Road Trip: Ancient Pasts and Agrarian Futures in Western Sicily

Wine, food and history align in western Sicily

Sicily feels like its own continent—a wild landscape of mountains that tumble into the sea, waterfront villages where fishermen cast off into an azure sea and sun-drenched farmlands rolling into the distance. The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily has an epic past and was successively colonized by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish (and that’s an abbreviated list). Layers of history await around every corner, but Sicily is also a place of thoughtful contemporary innovation. Spectacular resorts, spellbinding public art and an ever-growing community of organic wineries make this island a prime destination for road tripping. While many flock to the island’s eastern shores to explore beloved beach towns like Taormina and the volcanic landscapes of Mount Etna, you should also set your sights on the island’s western reaches—it’s here that you’ll get a glimpse of authentic Sicily that’s worlds away from the tourist crowds.

Courtesy of Orto Botanico di Palermo

Orto Botanico

Fly into Palermo and head straight to the city’s famed Orto Botanico gardens, which date back to the late 18th century and to this day is one of Italy’s most important academic institutions. About 12,000 species of endemic and exotic plants are grown here. With water features, statues and bas-reliefs, the gardens feel wonderfully worn-in and historic as opposed to manicured and clinical.

Image of Tempio C courtesy of Wikimedia

Selinunte

The ruins at Selinunte date back to the seventh century BC, and today make up the largest archaeological park in Europe at over 660 acres. While not quite as grand as the ruins at Agrigento elsewhere in Sicily, Selinunte is much quieter and offers everything you would want from some ruins: dramatic seaside vistas, soaring columns and even a handful of gelato vendors to beat the heat on warmer days.

Courtesy of Verdura Resort

Verdura Resort, A Rocco Forte Hotel

Oceanfront views, an enormous spa and 570 acres of sprawling orange and olive groves make Verdura Resort one of the most luxurious resort on Sicily’s southern coast. It’s also home to some of the best golfing in Europe—and just this year, world-renowned golf architect Kyle Phillips completed a massive revamp of the resort’s 18-hole championship course. The palatial, standalone spa boasts a massive hammam, Thalassotherapy pools, and infared and Finnish-style saunas. With 203 guest rooms, the hotel’s interior has been thoughtfully designed by Olga Polizzi, who focused on natural materials and rich fabrics.

Courtesy of Funaro

Funaro

It’s all in the family at Funaro, an intimate winery run by three siblings where tours can be arranged with three days’ notice. Though it’s hard to go wrong with any of the wines here, be sure to try the Inzolia, a lush white wine with a wonderfully floral nose, or the quintessentially Sicilian Nero d’Avola, a rich red with bright acidity and a long finish. The property features expansive views of the neighboring Trapani hills, the perfect match for Funaro’s rosé (which is made from Nero d’Avola grapes) on a sunny day.

Courtesy of Francesco Labita

Cretto di Burri

When a 1968 earthquake completely leveled the village of Gibellina, its residents rebuilt their town in a new location 12 miles away, leaving nothing but rubble behind. But in the 1980s, artist Alberto Burri turned Gibellina’s detritus into one of the largest outdoor public art installations in Europe. For his now-iconic Cretto di Buri, the artist cleared the original streets of the village, compacted much of the rubble and covered the entire town with white concrete, turning Gibellina into a labyrinth of remembrance. Today, it’s a stunning memorial to humans’ impact on this ancient landscape, and a worthy pitstop to get some steps in between wine tastings.

Bona Furtuna Farm

Owner Stephen Luczo and master botanist Pasquale Marino run Bona Furtuna, a 300-hectare organic farm outside the town of Corleone, where some of the best olives, spices and tomatoes in all of Italy are grown. The tomato sauces from here are almost unrivaled and the artisanal pastas and award-winning oils make excellent souvenirs. Several times a year, the farm offers multi-day visits which include tours, chef dinners, visits to the nearby Trapani Salt Flats and accommodation stuffed with Bona Furtuna goodies. If you aren’t able to secure a visit, no worries—many of their products are available at specialty food shops throughout the US.

Courtesy of Di Giovanna

Di Giovanna Winery

You’ll have to drive pretty far up into the hills to reach the fifth-generation, family-run Di Giovanna, but the views are more than worth it. The property abuts the protected nature reserve Monte Genuardo and the grapes benefit from the elevation and volcanic soils, especially the tropical, citrus-forward DOC Sicilia Grillo. There’s an easy-to-use interface for booking wine tours and tastings on their website. And while this one is quite literally up a mountain several hours’ drive from Palermo, there’s nothing more satisfying than kicking back on the terrace and taking in the views as you listen to the owners, brothers Gunther and Klaus Di Giovanna, explain why their wine is among the best on the entire island.

Hero image courtesy of  Bona Furtuna