07/18/2011 06:48 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2011

Sicily's Wild Western Coast

Far from the temperamental grumblings of Mount Etna, tourist beaches of Taormina and bustling piazzas of Catania, the western coast of Sicily is a rugged, sun-drenched region filled with undiscovered gems and some of the island's most spectacular gastronomy.


Take a dizzying cable car ride to the top of Mount Eryx and the town of Erice, perched some 750 meters above sea level. Its medieval center is home to 60 churches and cathedrals and Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which is said to have the best cannoli in Sicily.


Pastries at Maria Grammatico

Even more impressive than the pastry is the Castello di Venere, a Norman castle that began life as a pagan temple of Venus some three millennia ago. Despite its tumultuous history (the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Normans each came through), it is remarkably intact, and the mountain's unique microclimate keeps it shrouded in a thick fog that adds to its mystique.


The Castello surrounded by mists


This coastal city wears its Moorish history on its sleeve. Its namesake dish, cuscus alla Trapanese, is a tagine-like couscous served with seafood soup, prawns and monkfish, and its historic center features tightly packed streets that were once surrounded by the casbah walls. A later period of Spanish rule left stately Baroque architecture and grand boulevards. Join the locals for their nightly passegiata, or evening stroll, and take part in a centuries-old tradition that is still very much alive.


The local specialty

Verdura Golf & Spa Resort

The maestro of luxury hotels, Sir Rocco Forte, ups the ante with his first resort, Verdura. Set among ancient olive groves and rolling hills, the 570-acre property borders more than a mile of picturesque shoreline and is home to three golf courses, one meticulously appointed spa, and four restaurants, helmed by a Michelin-starred chef. The spa's four thalassotherapy pools have different temperatures, jet speeds and mineral contents and are open to all hotel guests. While away an hour and feel renewed in mind and body. Since its opening in 2010, Verdura Resort has set a new standard for luxury in Sicily.


Oceanfront golf at Verdura


The view at sunset

DOC Wine Route

Sicily has more vineyards than any other part of Italy and 19 DOC regions. Lesser known varietals like Zibibbo (from the nearby island of Pantelleria) and Grillo are made into crisp, seafood-pairing whites that will appeal to those who like Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc. Marsala is known for the port-like wines that take their name from the town. Take a tour of a historic winery like Cantine Florio and see the giant oak casks that give the fortified wines their rich flavors and tawny hues.


A barrel of Marsala wine from 1939


The cellar at Cantine Florio

Egadi Islands

Hop aboard a ferry in Marsala or Trapani and make way for the tuna-fishing stronghold of Favignana, the largest of the Egadis. Rent a bike and spend the day exploring coves and shoreline. Crystalline waters and clearly marked signposts make the island an easy locale to discover on your own. Sample the local delicacy at one of the town's many restaurants or bring back a jar of tonno preserved in olive oil or bottarga, a dried roe that adds flavor to pasta dishes.


Cala Rossa, "the red cove", on Favignana