilian countryside. The trip takes about ½ an hour from Trapani.
Follow the signs leading to Erice, navigating the winding roads that ascend to the hilltop town.
Public buses connect Trapani to Erice, offering a budget-friendly option for travelers. Again-make sure to check on your return as well.
A Brief History of Erice
Erice has a fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. Originally settled by the Elymians, an indigenous population of Sicily, the town later became a crucial outpost for the Phoenicians and then the Greeks. Over the centuries, Erice changed hands multiple times, falling under Roman, Arab, and Norman rule.
The town’s medieval architecture reflects its diverse cultural influences, with narrow cobblestone streets, well-preserved churches, and ancient walls that transport visitors back in time. Notable historical sites include the Venus Castle, built by the Normans in the 12th century, and the Temple of Venus, a remnant of the ancient Elymian civilization.
Top Things to do When Visiting Erice
Erice offers a wealth of activities for visitors to explore its rich cultural and natural heritage. Tourists can pick up a helpful map as they enter the village.
Visit the Venus Castle and other Historic Sites
Explore the well-preserved Venus Castle, also known as Castello di Venere, which offers panoramic views of the town and the surrounding sea. The ancient temple paid tribute to the goddess of fertility.
Built between 1872 and 1880, the Torretta Pepoli of Erice is located just below the Venus Castle. Hugging the side of a massive cliff, the panoramic views of Trapani and the salt pans are Instagram worthy on clear day.
Porta Spada is a gateway in the town’s remarkable and ancient defensive walls. The massive stones at the base are part of the original structure dating from the 8th century BC and reminded me of our visit to Peru’s Sacayhuamán .
Experiencing the cultural fusion of Elymian, Phoenician, Greek, Norman, and Arab influences that have shaped Erice’s distinctive identity is awe inspiring.
Wander Through Charming Streets
Stroll through the charming medieval streets of Erice, lined with stone houses, local shops, and quaint cafes. The atmosphere of the old town is both romantic and nostalgic. Erice provides a peaceful retreat from the bustling cities, allowing visitors to relax and rejuvenate amidst a serene environment.
Discover Religious Heritage
Visit the Duomo di Erice, a beautiful cathedral showcasing Norman architecture and housing precious religious artifacts. The Chiesa Matrice dates back the beginning of the 14th century (an original fresco dates back to 1420) and is built in the shape of a Latin cross with two entrances.
The pale rose colored San Giuliano church and adjacent bell tower is one of the oldest in Erice.
Try Local Delicacies
Indulge in Sicilian cuisine at local trattorias and bakeries. Don’t miss out on trying traditional sweets like cannoli and cassata. La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico is a local favorite. The bakery has been making almond pastries in the tradition of monasteries for over 40 years.
If you are planning dinner during your visit to Erice, a reservation is suggested in the summer season. We had a lovely evening on a terrace with a panoramic views over the towns below at Ristorante Monte San Giuliano.Make sure to ask for outdoor seating.
Take in the Views
Enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from various vantage points, offering glimpses of the surrounding countryside, the sea, and even the Egadi Islands on a clear day. It’s a visual feast for both nature lovers and photography enthusiasts.
Erice is known for their colorful woven tapestry rugs. The skills are passed from generation to generation incorporating the use of small scraps of fabric. Most of the patterns and images I observed were geometric. The hand looms are identical to the ones I’ve seen in India and Ecuador, but the bright colors are more in line with traditional Sicilian decorative objets.
Similar textures and patterns can be found in the ceramics being made in Erice’s small artisan run worshops. Visitors will find clay made into traditional forms and after firing being skillfully painted is colorful patterns.
Speaking of artisan, make sure not to miss the pastry shops. The ancient pastry tradition is proudly alive and well with display cases beautifully displaying these edible jewels.
There’s More: Top Things to do in Palermo
Erice offers a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets. From charming bed and breakfasts to boutique hotels, visitors can find comfortable places to stay while immersing themselves in the town’s ambiance. Prices may vary depending on the season and the type of accommodation chosen. Because of its size, Erice can easily be visited on a day trip.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
The ideal time to visit Erice is during the spring and fall seasons. During these periods, the weather is mild, and the town is less crowded, allowing visitors to explore its treasures at a leisurely pace. Summer attracts more tourists, so planning a trip in the shoulder seasons ensures a more intimate experience.
Conclusion About Visiting Erice, Sicily
In conclusion, Erice stands as a testament to Sicily’s diverse history and natural beauty. Whether you’re captivated by ancient architecture, seeking a tranquil escape, or yearning for culinary delights, Erice has something to offer.
Erice encapsulates the essence of Sicily’s cultural richness and natural beauty. After visiting over 20 villages and towns in Sicily, I can say that Erice is unique amongst all the others. Small and captivating in its charms, Erice should be included on a western Sicily itinerary. Don’t miss a visit to this enchanting hilltop town and let the magic of days gone by unfold before you.
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