Exploring Erice, Sicily

Erice is a medieval town perched up high, way up high. If we thought Taormina was high above the Mediterranean, driving up to Erice felt twice as high, with even more dramatic views of the valley and mountains below.

The town is a maze of cobblestone streets, narrower even than those of Taormina. Our hotel, Hotel Elimo, was at the end of one of these medieval streets, and we had to quickly dump the luggage with a car waiting behind us. The streets are barely big enough for one car, let alone wide enough for another car to pass.

Pasticceria Grammatico

After lunch we stopped by Pasticceria Grammatico, a local pastry shop mentioned in both Frommer’s and Lonely Planet. It also appears in one of my Sicilian cookbooks, Sicilian Food, as the author, Mary Tyler Simeti, coauthored the book Bitter Almonds about the life of the nun turned pastry chef who started this shop. The little cookie sized treats are a dense, rich almond based pastry in various shapes and flavors.  My favorite is pistachio with its rich nutty flavor.

Castello de Venere

In the afternoon we visited Castello di Venere, sitting on a cliff at the edge of Erice with spectacular views of the valley and sea below. The castle site dates back to ancient times, with a more contemporary castle being built around the 12th century.

Inside the ruins aren’t all that much more interesting than what you can see from the outside and it really isn’t worth the admission price of €3 as essentially the same views can be found outside the castle walls.

After Dinner Pastry Shop

After dinner we stopped at a pastry shop a few doors down, Pasticceria Michele Il Tulipano. We were the only customers in the place. I ordered a piece of pistachio tart at the counter and they told us to sit down and asked if we wanted a cappuccino with it (Yes, we are tourists. Italians don’t drink cappuccino after breakfast.) I asked if decaffeinato was possible, making up the word –not a huge leap, which turned out to be right.

The TV was on a channel with the picture mostly snow as the reception was poor. It was some silly, quintessentially Euro comedian thing that the staff though was hilarious and could barely take their eyes off of. We sat there laughing at the situation, wishing we understood what was so funny – what insight we would have into their culture – and eating the bad, bad, bad tart. Only the pastry had any flavor (certainly not the filling) and it tasted like bad pastry. In no way deserving the high recommendation in Frommer’s.

Churches of Erice

Erice has more churches than restaurants and for €5 you can get a day pass that gets you into the top five, including entrance to the bell tower of the Duomo.  Most of the exteriors are simple in design with few ornate embellishments.

A couple of the churches have a soft pink stuccoed exterior than contrasts nicely with the gray tones of the surrounding stone buildings and streets. The interiors are generally more contemporary in design, having been redone in more recent centuries. One could spend all day taking pictures of the streets and churches of Erice, with so many intriguing shapes and angles.

In the Hotel

Before dinner I sat in the living area of the hotel, which also turned out to be the living room of the family that runs the place. As I worked on my blog, the mother watched game shows on the TV next to me. She is a quiet woman that really doesn’t say much in any language. I finally heard her speak English when someone came in to inquire about a room and directly asked her if she spoke English, or perhaps German?  “No, no, English.” When asked about the room price. She answered “€110” in English. The man repeated the price hoping for a reduction, but she simply repeated “€110”. I’m not sure she knew any other numbers.

Foggy Morning

The next morning we woke up to dense fog. The weather up here in the clouds can be quite windy at times and is foggy first thing in the morning – usually burning off by the afternoon. Made for some interesting pics.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Sicily page.

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