Italy // Sicily //

Trapani and the west

Out on a limb, and with more than a little North African atmosphere about it, TRAPANI is an attractive old port town, rediscovering its charms after years of neglect. Halfway point between Europe and Tunis, it was a rich trading centre throughout the early Middle Ages, then flourished again in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a stronghold of the tuna-canning industry. After that, it went into decline, and became a salty old port with a crumbling, sun-scorched historic centre high on atmosphere, but with few creature comforts. Then, it was selected to host the 2004 Americas Cup and received a massive injection of cash – buildings were restored, streets in the historic centre pedestrianized – giving the town and its people a new confidence. These days Trapani is a thoroughly pleasant and authentic place to hang out for a couple of days. Adding to its reviving fortunes, the nearby airport of Birgi is undergoing a renaissance too, and on the way to becoming Sicily’s main low-cost airport. Trapani’s Easter celebrations are justly famous, involving dramatic processions around town, particularly poignant on Good Friday.

The west of Sicily is a land apart. Skirting around the coast from Trapani – the provincial capital – the cubic whitewashed houses, palm trees, active fishing harbours and sunburned lowlands seem more akin to Africa than Europe, and historically, the west of the island has always looked south. The earliest of all Sicilian sites, the mountain haunt of Erice was dominated by Punic influence; the Carthaginians themselves entrenched themselves in Marsala, at Sicily’s westernmost point, for several hundred years; while in medieval times the Saracen invaders took their first steps onto the island at Mazara del Vallo, a town still strongly Arabic at heart. The Greeks never secured the same foothold in Sicily’s west as elsewhere, although the remains at Segesta and Selinunte count among the island’s best. Also worth seeing are the three islands of the Egadi archipelago, and the stunning stretch of coastline protected by the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro.


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