BY: Sarah Campise Hallier
Move over Tucci! With the hope that Sicily will soon allow tourists to wander its enchanting and somewhat mysterious island by the end of the year, an American tourist shares her pre-pandemic journey through the captivating western side of Sicily.
With an American tour group, and led by island native and genealogist Rosario Sanfilippo (@Sicilyancestors), they ventured to the western side of this dreamy island, tasting their way through a plethora of off-the-beaten-path eateries.
Villa San Giovanni degli Eremiti
Villa San Giovanni, only a short walk to the Palazzo dei Normanni (otherwise known as the Royal Palace of Palermo and location of the Sicilian Regional Assembly since 1946), maintains a garden-like setting with quintessential Palermo charm. Their tasty pasta with sardines and wild fennel allowed even the pickiest eater a chance to see what true Sicilian cooking is all about! The restaurant easily accommodated our large group on short notice, and the wait staff recommendations helped us choose from their large menu selection.
Via dei Benedettini, 90134, Palermo
Belvedere San Nicola
Oh Erice! Our love affair with Erice began with a somewhat treacherous bus ride up the western side summit of Mount Erice. The edge-of-your seat, somewhat precarious mountain road produced one of the most breathtaking views in all of Sicily. The Belvedere San Nicola, perched hill side, offers a banquet dining hall, 14-guest niche tourism accommodations, and even a swimming pool with views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. One of our most unique stops on our tour, Belvedere San Nicola was as relaxing as it was scrumptious. Their specialty, sweet genovesi made with short crust pastry, cream and a sprinkling of powdered sugar were melt-in-your mouth delicious. Be sure to continue your way up the hill to stroll the cobble-stoned streets of Erice, a medieval village filled with a selection of shops, cafes and churches dating back to the 1500s.
Contrada San Nicola, 91016 Erice
Mazara Del Vallo
Definitely the most modern restaurant on our tour, the strong white décor and clean lines of Altavilla was in stark contrast to many of the rustic locations we had already visited. But the food was anything but bland. The sea urchin on a bed of couscous with cuttlefish ink, paired with their famous Mazara red shrimp was an extra special treat. Ending our feast with a glass of Marsala and a plate of sweet melon made our mid-day pranzo delightfully satisfying.
Located in the small town of Santa Ninfa, owners (and brothers) Antonino and Giovanni Lo Curto have impressed their share of tourists over the years. Due Palme began 35 years ago, and this brotherly team knows a thing or two about authentic Sicilian ingredients and flavors. On an impromptu visit to the town’s Museo dell’Emigrazione, a museum which hosts a permanent exhibition on Sicilian emigration (a must-see!), our large tour group sauntered into the restaurant, surprised to be greeted by Giovanni. Our family-style meal offered an abundance of choices: delectable cheeses, ricotta, salami, sauteed-to-perfection eggplant, and their famous sausages were undeniably delicious. Chef Giovanni even invited us into the kitchen to show us where the real magic happened! This was by far an unforgettable dining experience, and our tour group still reminisces about the amazing food and ambiance at Due Palme.
Strada Statale 119, 91029 Santa Ninfa
Antica Stazione di Ficuzza
Located at the old railway station on the former Palermo-Corleone line, and in close proximity to the hunting grounds of Ferdinand the IV of Naples’ Royal Palace of Ficuzza, the stunning greenery at the Station is the backdrop for some of Sicily’s most memorable weddings. With a restaurant, hotel and wedding locale all-in-one, this was the perfect first stop after spending the day roaming the streets of Corleone. With a wide variety of home-made dishes, from antipasti-artichoke frittata, marinated eggplant and red peppers, cheese, olives, polenta, and prosciutto, and a plethora of perfectly seasoned grilled meats, the amount of food put some American restaurants to shame.
Via Vecchia Stazione, 90034 Ficuzza, Monreale
Lo Stagno is a non-profit association surrounded by magnificent olive trees, which aims to spread and enhance culture, entertainment and the entire region. With a restaurant on-site, the owners have created a one-stop tourist magnet, paired with some of the most mouthwatering dishes. Our three-hour lunch offered enough food to feed a village, and was definitely a tour-group favorite. The chef’s specialty, Nfigghiulata, a western Sicilian treat, is a precursor of modern breakfast brioches - sweet bread stuffed with sausages, ricotta and sometimes even sardines. Delizioso! Don’t forget to ask the bartender for a sip of limoncello “from the back.”
San Leone, Agrigento
Trattoria Il Pescatore
With majestic views of the Mediterrean, Il Pescatore Restaurant is located in front of the Falcone Borsellino seafront harbor in San Leone, and just a few steps from Agrigento. For three generations, this seaside stop has served incredibly flavorful fish inspired dishes. Our group dined near the open windows, allowing the sea breeze and the house Sangria to help us relax after a long day of touring.
Scala di Turchi
Cocktail Bar & Restaurant Beach Club
Just minutes from the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the Scala di Turchi, or Scale of the Turks is a popular tourist attraction and an unforgettable resting stop to sit and relax after a long day galivanting through the nearby Greek ruins. Located above the Mediterranean Sea in Realmonte (about an hour’s drive from Palermo), the white cliff of stairs overlooking the dazzling green sea is jaw-dropping. The Cocktail Bar at the entrance to the attraction is the perfect place for a morning cappuccino or a mid-day snack.
Maybe the best gelato in Sicily, this family run business (owned by Erasmo Vella) flourished pre-earthquake, in the now ghost town of Poggioreale Antica. Today, townspeople and visitors relish in their steamy cappuccino and melt-on-your-mouth pastries. Our favorite? The cornetto al pistacchio, a rich pistacchio cream filled croissant.
Via Principe Morso Naselli, 46, Poggioreale, Sicily (TP)
Ristorante Pizzeria il Campanile
Authentic food, amazing pasta, and the price can’t be beat (plus a beverage list to tempt the most frequent wine connoisseur), this rustic Sicilian restaurant takes customer service to the next level. On any given night, the owner Domenico Vella (yes, related to the owners of Bar Vella), will greet you with a smile and if you’re lucky, a shot of your favorite limoncello!
Via Tomasi di Lampedusa 10, 91020, Poggioreale (TP)
Whatever your favorite tastes may be, you will definitely find it on the western side of Sicily. Our tour group may have gained a few extra pounds, but we experienced some of the most memorable regions, friendliest towns, and dishes as unique as Sicily itself. We are all rooting for Italy to quickly recover from the pandemic and we will be there to celebrate with them as soon as we can.
Sarah Campise Hallier is a California native whose family emigrated to the USA from the western side of Sicily over 150 years ago. Editor-in-Large for www.PoggiorealeInAmerica.com Sarah is slightly obsessed with genealogy and her Sicilian roots. When she isn’t writing, she loves to travel with her husband and their four children. Next stop – Sicily!
For more information about Poggioreale and the Sicilian-Americans who still call it home, please visit www.poggiorealeinamerica.com
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