The stretch of coastline that veers from Agrigento toward Trapani is perhaps the least traveled by mass tourism, but it is among the richest territories of precious gems in the whole of Sicily. Beginning with Sciacca, which combines a seafaring spirit-beautiful the glimpse from the small harbor over the colorful fishermen's cottages piled on top of each other-with the character of an elegant grand dame. A stroll through its historic center, in fact, is enough to discover aristocratic palaces with stone doorways and wrought-iron balconies and splendid Baroque churches - the Matrice, with its prissy volutes, and the Chiesa del Carmine, with its polychrome majolica dome and chiseled rose window, alone are worth the visit - and then admire the turquoise sea merging on the horizon with the blue sky from the very central Piazza Scandaliato, an elegant as well as scenic terrace on infinity. Leaving the built-up area, the Saccense territory is dotted with ochre-colored sandy beaches, with some excellences such as Capo San Marco, "frequented" even by Caretta caretta turtles, which come here to lay their eggs.
From Sciacca, heading eastward along the coast, within a few kilometers nature offers different, unspoiled and fascinating scenery, starting with the Reserve of the Mouth of the Platani River, with its landscape that looks like a painter's palette: here the golden dunes of fine sand, the green bushes of Mediterranean scrub, the white limestone rocks shaped by the wind and the different shades of blue of the river that flows into the waves of the sea mingle. A few more kilometers and here is another protected area, the WWF Oasis of Torre Salsa, where the sea takes on Caribbean hues and the various beaches are interrupted by chalk cliffs and protected by low, lush vegetation.
Riserva della Foce del fiume Platani
And it is precisely the white cliffs that announce the true prima donna of this stretch of coastline, the Scala dei Turchi, a scenic rock face of blinding whiteness that rises sheer above the azure sea near Realmonte: immortalized in, among others, several episodes of "Commissario Montalbano," the Scala is shaped by the wind that has carved it out over the centuries with steps and undulations with a very smooth surface.
Still departing from Sciacca but heading westward instead, after passing the pretty pebble beach of Bertolino and the kilometer-long beach of Porto Palo, equipped with bathing establishments and small fish restaurants, the blue sea yields the starring role to the temples of Selinunte, an evocative setting in which the ancient history of Mankind is silhouetted. Protected by UNESCO, the archaeological area of Selinunte is among the largest in Europe, and the imposing Doric columns tell of myths and legends dating back to the seventh century B.C., when Selinòn was a flourishing Greek colony.
Once the visit to the archaeological complex is over, you can watch the sunset from the legendary Acropolis beach, with the sun slowly disappearing behind the temples. Or sip a drink on the trendy Scalo di Bruca beach - the heart of the town's nightlife or, again, immerse yourself in the unspoiled nature of the Belice River Mouth Nature Reserve, with its beautiful silvery beach.
Pushing even further west, here is Mazara del Vallo with the maze of arabesque alleyways of the historic center and a unicum: the Greek statue of the Dancing Satyr, dating back to the 3rd century B.C. and of precious workmanship, fished out of the sea in front of the village by a fishing boat in 1998. But in Mazara one does not stop just to savor art and architecture: a must is to taste the local seafood product exported all over the world, the famous and tasty red shrimp, served in a thousand ways, including the very tasty fish cous-cous, typical of the Trapani area.
Another handful of kilometers and the environment changes again and quite unexpectedly: we are in fact in the vicinity of the shimmering salt pans of Marsala and the landscape is punctuated by piles of salt, sheets of water and striking windmills, while just offshore we spot the mysterious island of Mozia - to be reached by a short motorboat crossing from the salt pans pier - , to be visited with walks through nature and the remains of ancient civilizations.
Not only the sea, however, for this corner of Sicily: for a foray into the immediate hinterland, there are two villages not to be missed for their charm steeped in history and tradition. The first is Caltabellotta, a crib-town perched on the summit of a mountain-we are at an altitude of almost 1,000 meters-and cloaked in medieval atmospheres: beautiful is the Norman basilica, dating back to the 11th century. People come here not only for the view and the historic village, but also to taste the famous ricotta cheese, served in the various dairies in the area, still steaming, accompanied by local wine, homemade bread and primosale cheese.
Completely different allure for Sambuca, on the other hand, an elegant Arab-Norman agglomeration: aristocratic palaces, Baroque churches, Renaissance courtyards and Arabian towers trace a path through alleys and stairways. In which to get lost among the countless architectural details of this precious jewel.