About Western Sicily
You could be familiar with this landscape of ragged hills, dusty plains, Agave and cactus: covered wagon country, the locations that Italian movie-makers use for their ‘spaghetti westerns’. It was bandit territory not long ago. The last bandit, Giuliano, died in 1950. His base was Montelepre near Partinico, his corpse ended up at Castelvetrano. All the long hot day he lay hidden in scrub, surrounded by carabinieri sharpshooters. Towards evening, to allay his raging thirst, he eased open his little box of fruit pastilles. The setting sun struck a gleam from the tin lid, a marksman fired one shot and that was the end of banditry in Sicily.
The roads marked on the map are rough and wild in the interior, but are smooth and swift around the coast – even swifter when you take the toll-free motorways, the least-trafficked in Europe. If yoiu want to cover all the best places to visit, allow three to four days. Remember that the country roads are the highways of pedestrians, animals and – emblem of Sicily – donkey-carts decorated with scenes of chivalry from the troubadours’ songs which came in with the 11thC Norman invasion.
Signposting is adequate and you will never be more than 30 kilometres from a garage or a petrol station.
This journey induces both uplift and sadness. Incomparable in beauty and harmony under the hot, harsh mountainland stand the honey-coloured Doric temples, the works of Greek architects, engineers and thousands of slaves nearly 3,000 years ago. Do not miss Cusa, where the columns for Selinunte were quarried. For some reason everyone downed tools. The result is a step-by-step guide to temple construction: some granite ‘drums’ half-excavated, some half-fluted, some with joining sections half-chiselled, some rejected or abandoned on the road to Selinunte. Eight drums, weighing hundreds of tons apiece, made a column; there were 64 columns to a temple. Each drum took two years to quarry and cut to shape and several months to roll along the track to Selinunte, 16 km away.
Contrast that industry and vision with the sleeping-sickness of western Sicily today: insanitary beaches, sand-blocked drains, flyblown cafés, the dearth of art in ugly, pompous churches, the chronic apathy of the people. Marvel at the scenery and move on.
Western Sicily’s airports are Palermo and Trapani. Limited services from both to mainland airports and offshore islands.
Westbound from Palermo the railway traverses a spectacular coastline to Trapani. From Trapani a secondary line visits Marsala and Castelvetrano, returning to the coast at Castellamare. The only other rail route in western Sicily is the cross-country line from Porto Empedocle (Agrigento) to the north coast near Termini Imerese. All trains in Siciy move at a jogtrot and stop everywhere.
Of bus companies offering year-round daily services the most useful to the visitor is Saistours, which also offers round-Sicily tours. Whole-day sight-seeing excursions start from Palermo, Agrigento, Siracusa and Taormina.
Shipping services link Palermo with Cagliari (12½ hours), Genoa (23 hours), Livorno (19 hours), Naples (11 hours) and the island of Ustica (2½ hours). From Trapani you can sail to the Egadi islands by hydrofoil; Cagliari (10 hours) and Pantelleria (5 hours, or by hydrofoil 2 hours). To Pantelleria from Marsala is 4 hours. For seasonal and occasional ferries contact the Tourist Office in Palermo.