“Sicily is the pearl of this century… Since old times, travelers from the most far away country… boast of its merits, praise its territory, rave about its extraordinary beauty, and highlight its strengths… because it brings together the best aspects from every other country.”

Al-Idrisi, The Book of Roger

The province of Trapani is a real treasure chest of wonders.

It has enchanted medieval small hill towns, medieval castles, Caribbean beaches, wondrous nature reserves, Punic ruins, Greek temples and theatres. 

Trapani, in fact, like all Sicily, has suffered different foreign dominations and each of those left its mark on the culture and the landmarks of the entire Sicilian west coast province. 

Founded under the name of Drepana by the Elymians to serve as the port of the nearby city of Eryx (present-day Erice), its name turned into Drépanon, from the Greek word for “sickle”, due to the curving shape of its harbour.

Over the years, the city was controlled by the Carthaginians (260 BC), Romans (241 BC), Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs (from 827), Normans (1077), Aragoneses and Spaniards when the Kingdom of Sicily was merged with the Kingdom of Naples to form the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1816). 

You can reach Trapani by plane, flying straight to Trapani – Birgi Airport, located between Trapani and Marsala, or to Palermo – Falcone Borsellino Airport and from there we can either rent a car and drive for 55 minutes (recommended option) or take the Segesta Autolinee bus (it takes 1h10m to get to Trapani and costs 9.6€). 

That said, let’s start with our list of 12 places you should not miss in the province of Trapani without further ado.

N.B. This list is not a ranking. To put it together, in fact, I used pure geographic criteria to arrange them and my personal taste to pick them. Meaning that I started with the places that are closer to the city of Trapani, then those in the eastern part of its province, and, finally, those in the southwestern part.

So, dear fellow Sicilians don’t get offended if you don’t see your favourite places on my list.

1. Trapani Old Town

Even though the city of Trapani doesn’t have particularly important historical monuments, it has a worth-visit Old Town with many baroque noble palaces and old churches. Take into consideration that during WWII Germans bombarded Trapani and most of the buildings in the Old Town were razed to the ground. 

I’d recommend parking your car in Lungomare Alighieri somewhere near Piazza Mercato del Pesce and have a stroll alongside the “Mura di Tramontana” (“Tramontana walls”) till Torre di Ligny, a 17th-century watchtower.

From there, continue the visit through Corso Vittorio Emanuele where you can see the Cathedral of Saint Lawrence the Martyr (built in 1421, but restored to the current appearance in the 18th century by Giovanni Biagio Amico, it includes an Annunciation attributed to Anthony van Dyck).

Take, then, a little detour to Piazza del Purgatorio, where you can visit the Church of the Holy Souls in Purgatory (home to the twenty sculptural groups, portraying the Passion and Death of Jesus, carried in procession every year on Good Friday for the well-known “Procession of the Mysteries of Trapani”).

Back to Corso Vittorio Emanuele, you can appreciate the Baroque Church of the Jesuit College, and, where the Corso ends to continue in Via Torrearsa, the Baroque Senatorial Palace or Cavarretta Palace (seat of the municipality, with its characteristic 2-clocks facade). Just next to that Palace, you can find the Tower of Porta Oscura, also known as the Clock Tower, home of one of the most ancient astronomical clocks in Europe (it was completed in 1596 and it’s still fully functional).

Heading south through Via Torrearsa, you can see on your left the Fountain of Saturn and the Saint Augustine Church (14th-century) with the splendid 14th-century rose-window.

Finally, at the end of Via Torrearsa, you can have a look at the “Casina delle Palme”, one of the best-known examples of Liberty style building in Trapani, and have a delightful jasmine ice-cream, typical of Trapani, at Gino in General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa square. 

Jasmine ice-cream is a real refreshing treat of Arab origin that you can taste only in the city of Trapani. So, make sure you don’t leave without trying it. 

Recommended visit time: half a day.

2. Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum and its coral artefacts collection

Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum is one of the most important museums in Sicily. 

It was established as the civic museum in the early 1900s by count Agostino Pepoli and based in a former 14th-century Carmelite monastery next to the Basilica-Shrine of Our Lady of the Annunciation.

It is one of the most emblematic museums of applied arts, characterized by its collection dedicated to the “art in red” of the “curaddari masters”, Trapani coral craftworks that once made the city famous. 

One of the most breathtaking pieces is a Christmas crib made of coral assembled to receive a range of chromatic effects with gilded copper, enamels, silver, ivory and once displayed in their halls by noble families to arouse the amazement of visitors.

The entrance ticket is €6.

Recommended visit time: a couple of hours.

Trapani coral-made artefact tradition started between the 15th and 16th centuries. At first, the vast majority of the artwork were subjects of veneration, such as crucifixes, holy water stoups, chalices, rosaries and nativity scenes. Later on, they began to manufacture not only sacred but also profane jewels.

Today the coral art and the carving of precious materials still survive in Trapani thanks to a few artisan workshops in the historic city centre.

3. Erice

Erice is a small town situated on the top of Mount Erice, about 750 meters (2,460 ft) above sea level, overlooking the town of Trapani, the western coast towards Marsala, the dramatic north-eastern Punta del Saraceno and Capo San Vito, and the northwestern coast of the Aegadian Islands.

Even if its name has Greek origins (its Greek name was Eryx) and its foundation was legendarily associated with the eponymous Greek hero Eryx, it was not a Greek colony, as it was funded by the Phoenicians, but it was largely Hellenized.

The remains of ancient Elymian and Phoenician walls (Cyclopean masonry) can still be seen in the northeastern part of the area, suggesting various levels of settlement and occupation in ancient times.

There are two remaining castles in the city: the Pepoli Castle, which dates from the times of Saracen, and the Castle of Venus, from the Norman era, built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped. The temple was built by Aeneas, according to legend. In ancient times, it was well known throughout the Mediterranean region, and an important cult was celebrated there.

You can reach Erice by car. From Trapani, it’s about a 30-minute drive up to the top. Once on the top, since the town is pretty much pedestrianized, you need to park your car before entering Erice itself and explore it on foot. There are plenty of parking spaces (for a fee, but only in summer). This option, though, is not recommended if you get car sick, due to the many and sharp turns. 

The most recommended way is, in fact, by the panoramic cable car from where on a clear day, thanks to its 3099-meters slant height, you can appreciate the breathtaking view of the entire sickle-shaped city of Trapani, the Aegadian Islands and the salt marshes of the Oriented Nature Reserve of Trapani and Paceco.

The plant is equipped with night lighting to be operated in the dark as well as with special cabins for people with disabilities and for bikes. It consists of 42 no-stop-boarding cabins for 8 people each and 12 minutes drive. Tickets cost €5.50 one-way, €9 return. 

There are two paid parking areas with cameras at the exclusive service for the users of the cable car just a few steps from the cable car entrance in Via Capua, 4, Casa Santa, Trapani. 

Once on the top, enjoy the stroll through its narrow streets and its little stone house.

Recommended visit time: half a day.

3.1. Royal Cathedral

Known amongst the locals as “Mother Church”, it’s the first church you encounter entering the town from Porta Trapani. 

It came into beings as a primitive Christian temple at the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD, in 1314 it was enlarged and adorned in a gothic style by order of a grateful Frederick III who sheltered in Erice during the Sicilian Vespers uprising (1282–1314).

Its interior was remodelled in neo-Gothic style in 1865, but the 15th-century side chapels were conserved.

The neighbouring Tower of Federico, the cathedral’s freestanding campanile with mullioned windows, 6 bells and 108 steps spiralling to the top of its 28m height, offers a naturally impressive view (not for nothing it was originally conceived as a watchtower).

What makes it so memorable?

Beyond any doubt the crenellated marble ceiling. It truly makes me dream every single time I see it (even just in the picture). As a little girl, I used to dream about getting married in this amazing church.

A combined Passepartout ticket of the cost of 6€ includes access to the cathedral, the bell tower and two other churches in Erice: Saint Martin and Saint Julian.

3.2. Maria Grammatico Pastry Shop

Maria Grammatico, the most popular pastry chef in Sicily, learned the art of making almond-based pastries from Erice’s nuns. Thanks to her, a wide range of old Sicilian recipes for cakes, almond pastries and traditional specialities have been documented and are still being produced today.

Walking through the streets of the baroque town of Erice and towards Via Vittorio Emanuele, where her pastry shop and cafe is, one can instantly smell the ancient flavours and aromas coming alive.

Still one of the most popular in Sicily, her shop is heralded for using only locally grown ingredients and Avola’s Sicilian almonds to make her pastries, jams, and marzipan. She is known for her torrone (a form of traditional nougat), Seni di Vergine (“Virgin’s Breasts” with sugar, almonds, and citrus jam), and Paste da Risposto, in addition to her marzipan creations (decorated with handmade flowers).

But you can’t go to Erice and don’t try its most distinctive treat: the Genovese Ericina (custard-filled pastry) to savour fresh out of the oven rigorously.

3.3. Views from the Balio Gardens

Continuing through Erice’s little stone streets, another not-to-be-missed place is the Castle of Balio and its Gardens. From there, you can enjoy a stunning view over the Castle of Venus to the east, the Tower of Pepoli to the northeast, the Monte Cofano and the Cornino bay to the north, Trapani, Aegadian Islands and the salt marshes to the southwest.

The Balio Towers were once connected by a drawbridge to the Castle of Venus. They date back to the Middle Ages when they were used as the military fortress outposts. They were restored by Count Agostino Pepoli in 1872.

The rooms Castle of Venus are now off-limits to tourists, but you can still explore the grassy inner courtyard, filled with ruined foundations and flanked by an impressive stone wall, allegedly built by Daedalus (craftsman and artist of Greek mythology, best known as the creator of the Labyrinth of the Minotaur in Crete). 

The entrance ticket is 4€ p.p. However, if your budget is tight, don’t worry too much about missing the inside of the castle.

Astonishingly built on a rock in the late 19th century by the same Count Agostino Pepoli, the Tower of Pepoli initially acted as a meeting place for men of art, music and culture. In 2014 it became a Permanent Observatory for Peace and “Lighthouse” of the Mediterranean. 

4. Aegadian Islands

On the west coast of Sicily, between the coasts of Trapani and Marsala, there are three islands, Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo, also known as the Aegadian Islands. 

To reach the islands you need to catch a Liberty Lines hydrofoil or a Siremar ferry from Trapani port. 

Bonus tip: you cannot leave the Trapani port without paying a visit to Angelino.

Angelino is a restaurant cafeteria just in front of the quayside where you can taste a rich selection of most typical dishes of the Palermitan and Trapanese tradition. 

At Angelino, you can find from the most sophisticated dishes to the most symbolic street food, such as arancini (fried balls of rice with a heart that could vary from meat sauce to béchamel sauce with cheese and ham), panino con le panelle (crisp fried chickpea fritters, aka “panelle”, on soft sesame-seeded buns), Palermitan sfincione (something between a pizza crust and bread seasoned with tomato sauce, onion, caciocavallo cheese, anchovies and olive oil), Trapanese Iris con carne (something like a salty krapfen stuffed with meat sauce). It offers also classical specialities of the traditional Sicilian pastry. 

4.1 Favignana

Favignana, the largest one, is also the most active and vibrant island of the archipelago. It can be reached in 30 min by hydrofoil (round trip ticket at 21€ p.p ) and around 1h by ferry (round trip ticket at 18€ p.p) from Trapani. Once there you can easily visit the entire island in a couple of days renting a bike. Or you can rent a boat and circumnavigate it. 

Due to the presence of a monk who stayed in the Saint Catherin castle situated on the top of the hill, the Arabs knew it by the name of Djazirat’ar Rahib (the Monk Island), but today its name comes from the Favono, a hot wind blowing from the west.

The Island is particularly famous for the light-blue crystal-clear water of its beaches, its tuff caves, now abandoned, and for its tuna production since 17th.

The most famous beaches on the island are Cala Rossa, Cala Azzurra and Lido Burrone (being only the latter sandy).

The Islanders decided to turn the abandoned tuff caves of Favignana into gardens. You’ll still see tuff quarries in Cala Rossa, Bue Marino, Punta Fanfalo and Lido Burrone along the edges of the roads where the lushest plants grow.

The main historical attraction of this place is the old Florio factory designed for processing of tuna.

Recommended visit time: a couple of days.

4.2. Levanzo

Levanzo, the smallest island of the archipelago, can be reached in 45 m by hydrofoil (round trip ticket at 21€ p.p ) and in around 2h 35m by ferry (round trip ticket at 18€ p.p) from Trapani. 

It is famous for its untamed natural beauty, its green-blue waters, its rocky beaches and its “Grotta del Genovese” with Neolithic cave paintings and Palaeolithic graffiti.

In addition, in the waters of Cala Minnola, on the eastern side of the island, there is one of the most important Sicilian underwater archaeological sites where a Roman cargo ship, filled with wine amphoras, lies at a depth of 27 meters.

The best way to explore Levanzo is on foot.

Recommended visit time: one day.

4.3 Marettimo

Marettimo, the wildest and westernmost of the islands of the archipelago, can be reached in 1h 20m by hydrofoil (round trip ticket at 34€ p.p) and in around 1h by ferry (round trip ticket at 27€ p.p) from Trapani. 

On the island, there’s only one lane, and electric carts are the main mode of motorized transport, making this a prime destination for walkers. A well-marked trail network, fanning out in all directions from the city centre, leads quickly into unspoiled nature, ascending to spectacular coastal lookouts through fragrant pine forests, then descending again to remote beaches.

Recommended visit time: a couple of days.

5. San Vito Lo Capo

Situated in a valley between mountains, at 37 km from Trapani, San Vito Lo Capo is home to a magnificent nearly 3 km (1.8 miles) white sandy beach and crystal-clear waters.

Until about 15 years ago, San Vito Lo Capo was popular almost exclusively among locals who wanted to enjoy a day with their family on a turquoise-water public beach. Nowadays, instead, only a tiny portion of the beach is free while the largest part accommodates fully-equipped bathing establishments.

Trapani - San Vito Lo Capo
Trapani - San Vito Lo Capo by Trolvag

Every year, since 1998, during the last week of September, the small town of San Vito Lo Capo hosts the Cous Cous Fest. 

A festival of Mediterranean culture and gastronomy, during which, in addition, to live musical performances, there is also the “Couscous World Championship” international couscous gastronomy competition, which includes chefs from all over the world who compete by offering couscous cuisine.

Couscous is traditionally a Berber dish, but while on the Maghreb coast it is made with meat and vegetables, the province of Trapani is famous for its couscous flavoured with fresh fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea.

Recommended visit time: one day.

Not recommended visit time: any day in July and August, but especially weekends, as it tends to be overcrowded.

6. Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve

The Reserve, created in 1981, is located at 47 km from Trapani, a 1-hour drive. It extends along the coast for 7km between the lovely little village of Scopello in the east to near San Vito Lo Capo in the west.

It attracts both walkers and bathers alike, especially in summer, due to the great variety of flora (over 650 different species of plants, trees and shrubs), and the exceptional beauty and the crystal-clear water of the six pebbly/rocky beaches within the reserve. It’s a good idea to head for Lo Zingaro, walk for half an hour, have a bath at the first cave and then move to the next beach, and so on. 

You should wear hiking boots or shoes, even if this hike does not present any specific difficulties, as the route is very rocky.

The nature reserve is also a draw for ornithologists who come to research the local bird population of eagles, peregrine falcons, partridges, kestrels and other kinds of owls and sea birds. You might well cross routes with weasels, hedgehogs, foxes, lizards and even the rare, harmless, viper on the land animal front.

Entry to Lo Zingaro is 5€ p.p.

N.B. Unfortunately, a fire in the region at the end of August 2020 has resulted in the closure of Lo Zingaro until spring 2021.

Recommended visit time: one day.

Trapani - Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve
Trapani - Lo Zingaro Nature Reserve by Andrea Pavanello

7. Scopello

Scopello is a tiny coastal village at a 45-minute drive from Trapani, known for its two sea stacks (faraglioni) with a small rocky beach and the adjoining tuna fishery (tonnara), one of Sicily’s most important and oldest (13th century). 

The place is extremely popular with local Sicilians, who do not mind sunbathing on tiny patches of rock and concrete and who enjoy swimming in the clear waters. 

It has been the scene of several movies, including Ocean’s Twelve and an episode of Inspector Montalbano. Since then, the entire cove and the tuna fishery have been privatized so be prepared to pay an entrance fee of 4€ p.p.

Recommended visit time: half a day.

Trapani - Scopello
Trapani - Scopello

8. Stagnone Nature Reserve lagoon and Mozia

Located halfway between Trapani and Marsala, the Stagnone Nature Reserve lagoon is featured by charming windmills, used for the water pumping and the salt grinding, salt marshes and an amazing view of the Aegadian Islands.

The lagoon, created around 5000 years ago, is home to a mini archipelago of four islands, the centrepiece of which is the tiny island of San Pantaleo, location of the memorable archaeological site of Mozia.

Mozia was an important colony of Carthage, the Phoenician-founded city in north Africa, founded around the 8th century BC and destroyed by the Greeks of Syracuse (modern Siracusa) in the 4th century BC. From that moment, it never recovered its importance, being eclipsed by Lilybaeum (modern Marsala).

A number of ancient shipwrecks have been uncovered in the waters around Mozia, including Phoenician (Punic) warships that possibly fled to the shelter of Lilybaeum after being defeated by the Romans in the naval Battle of the Aegadian Islands in 241 BC. One of these shipwrecks is on display in Marsala’s archaeological museum (see the following point). 

It was Josef Whitaker, a Sicilian-English ornithologist and archaeologist, who rediscovered Mozia’s heritage and began the first archaeological excavations in the 19th century. His studies and archaeological digs brought to light the Phoenician-Punic Sanctuary of the Capidazzu, part of the archaic necropolis, the House of the Mosaics and the fortifications of the North and South Gates. Reasons why the museum on the island bears his name.

You can get to the island of Mozia with a 12-minute boat trip. The round trip costs 5€ p.p. The entrance to the museum on the island costs € 9.00 p.p.

The museum’s greatest treasure is the white marble statue of the Youth of Mozia, also known as the Charioteer, that dates back to the second half of the V century BC. A real Greek masterpiece!

Recommended visit time: one day.

9. Marsala Punic Warship

The earliest warship identified from archaeological evidence, it is a wreck discovered in 1971 in an area called Punta Scario in the harbour of Marsala. Its “nationality” was painted on the sides with letters by its Punic builders from Carthage.

Its architecture and contents show that it was a warship, probably used for scouting purposes or for ramming smaller boats, and not a merchant cargo ship.

With an esteemed length of about 35 meters (115 feet) and a height of 4.8 meters (15.7 feet) high, it is believed to have been one of the Liburnian “longships”, an oared vessel with 17 sweeps per side used by ancient Carthage in the Battle of the Aegadian Islands (241 BC).

The ship is on display at the Regional Archeological Museum Baglio Anselmi. The entrance ticket cost 4 €.

Recommended visit time: about one hour.

10. Segesta

About 30 km east of the city of Trapani, you can find the archaeological site of Segesta.

On a hill just outside the site of the ancient city of Segesta lies an unusually well preserved Doric temple and an amphitheatre.

The temple is thought to have been built in the 420s BC by an Athenian architect, despite the city not having a large Greek population.

Several elements suggest that the temple was never finished. The columns have not been fluted as they normally would have been in a Doric temple and there are still bosses present in the blocks of the base (used for lifting the blocks into place but then normally removed). The temple also lacks a naos (inner chamber), any ornamentation, altar or deity dedication, and was never roofed over. 

Another notable feature of this clearly Greek temple is the fact that the city it served wasn’t even Greek, as it was inhabited by the Elymian people, who founded the city long before it began appearing in Greek records, despite Thucydides’s claim that colonists from Troy created it. It was a thriving trade centre who reached its zenith In the mid-5th century BC. But then, after the war against its eternal rival, Selinunte, it was sacked twice. It would have to wait for Roman domination to enjoy another period of prosperity. 

An indicator of this return to the good times is the 2nd century BC amphitheatre that has survived to this day on the northern slope of Mount Barbaro.

The amphitheatre has a cavea (auditorium) of about 63 meters in diameter, partly cut into the same rock, and partly constructed and supported by a wall of limestone blocks. It originally had 29 rows of seats (the lower 21 survive) separated vertically by access steps into seven parts. Therefore, the capacity would have been about 4,000 spectators. The upper portion of the auditorium, now missing, was once enclosed by a large semicircular wall and supported by it. There is a cave under the auditorium, called Sacred, where they likely conducted rituals.

The entrance ticket to the archaeological site is 6 € plus another 5€ of the parking (this excludes the bus going up to the theatre).

Recommended visit time: a couple of hours.

11. Mazara del Vallo and its Kasbah

Mazara is a nice town at a 1-hour drive to Trapani, in the southeastern part of its province.

It was founded by Phoenician in the 9th century BC, with the name of Mazar (the Rock), and subjected to different dominations over the centuries by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, the Arabs (from which period you can still see its Kasbah), then the Normans, Angevins, and Spaniards.

Mazara is widely known today as one of Italy’s most popular fishing centres and for its popular Dancing Satyr, a bronze statue believed to be sculpted by the Greek artist Praxiteles was discovered in 1998 out of the port by a local fishing boat. You can have a look at it in the city’s dedicated museum in Plebiscito Square (entrance ticket: 6€).

 Have a walk throughout the city centre and have a look at the magnificent Piazza della Repubblica with its Basil Cathedral of the Santissimo Salvatore the two-storey Seminario dei Chierici (dating from 1710) and, on the opposite side of the square, the 18th-century Seminario Vescovile, with its impressive 11-arched portico.

From there, go to see the Kasbah, the old Arab quarter at the northwest corner of the historic centre, where around 3,000 (mainly) Tunisians live, work and study. 

Recommended visit time: half a day.

12. Selinunte

Selinunte Archeological Park is around 80km southeast from Trapani, in the commune of Castelvetrano.

The ancient city of Selinunte was founded by colonists of Megara Hyblea (now Augusta) in search of new markets around 7th BC. Soon it grew and prospered both politically and commercially. So much so that its inhabitants founded a sub-colony, called Eraclea-Minoa. 

The expansionist ambitions of Selinunte, though, threatened Segesta and its territories enough to cause a confrontation in 413 B.C. between mighty alliances: Segesta, supported by Carthage and Athens, and Selinunte, supported by Syracuse, Agrigento and Gela. Selinunte lost, though, and ended up in the hands of the Carthaginians, who rebuilt the Necropolis area.  

During the First Punic War, Selinunte was destroyed by the Roman to be never rebuilt.

Today Selinunte is the largest archaeological park in Europe with a total area of 270 hectares and includes 7 Doric temples, some in good condition, a sanctuary and different areas used as a necropolis.

The ticket price is 6 € p.p.

Recommended visit time: one day.

Conclusions

Sicily, wherever you go, is always delightful. Tremendous food, charming cities, Caribbean beaches, enchanted natural reserves, extremely varied culture, strong typical traditions make it extraordinary and remarkable.

The Trapani province provides a glaring and comprehensive example of all this. It is undoubtedly a province you must visit before you can say you have been in Sicily.

A special bond ties me to Trapani and its province since most of the awesome people in my life are and were from there. I wrote all this thinking about them and hoping to do justice to those beautiful places and to my astonishing homeland in general. The first land that a baby-wardeluster-me craved to explore. A land that I love. 

Hope you may like it and they too.

P. S. Subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you won’t miss any of my next travel posts!

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