Although I was sad to leave Cefalù, it was time to head on to Trapani, the final destination of our trip. We piled into the car and headed west, through lots of rolling hills in between mountains, and then finally curved back around to the coast again. We were all so giddy when we started see the road signs for Trapani, and after about 2.5 hours I was ready to jump out and start snapping pictures!
Our hotel, La Gancia, was in an awesome location, right at the foot of Piazza Mercato del Pesce and around the block from the main thoroughfare Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. After we dropped off our stuff, we decided to just take a walk to leisurely see some of the local sights by foot. Trapani itself is not very big, and although it was Saturday, it felt super quiet. Hardly any businesses seemed open, and we didn’t see many people walking the streets at all.
We began our exploring by strolling along the coastal path of Via Mura di Tramontana Ovest and followed it along the seaside. This area is known as the Old Town Harbor. In any other place in the world this beachfront property would be built up and well kept, but building after building seemed to be deteriorating. It’s hard to believe that these Sicilian towns continue to stay undeveloped because of the limited wealth & resources of this region of Italy. We walked along the crescent coastline to Bastione Conca which was built as a defensive structure of the city. From here there are great panoramic views of the harbor, which I imagined to be gorgeous during a sunset. While Joe and my dad explored this area a bit, Karen and I enjoyed relaxing a bit in the fresh air and warm sun.
We followed a staircase off of the path that led us into the Old Town, which makes up the Western tip of the peninsula in Trapani. We wove in and out of all the tiny side streets, checking out the incredible churches. We passed by the Trapani Cathedral, also known as the Saint Lorenzo’s Cathedral, The Church of Saint Augustine, and my favourite, Chiesa del Purgatorio. The facades were all very pretty and built snugly against other buildings. But disappointingly none of them were open, so we couldn’t get a peek inside.
We walked more around the historic district, popping into an old map store where we tried to have a conversation with two paisans. We also walked down Corso Vittorio Emmanuele to get a closer look at the cathedral and their impressive senate building, and stopped for some pizza at a nearby café.
The one thing we all really wanted to see while in Trapani was the salt reserves. Salt production is hugely important to Trapani, and much of the western Sicily, as it is not only a vital commercial resource, it also brings an influx of tourism. We took the ride over to Museo delle Sale, about a 10 minute drive outside of the city center. We were greeted at the museum by a young girl, who for the first time our whole trip, spoke incredible English! She gave us an excellent tour and went into so many details including the history of salt production in Trapani to the machinery and processes still used today. Unlike salt mines, sea salt here is produced by natural evaporation. Our guide explained that the western coast of Sicily was discovered by the Phonecians as an ideal location to produce salt due to shallow water, long, hot days, and a coastal breeze. The recipe for salty success! Fast forward to the end of our tour, and our guide discloses that she is actually the great granddaughter of the owner of this salt reserve who has worked with the Trapani tourism board to create and operate it as a museum as well. I loved how passionate these people are about where they come from and the fact that she wanted to help continue her family’s business, which is a defining aspect of Trapani. Afterwards we were able to explore the grounds and walk right along the salt pans. Since production only takes place from July through September, we were only able to see the leftover salt mounds of last year’s production. There were giant mounds everywhere, making this a heaven for Joe McGlynn. It’s amazing how something so simple (like a giant, colourless pile of salt) could make for so many great photo ops! Sorry in advance for the picture overload! 🙂
When we got back to town, we decided to walk in the opposite direction of where we were all day. Heading east took us into what felt more like a downtown, commercial area where there were most of your standards: post office, large restaurants, popular chain stores, etc. But right in the center is a very nice park, Villa Margherita. We walked through and saw lots of families with their children in the playground, a fountain surrounded by a lovely pond and benches, as well as a bunch of kids with their faces glued to the cages of their local “zoo.” I am putting that in quotations because these were basically bunnies, birds, an reptiles in cages. Certainly not a zoo by our standards, but yet again, the Sicilians prove to me that they are truly the pros of making something out of nothing.
When we were walking back we noticed that the historic part of the city where we were staying finally seemed to be coming alive. There were restaurants putting out tables and chairs on the street, large groups of young people walking around, and more of the smaller shops were finally opening up. My mom and I found a shop that carried tons of great Sicilian treasures, where we of course stocked up on tons of souvenirs for family, and of course ourselves! I becamse slightly obsessed with this Pistachio paste I kept tasting – legit so delicious and would be amazing for a sweet breakfast treat. (We noticed that pistachio was a commonly used ingredient here, and after a quick Google search – we learned that their production is a huge economic resource for eastern Sicily. We had no idea, pretty cool.) Dad and Joe on the other hand opted for a pre-dinner gelato, as they were on track to eat one cup in every place they visited. Boys will be boys… We also noticed that the Chisea del Collegio dei Gesuiti we tried to see earlier now had it’s doors wide open, with people pouring out. I couldn’t go to Trapani and not go inside a church, so I fought my way through the crowds as best possible. There was a service going on, so it was incredible to see such a massive church filled to the brim. The ceiling was beautifully painted, light pink mixed with gold, but not terribly ornate. Really a very pretty place.
As for dinner we had a couple of different places in mind, but to change it up, I let Joe take the reigns on deciding where to go. After some research on TripAdvisor and talking to our concierge, he landed on Serisso 47. We walked to the restaurant, and when we arrived we saw through the windows that absolutely no one else was in there…. Bad sign. (That was the last time we would ever let Joe choose! Ha.) Karen forced us in anyway and before we knew it we were sitting down at the table and ordering drinks. The woman who came to our table introduced herself as the owner and head chef. Basically she reiterated that she is the one cooking every meal and wants to ensure that we enjoy her seasonal, home cooking. The menu was also only in Italian, so we needed her to walk us through every item to explain what each was. That was definitely a first for me. Although we were all a bit skeptical at this point, we went on to order our food. This story has a happy ending because everything was outstanding. I had pasta with tiny calamari rings which was so unique, but so, so good. The mix of the handmade pillowy pasta with the slightly crunchy rings was so perfect. Everyone got a seafood dish and it was honestly all so fresh; we could not have asked for a better meal! Way to go Little J!
When we were paying the bill, this woman noticed that our last name was Trapani and commented that she was so happy that we chose her restaurant and that we enjoyed her food. On our way out we waved and said thank you one last time when she stopped us to hand us something. It was a box of local Trapani sea salt. Seriously, how sweet is that?! We were stunned and overwhelmed as this is one of the most generous gestures any of us have ever received from a restaurant. The Sicilians really take so much pride in what they do (and I believe especially in their cooking!) so seeing her gratitude for our business was seriously so touching. The perfect high note to end our time in Trapani.