Driving up the steep cliffs to the hilltop village of Erice (pronounced Eh-ree-shay), you pray you don’t come face to face with a large tour bus coming around one of the sharp hairpin curves. But, we know the views from the top will be incredible and well worth the drive. Its boggles the mind as you pass through the arched entry that you car can squeeze through the narrow streets without taking off a fender or running down a pedestrian.
This is why you need a good pair of shoes when visiting Erice. As it is a little hard to walk on it’s all worth it when you see the beautiful workmanship in it.
Finding the way to our hotel was easy using the GPS system that came with our car. Although it would have been easier to take the wide road that was lead directly to the property instead of squeezing through the tiny streets of Erice. Our hotel sat high up the cliffs with spectacular views towards Segesta and the coastline of the Mediterranean. Although our room was tiny the balcony was enormous! It more than made up for the petite room. The accommodations were comfortable enough, not fancy but not cluttered either. What made this property was medieval ambience and character. We would not stay anywhere else but the La Pineta Hotel.
The name Erice refers to the mythical god Eryx. He was an invincible power giant and son of Aphrodite or better known as Venus and King Bute. Unfortunately Eryx came up against the forceful Hercules who overtook and killed him. Before his death he built a temple, which he dedicated to his mother. Originally this village was named Eryx for the extreme sunshine they enjoy during the summer. Be aware though winter months are shrouded in fog that hangs mystically over the small town. It’s all so romantic!
Quickly dropping off our luggage in the room we took off to see the village. Located just a few steps away from the walled city this hotel is the perfect. The ancient cobbled streets were like artwork with blades of green grass growing in between the rock. I loved it! Along the streets are tall rock buildings with brightly painted shutters. Flower boxes underneath the sills make it very charming.
Finding ourselves quickly into a small piazza with a couple of restaurants and some shops was our first stop. Not having anything to eat since breakfast we decided to try the Postale 17 restaurant. A large deck with tables had lots of people eating outside. It looked good and smelled good and had a grand view of the small square. Plenty of tourists were wandering around enjoying the day. The food was actually better than we thought it would be. My husband got herbed fish and a beer, and I of course had pasta!
After lunch venturing back through a tiny street with shops was a small supermarket where we picked up water and a few munchies for the day. Passing by a couple small hotels we were on the way to see the ancient Pepoli Tower. What an amazing site! It literally looks like a small castle floating in the air like something you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie. Built in a crevice between two dramatically steep cliffs it was originally built as a prison then became a private getaway for aristocrats. The smaller tower, a project of Count Agostino Pepoli in the 1870’s restored the castle for future cultural events.
Just to the right of Pepoli Tower is the chiesa di San Giovanni Battista or Church of Saint John the Baptist. A beautiful domed rock building set upon the upper cliffs of Erice. The crowning glory of this church is the statue of Saint John the Baptist by Antonio Gagini who brought the Renaissance style art to Sicily. Honestly, to the eye there is no discernible way to reach the little castle, that adds to the mystique.
Left of Pepoli Tower stands the twelfth-century Castello di Venere or in english the Castle of Venus. Built high in the cliffs they used the temple to entice passing sailors. Adding a never-ending fire it would guide them from the sea to enjoy a rather savory side of Erice. That was until the Romans took control and used it to advance Catholicism. A new castle was eventually built on top of the Temple of Venus by the Normans in the 17th century. In more recent history the castle dungeons were used as a prison during WWII. Rumor has it that the ruins of the Roman baths were to have been the actual private bath of the goddess Venus.
Balio Gardens, a beautiful area of tall trees, pretty foliage and statues is a good place to sit and take in this lovely village. The park has a stunning view of Balio Towers, which feels like part of the park and the Castle of Venus. Again, a great place for the best views of Tripani and the Med. Don’t forget to have your camera handy!
Staying only one night we were on a very tight schedule, we had to tour the village quickly. Wandering was like walking through a maze of rock buildings, arches, local pubs, shops and restaurants. Cat’s of every color were sitting on window ledges with brilliant flower pots. Children dressed for school were rushing past us. Older ladies walking arm in arm chattering as they walked aimlessly to their homes. It’s a place you can get lost in both in a fantasy world and history. For a unique, medieval town have to admit this is one of the best.
At the Tripani Gate is a church with a tall medieval tower. Built in the 15th century an original fresco that dates back to 1420 is amazingly still in good condition. The Chiesa Matrice or “the Mother Church” is considered the most popular tourist attraction here other than the Castle of Venus. The building was created in the shape of a Latin cross with high decorative filigree archways including 5 separate altars. Next door the tower bells ring every hour and quite loud. It does add to the antiquity of this amazing hilltop village.
Here are a few bits of information to share that I picked up on this visit. If not staying in Erice I would suggest to park in Tripani then take the cable car up and avoid parking fees. Besides that it looks fun! The price for a roundtrip ticket is 9 Euro. If you want to see the beauty inside the churches you can purchase a pass that gives you access to the tower, several churches, and museums. It does not include the entrance into the Castle of Venus. Another very important tip is to wear comfortable shoes, as much as I love cobblestone streets they can be difficult to walk especially for long periods of time. Don’t worry about making a fashion statement with shoes here! One more thing, try to wake up early for the best chance to see Erice shrouded in a ghostly mist it’s so well-known for.