Located on the western-most tip of Sicily, Marsala has long been out of the tourism books. Its geographical position, far from mainland Italy, was certainly to be accounted as one of the main reasons. Nonetheless, the potential of attracting tourists thanks to its long sandy beaches, crystal clear water, tasty food, excellent wine, hospitable people had always been present but few people seemed to notice it.
Marsala being my father’s hometown, I have personally experienced this unexploited potential during the many summers spent there in my childhood.
The key event in the local tourism industry was Ryanair starting the use the Trapani-Birgi military airport as their hub for Sicily.
From sitting isolated on its corner, Marsala soon became well connected and tourists started to flow in to discover one of the best kept secrets of Sicily.
The first impact with Marsala is something difficult to forget for first-time travellers: strong colours – mainly the yellow of the tuff (the most common rock in the area), the green of the vineyards, the blue of the sea and sky alike – strong fragrances of salt and Mediterranean scrub, scorching sun.
On the way from the airport to the center, one can already catch sight of Marsala’s most famous landmark, the windmills and salt ponds, located in the Stagnone lagoon Natural Reserve.
The Stagnone Lagoon has actually contributed to tourism by becoming one of the main European hubs for kitesurfing. The constant wind and shallow sea bottom make excellent conditions for this sport, which has strongly developed in the past few years.
Beside being a wine city, Marsala has also been the setting of many historical events, such as the first Punic war between Roma and Carthago or the landing of Garibaldi who started from here the process of unification of Italy.
A visit to Marsala cannot be complete without strolling around the stalls of the fish market. Your senses will be fully awakened by the pungent smell, the various colors of the fish on display and the shouts of the fishermen trying to sell their wares.
Fish is definitely the main ingredient of the local cuisine in which stand out:
– Caponata (fried vegetables in a sweet-sour tomato sauce) and panecunzato (bread filled with tomatoes, olives, anchovies, pecorino cheese and basil) among the starters,
– pasta with sea urchins or tuna eggs and couscous with fish soup among the treats for sea-food lovers,
– cannoli or other ricotta-based sweets amongs the desserts.
A glass of Marsala wine in one of the city’s many cellars is definitely the best end for your day in this legendary land of historic venues.
Closest airports: Trapani-Birgi (TPS), Palermo (PMO)
Best connection to Trapani-Birgi: check Ryanair
Sites in Marsala area: Erice, Egadi islands (Favignana, Levanzo, Marettino), Stagnone Islands (Motya)
Reasons to visit: history, wine, sea, kitesurfing