We stopped the car for a look over the vast expansive coastline, before plunging into thick fog. “These pastries had better be really nice,” I muttered.
We were on our way to Erice, a hill town 750m above sea level which is known from two things - delicious pastries and fantastic views. As we wound our way up the narrow road, the wind picked up and the fog thickened. At times it was hard to see the road. Then the rain closed in, just as we arrived at the visitor car park. We sat in the car, trying to pick up the courage to go outside. We had one umbrella between us. “I’m probably not going to need that sunscreen,” Nicolas said.
Finally, steeling ourselves, we plunged outside into the gale. It’s lucky Erice is only a small place because it was almost impossible to see where we were going in the fog and the rain. A few other sodden tourists on the main street hinted we were heading in the right direction for pastries, and as soon as we found the place, we dived into the tiny cafe for some shelter.
La Pasticceria di Maria Grammatico is known across Italy for its pastry. Born into a family of six, Maria Grammatico's family were too poor to care for her, so aged 11 she was taken into a convent in Erice and forced to work in the pastry kitchens, where the nuns baked goods to sell. After fifteen years, she left and set up her own shop selling convent pastries. They went down a storm and are sold all over the world today. We tried some Genovese pastries - they look like giant ravioli but are made from crisp sweet shortcrust and filled with custard, as well as some marzipan. Everything was staggeringly sugary, but undeniably delicious.
I got out the guidebook to search for some indoor activities in Erice. That’s when I noticed the authors note that “it’s even more mesmerizing when the unpredictable mist rolls in.” This is a barefaced lie. Do not go to Erice except on a clear day. The pastry is delicious, but there is really very little else to do.
We spent a sodden half hour searching for the castle. When we found it, we glanced around then immediately ran back to the car for shelter. Erice is not a place to linger in bad weather.
Trapani is just a short drive downhill, and we wanted to try the local specialty - fish couscous. We found it at Osteria La Bettolacia, a popular local restaurant. The dish consists of plain mound of couscous, a plate of fried seafood, and a fishy soup, which was to be ladled onto the couscous. It was sour and flavoursome. Delicious.
After we had lingered in the restaurant for as long as possible, we felt compelled to at least walk around Trapani a bit. After all, who knew when we would come back? The streets were deserted. A few shopkeepers watched us incredulously as we trudged past in the rain. It wasn’t long before we fled back to our car and back to Palermo. The jury is still out on Trapani. I’m sure it’s much nicer when it’s not raining!