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Western Sicily Bicycle Tours

THE REGION IN DETAIL

You may find it helpful to view and print off a copy of the regional map and cross reference with the description below. Letters in brackets refer to the relevant cycling routes.

The itineraries start and finish in and around Palermo, built along the bay at the foot of Mount Pellegrino. Palermo’s golden age was under Arab domination between the 9th and 11thWestern Sicily Bicycle Tours centuries when it rivalled Cordoba and Cairo. Following the Christian crusades Palermo became the capital of the Norman kingdom. Although little remains of the fabulous city of old, the influence of the Middle East can be seen in the architecture of the churches, the narrow alleys in the old town and the bustling markets. (A, I, N).

North of Palermo along the coast, Mondello is sited between the rocky promontories of Monte Pellegrino and Monte Gallo. Once a small village for tuna fishermen centred on a 15th century tower, the town has become a greenery-clad residential suburb of the capital. There are fine Art Nouveau villas dating from the turn of the 19th century, and wonderful seafood restaurants line the road in the old fishing quarter. (A).

Southwest of the city centre, the magnificent Cathedral of Monreale is the finest example of Norman architecture in Sicily. Work was started in 1172 and took ten years to complete. The interior mosaics rank alongside the most impressive creations of the Italian Middle Ages. (I).

West of Mondello the coastline indents to form the Gulf of Carini and then the much larger Gulf of Castellammare, at the western end of which sits the town of Castellammare del Golfo. At one time the Greek port for Segesta and Erice, Castellammare became an important trading and tuna-fishing centre in the Middle Ages. (A, J)

North of Castellammare is the quaint two-street village of Scopello, built around the baglio (manor house) that overlooks the now abandoned tuna processing plant – the derelict building surrounded by rows of rusting anchors only adds to the charm. From Scopello it is a short journey to the entrance of the Riservo Naturale dello Zingaro. The wild coastline of Sicily’s first natural reserve is a haven for raptors (birds of prey) and is the habitat for over 700 plant species. A hike along the coast to the northern entrance of the park at San Vito lo Capo takes around 4 hours. (B)

South from Castellammare, the town of Alcamo developed around the Chiesa Madre and the castle, which has been recently restored. (I, J)

Legend has it that Segesta, the ancient capital of the Elymians, was founded on the rolling hills to the south of the Gulf of Castellammare by exiles from Troy. The huge Doric temple, dating back to the 5th century BC is one of the world’s most magical and impressive ancient sites. Having survived sacking and the ravages of time, it stands in splendid isolation on the hill facing Monte Barbaro. The city of Segesta was built high up on the mountain above the temple – amidst the ruins is a well-preserved 3rd century BC theatre where ancient Greek plays are performed every other summer. (G, I, J).

The agricultural town of Salemi, sited in the Valle del Delia due south of Segesta, is dominated by the three towers of its medieval castle. It was here on 14th May 1860 that Garibaldi proclaimedWestern Sicily Bicycle Tours himself ruler of Sicily. From Salemi there is a gentle descent west to the coast at Marsala. (G)

Marsala, famed for its sweet dessert wines, is an elegant town full of stately baroque buildings. Founded by colonists from Mozia, it became a major Carthaginian city, prior to being conquered by the Romans who made it their main Mediterranean naval base. The Arabs took their turn in 830 -they subsequently built additional quarters and turned it into a flourishing trade centre. (E)

The coast between Marsala and Trapani to the north is a bleached landscape of saline (shallow pools and shimmering heaps of salt). The dominant features on an otherwise flat landscape are the numerous windmills that supplied energy to pump water between the basins. The salt from these marshes, considered the best in Italy, has been produced here since the 12th century. Today however production has dwindled to cottage industry proportions. (E)

On the tiny island of San Pantaleo, just a stone’s throw offshore, is the ancient site of Mozia. Joseph Whitaker, son of an English wine merchant who made his fortune from Marsala wine, bought the island in the early 1900s, began archaeological digs in 1913 and founded a museum that houses his fins, including the statue of the “Young Man from Mozia.” The island’s dry docks are the most ancient in the Mediterranean. (E)

Trapani, built on a curved promontory that juts out into the sea was once the port town for Erice. Ferries run between the port and the offshore Egadi Islands, popular vacation destinations. The islands of Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo which comprise the archipelago have a distinctly Arabic flavour. (C, D, E)

Splendid Erice perched on top of Monte San Giuliano, has ancient origins. The town was once the seat of the cult of the fertility goddess Venus Erycina - her temple stood on the site of the present Norman castle. Laid out on a triangular plan, the town has preserved its medieval character with fine city walls, beautifully paved streets, stone houses, small squares and numerous churches – including the medieval Chiesa Matrice. Today Erice is a major centre for cultural and scientific activities. (D)

North from Trapani there is some fabulous coastal scenery en route to the seaside resort of San Vito lo Capo. The town is renowned for its splendid beach, and for its fish couscous, celebrated in the Festival del Cuccus every September. (C, D)

South from Marsala along the “African Coast” – so called because it is closer to Tunisia than to mainland Italy – is Mazara del Vallo, the most Arabic port in Sicily. (E, F, G, H)

Castelvetrano, on the road to Selinunte has a small Museo Civico which houses the Efebo di Selinunte Western Sicily Bicycle Tours– a bronze statue of a young man from the 5th century BC. (G, H)

The ruins at Selinunte are some of the most impressive of the ancient Greek world and the site is one of the most captivating in Sicily. Founded in the 7th century BC by colonists from Megara Hyblaea, Selinunte became a powerful city with over 100,000 inhabitants. A rival to Segesta and Mozia, it was destroyed by Carthage in 409 BC and largely forgotten. Excavations have to date unearthed eight temples with colossal Doric columns together with a fortification system. (F, G, H)

Inland from Selinunte the western interior is a varied landscape, much of it hilly or mountainous. Unlike other parts of the island, this is an area that has been largely bypassed by Sicily’s conquerors and city builders. For centuries the bleached landscapes were divided into large latifondi (landed estates), and today it is still an area of rolling hills and small towns that receive fewer visitors than any other part of the island. (G, K)

Almost 700m above sea level, Palazzo Adriano was founded in the mid 15th century by Albanian refugees who had fled from the invading Turks. The Oscar-winning film “Cinema Paradiso” by the Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore ,which tells the story of the arrival of cinema in an isolated Sicilian village and its effect on a young boy was filmed in the streets and squares of the town, and many locals were employed as extras. (O, P)

Contessa Entellina was another town founded by Greek-Albanians in the 1450’s at the foot of Mount Genuado. (K, L, M)

At one time Corleone was surrounded by defensive walls that connected the Castello Soprano and Castello Sottano. The town earned the title of “Courageous Civitas” because of its position on the front line in all wars fought in Sicily. Halfway between Palermo and Agrigento, the town controlled one of the main arteries and was therefore one of the most strategic locations on the island. (M)

In the 1960s, the town achieved notoriety through its Mafia connections , being the town in which some well-known clans had their headquarters (the Clan dei Corleonesi). The most notable event in Corleone was the arrest in 2006 of Bernardo Provenzano, the "Boss of Bosses", who had been in hiding from the authorities for more than 40 years.

At Ficuzza is a park, nature reserve and small hamlet in the mountains south of Palermo. (M, N)

Alia, perched on the southern hills of the Palermo province and surrounded by beautiful fertile countryside, has been inhabited since ancient times. Just outside the town are the Gurfa Caves, hewn out of the cliffs around 5000 B.C. and inhabited for thousands of years. (P, Q, S)

Polizzi Generosa, on the western slopes of the Madonie Mountains, grew up around an ancient fortress that was rebuilt by the Normans. From the town there is access to Piano Battaglia, part of the nature reserve. (Q, R)

At 931m (3054 ft) Enna is the highest provincial capital of Italy. Because of its altitude, Enna’s climate is unique in Sicily’s interior, being pleasant even during the height of summer. Besides wonderful views over the surrounding countryside, Enna has many attractions including the Castello di Western Sicily Bicycle ToursLombardia, Rocca di Cerere and a fine cathedral.
South of Enna, the landscape changes from rugged mountain scenery to gentler cultivated fields and busy market towns. The bustling market town of Piazza Armerina developed in the Middle Ages. In the heart of the town is a large Aragonese Castle whose massive towers dominate the cathedral. The Piazza Garibaldi, the centre of town life, has the baroque Palazzo del Senato. (S, T)

Just outside Piazza Armerina is the site of one of the most extraordinary finds from antiquity. The Villa del Casale was part of a 3rd- 4th century AD estate. The fabulous mosaics that decorated every room of the owner’s apartments have been preserved through a flood that buried them in mud in the 12th century.

Nocosia, sprawled over four hills, is dominated by the ruins of an Arab/Norman castle. The many churches and patrician mansions are a pointer to the town’s former splendour. In its time, it has taken on the mantle of a Greek city, a Byzantine bishopric, an Arab fort and a Lombard stronghold. (U, V)

Between Nicosia and the sea lie the Madonie Mountains – the whole region is designated a national park. The park is a botanist’s paradise, while more than half of the species of birds and mammals of Sicily can be found living within its borders. (V, R)

Cefalu , founded on a steep promontory half way between Palermo and Capo d’Orlando, has maintained its medieval appearance around the Norman cathedral, built in the 12th century. The narrow streets of the city centre are lined with buildings featuring elaborate architectural decoration, and there are churches galore. The fishermen’s quarter, with its own houses clustered along the seafront, is very appealing, as is the fine long beach. (V, R)

Gallery

  • Castellammare
  • Cefalu
  • Chiesa Matrice, Erice
  • Hill Town
  • Mazara Del Vallo
  • Sciclian Hill Town
  • Spring Flowers
  • Walking The Dog
  • Western Interior
  • Windmill
 

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