When arriving in Palermo, it’s not easy to ignore the dented cars and somewhat carefree style of driving. The man behind the car rental desk, when asked about the rules of the road, offers sage Sicilian wisdom.
“Just follow the rhythm of the traffic: if it’s fast go fast, if it’s slow, go slow. And if you’re going to Catania, lock the doors! Even when you’re driving.”
In other words, just go with the flow. It’s the perfect advice for the start of a stress-free holiday.
To the west, away from the hustle and bustle of Palermo, lies tranquility and dazzling natural beauty. First stop is the charming, sleepy seaside resort town of Castellammare del Golfo, where reveling in a perfectly executed caprese salad is a moment of perfection.
Serenity in Scopello
Next stop is Scopello, a town that is serenity itself. Mountain fields burst with colorful blooms, Faraglioni limestone surrounds turquoise waters, and above all there’s an overwhelming sense of quiet solitude. The setting is perfectly designed for doing absolutely nothing.
Tonnara di Scopello, one of the most important historic Sicilian estates, was once the finest tuna fishery on the coast. During the past 10 years, Palermo-based architect Leonardo Foderà has been leading the tasteful restoration of the estate, with all 15 rooms undergoing restrained and respectful transformations.
Writers, composers, and fashion photographers continue to find inspiration here, with names such as Coppola and Roversi in the guestbook. The estate has also been the site of numerous film and commercial shoots, including parts of Ocean’s Twelve. Tonnara di Scopello is not an overly chic place, though. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The unsophisticated approach feels liberating, and the objective here seems to be focused on maintaining the unique atmosphere.
“One of our regular guests, a famous fashion photographer, compares the Tonnara with haute couture: it’s an experiment,” says Leonardo.
Leonardo sees himself as the keeper of a historical heritage. Rusty anchors from Roman and Byzantine periods rest in the courtyard, which is overlooked by two rugged Saracen towers designed to repel invaders. With the exception of a few vending machines there are no services provided – and there is no Internet.
Zingaro Nature Reserve
As evening falls, a drive up the hillside to the village of Scopello is in order. A street dog resting in the middle of the road hardly bothers to move aside. Just past Scopello the road ends and the Zingaro Nature Reserve begins. The reserve is home to buzzards and falcons, as well as palms, carobs, and the wild fennel used in the classic Sicilian dish pasta con le sarde. Wandering along the lower trail, sentiero della costa, several remote pebble beaches are waiting to be discovered. There are also three mountain refuges offering hikers free overnight accommodation, although during the summer months it may be a bit too warm, particularly on the higher trails, which reach up to 800 m.
“When our guests return from Zingaro they look happy,” says Matteo, who runs the Talia B&B with his girlfriend, Madhu. Matteo relocated from northern Italy three years ago, looking for a change of lifestyle and a better climate. The tiny village of Scopello, with fewer than 30 permanent residents, was exactly what he was looking for.
“Compared to my old life, I now understand what is important. There isn’t really much here, but there is great hiking and the sea is amazing. I get a lot from nature, a good feeling. There aren’t many of us here but we’re like a big family, always cooking food together. And I don’t know why, but every dog here in Scopello smiles.”
At the other end of the Zingaro Nature Reserve you’ll find the popular yet low-key summer town of San Vito lo Capo, which boasts what some call the most beautiful beach in Italy. Positioned on Sicily’s most westerly tip, the island’s Arabic heritage is reflected in the low-lying white houses and the astounding local fish couscous. It’s also one of the best places around for kitesurfing.
Feast at Sirena
Back in Bonagia it’s time to celebrate western Sicily’s tranquil charm with a final feast at Sirena, a family-owned restaurant that for 55 years has prided itself on serving the best fresh fish on offer. Every dish is made with love – and if you’re looking for the perfect Italian dessert, look no further than the delicious cassatella with ricotta cheese and parfait mandorle (almond parfait), which of course must be served with Marsala wine and an espresso. Antonio, our cheerful waiter, keeps us entertained with jokes and wisdom “La vita e un divertá (life is funny) - but thank god for air conditioning!”
As the rental car is returned and Sicily is left behind, it becomes clear that this perfectly formed island allows you to wander at will – and if you’re looking for the slow lane, you need not look further. Sicily will leave you feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and stress free.
Text: Fredrik Ölmqvist
Published: May 25, 2015