Erice: Discovering the Medieval Town Atop the Mountain
Erice is an ancient medieval village located on top of a hill about 750 meters above sea level, in the province of Trapani, Sicily. The village is characterized by narrow cobblestone streets, stone buildings, and numerous historic churches and palaces.
One of the main attractions of Erice is the Castle of Venus, a Norman fortress that overlooks the town and offers a panoramic view of the Gulf of Bonagia and the Egadi Islands. The castle dates back to the 12th century and has been subsequently modified and expanded by various dominations that succeeded on the island, such as the Byzantines, Arabs, and Normans.
Another attraction in Erice is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, a Gothic church built in the 14th century and renovated in the 18th century. The cathedral houses numerous works of art, including a valuable 18th-century organ and a painting depicting the Madonna and Child, attributed to the Flemish painter Van Dyck.
The village of Erice is also famous for the production of typical Sicilian sweets, such as ricotta cassatelle, cannoli, marzipan, and almond cookies. Moreover, numerous craft shops sell ceramic items, fabrics, and carved wooden objects.
Erice is a very popular and crowded tourist destination during the summer season, but even in autumn and winter, the village has a particular charm, thanks to the quietness of its streets and the view of the sea and the surrounding countryside.
What to see and do: Erice is a magical city, with a medieval atmosphere and breathtaking views. There are many attractions to visit, including:
Castle of Venus - A Norman castle perched atop the mountain, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the sea. This castle is a testament to the Norman influence in Sicily and stands as a symbol of Erice's rich history. Visitors can explore its ancient walls and towers. From its vantage point, one can witness the merging of the sky and the Mediterranean Sea. It is open to the public, with opening hours typically from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM, though it's advisable to check ahead for seasonal variations. There may be a nominal entrance fee.
Matrix Church - A 13th-century church that houses a collection of religious artworks. This church is a blend of Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles, with intricate stone carvings and stained glass windows. Inside, visitors can admire the religious artworks that span centuries, reflecting the devotion and artistry of the region. It's usually open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with a possible break in the afternoon.
Giardino del Balio - A medieval garden filled with rare plants, offering a spectacular view of the valley below. This serene garden is a perfect place for reflection, with its well-maintained flower beds, ancient trees, and fountains. The view from the garden, overlooking the valley, is a sight to behold, especially during sunset. It's open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.
Marzipan Museum - A museum showcasing the art of almond paste processing, a local specialty. Here, visitors can learn about the intricate process of making marzipan, from grinding almonds to crafting delicate shapes. The museum often offers workshops where visitors can try their hand at making their own marzipan creations. It's typically open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with a small entrance fee.
Towers of Balio - Watchtowers built in the 12th century to defend the city from invasions. These towers, standing tall against the backdrop of the sea, are a testament to the city's strategic importance in the past. They offer another panoramic viewpoint of the surrounding landscape. They're usually accessible to the public from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
Erice Cathedral - A Gothic church with a bell tower that provides a panoramic view of the city. The cathedral's architecture is a marvel, with its soaring spires, intricate stone carvings, and stained glass windows. The bell tower, accessible to visitors, offers a 360-degree view of Erice and beyond. It's open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with a possible break in the afternoon.
Spanish Quarter - A medieval neighborhood with narrow alleys and stone houses. This area transports visitors back in time, with its cobblestone streets, ancient archways, and houses that have stood for centuries. It's a living testament to Erice's rich history and is open for exploration throughout the day.
Additionally, the city is renowned for its classical music festival "Erice Musica" held every summer. This festival attracts musicians and enthusiasts from around the world, filling the city with melodies and performances in various historic venues.
Erice's Culinary Delights: Ericini, Genovesi, and Marzipan
Ericini are traditional Sicilian pastries originating from Erice. They are made of a soft dough filled with ricotta cheese, chocolate, or other fillings, and then deep-fried until golden brown. These delicious treats are often enjoyed during festivals and special occasions.
Genovesi are another specialty of Erice. They are small pastries filled with a lemon-flavored custard or ricotta cheese. The pastry is soft, and the filling is rich and creamy, making it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
Erice is also known for its marzipan, a confection made from almond paste and sugar. The marzipan in Erice is often crafted into various shapes like fruits, animals, and even intricate figures, showcasing the artistry involved in its making.
Genovesi Ericine Recipe:
For the pastry cream (crema pasticcera):
2 cups milk
Strip of lemon peel
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp. granulated sugar
8 tbsp. all-purpose flour
For the pastry:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
For dusting: Powdered sugar
Prepare the pastry cream: In a saucepan, heat milk with a strip of lemon peel without boiling. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until smooth. Add flour and whisk. Pour half the warm milk into this mixture, whisk, and then return to the saucepan with the remaining milk. Whisk on medium-high heat until it thickens. Remove from heat, strain to remove lumps, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface, and refrigerate.
Prepare the pastry: In a food processor, blend butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt. Incorporate sifted flour in batches until a dough forms. Shape into a disc, wrap, and refrigerate for an hour.
Assemble: Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C) and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to 3 mm thickness and cut 3-inch circles. Place a teaspoon of the chilled pastry cream on half the circles, cover with another circle, and seal the edges. Bake for 20-22 minutes until golden. Cool and dust with powdered sugar.
Enjoy your Genovesi Ericine with a cup of coffee or tea!
How to Get to Erice:
By Cable Car (Funivia):
From Trapani, you can take the Funivia (cable car) to Erice. The cable car station in Trapani is located at Via Capua, and it offers a scenic ride up the mountain, providing breathtaking views of the city below and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The journey takes about 10 minutes.
Erice is easily accessible by car. If you're coming from Palermo, take the A29 motorway towards Trapani and exit at Erice. The journey takes about an hour and a half. Once you reach the base of Mount Erice, you can choose to drive up the winding road to the town or park your car and take the cable car.
There are regular bus services from Trapani to Erice provided by AST (Azienda Siciliana Trasporti). The journey takes approximately 30 minutes. Buses depart from Trapani's main bus station and drop passengers off at the main square in Erice.
While there isn't a direct train service to Erice, you can take a train to Trapani from other major Sicilian cities like Palermo. Once in Trapani, you can opt for the bus or cable car to reach Erice.
The nearest airport to Erice is Trapani-Birgi Airport (Vincenzo Florio Airport), located about 30 kilometers away. From the airport, you can rent a car or take a taxi or shuttle service to reach Erice.
- If you're driving, be prepared for narrow and winding roads as you approach Erice. It's advisable to drive slowly and carefully.
- Parking in Erice can be challenging, especially during peak tourist season. Consider parking at the base and taking the cable car up.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as the town's streets are cobbled and can be steep in places.
Erice is a gem of a destination, perched high above the Sicilian landscape. Whether you choose to drive, take the bus, or ascend by cable car, the journey to this ancient town is sure to be memorable.