This designation spotlights those small Italian towns showcasing Italy’s History, Art, Culture, Environment, and Traditions.
“Sicily’s villages, the most beautiful in Italy, reveal the face of a Sicily that is less well-known and perhaps for this reason, more authentic and precious.”VisitSicily
I came to Erice in search of the nunnery’s famous almond cookies but lingered for the great heritage (and cats).
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Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico
The thing about visiting Sicily is the fabulous food. Almost every village is famous for a pastry or sandwich.
And Erice can boast about its buccellati (a hard, baked almond cookies). Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico sells these cookies (and other decadent pastries such as green cassata cakes, cuscinetti (small fried pastries), and every variety of fruit marzipan (including apples, oranges and lemons).
The shop is located on the village’s main street (Via Vittorio Emanule). The hometown almonds are picked in the fields near Erice. They must be grown to pulp. This “almond flour” is the star ingredient.
Imagine the hard crunch of almonds and sugar bursting in your mouth like fireworks. As one Google reviewer noted, “It’s just delicious and sinful and full of sweet goodness!”
But people don’t come just to eat almond cookies. They also hope to meet the real life heroine of the Sicilian memoir “Bitter Almonds.” The cloistered nuns raised Maria Grammatico at a San Carlo orphanage. As a young girl, she was taught how to bake the convent’s confections and pastries. In 1961, she left the orphanage. She was 21. She now operates the most famous pasticceria (bakery) in Erice.
I discovered that you need to be part mountain goat to climb the steep hilly cobblestone streets in this medieval Sicilian village. The main street (Via Vittorio Emanule) shoots straight up from the moment you walk through the town gates (Porta Trapani).
“Porta Trapani is one of the gates of the grandiose Elymian-Punic walls still visible today. It was opened together with Porta Spada and Porta Carmine in the Norman age (11th-14th century AD) and is characterized by the pointed arch . . . It takes its name from the city below [Tripani].”Erice (Town Sign)
Gaze down and you can see the sea 2,400 feet below.
Luckily, the small shops, restaurants, art galleries, and Maria’s bakery will distract you. In fact, you might not even reach the summit if you stop in all the lovely shops.
I spent an inordinate time outside an Erice art gallery admiring its ceramics. Transfixed by a bold portrait of a brunette woman, I went inside to check the price for a small ceramic. But the shop only sold this creation as a painting. I decided that 350 euros cost too much (plus it wouldn’t fit into my tiny suitcase).
Do not miss visiting this ancient Norman church even though you must purchase an entrance ticket. (It’s worth the price. I promise.) The Erice sign declaring it a “a masterpiece of neo-Gothic architecture” is not an exaggeration.
Prepare to enter an otherworldly world. The delicate ceiling beams resemble hand-sewed lace. The Gothic church was built in 1314. The church also displays clerical robes, paintings, and statues.
Save time to sit in a pew and just stare at the Baroque altar or quietly meditate. Often you can hear the ethereal sounds of monks chanting or a choir singing (if the church is playing an audio revording).
Notably, Erice is famous as the “the town of one hundred churches.” Although this is no longer the case, Erice does seem to have a church hiding around every corner.
No visit to any Sicilian village, city, town, or street market is complete if I didn’t hunt for cats. Luckily, Erice boasts dozens of felines who happily napped in chairs or posed on brick walls. (Check out my travel pieces about the Cats of Portugal and the Cats of Croatia if you are an ailurophile. I am already planning to write a post on the Cats of Sicily!)
Sadly, I missed out on the colony of cats who are fed outside the castle in the landscaped gardens. But I can thank fellow Exodus traveler Kevin for taking these cat cameos at Rifugio canino di Martogna (the animal shelter in Erice).
Gazing at their beatific faces, I imagine it wouldn’t be a horrible life to be a gatto (cat) living in this most beautiful Italian village of Erice.