Combining an abundance of incomparable natural beauty with a rich and diverse cultural history it’s easy to understand why each new town you discover on the Mediterranean island of Sicily seems more idyllic and untouched by time than the last. Wedged strategically between mainland Italy and North Africa, Sicily has been fought over and occupied by a long line of conquering nations for thousands of years; and it is this mix of heritages that lends the island, and its regions, a unique and undeniable identity. Every new town I visit offers a variety of tastes, architectural delights, and cultural influences which assault my senses and spark a new wave of creativity. I could never choose just one favourite destination in Sicily, however, there are those special places that manage to awaken something within that lingers long after I’ve left.
Perched along some of Sicily’s most awe inspiring coastline sits the picturesque little town of Scopello. Nestled halfway between the golden sandy beaches of San Vito Lo Capo, and the coastal town of Castellammare – with its imposing water front castle, this tiny hamlet has a permanent population of only 100 residents. The small stature of the town is easily overshadowed by her wonderous natural beauty and ancient crumbling stone architecture. It’s easy to fall for Scopello’s easy-going charm and become swept up in the laidback atmosphere and slower pace of life here. Even during the busier tourist season, between April and October, the crowds swell to only around 2000 and it becomes a welcome reprieve from the chaotic city streets of the nearby capital city of Palermo, a mere hour’s drive away. Seething with evocative details and old world charm Scopello is a place best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There’s no need to make haste here, simply choose a spot at my favourite Bar Pasticceria on the edge of the piazza, grab yourself a deliciously flaky sfogliatella and un espresso, and watch with delight as Sicilians and tourists alike enjoy a leisurely stroll through one of the prettiest little squares in Sicily.
One of the most enchanting facets of life here, and one of the reasons I return time and time again, is the diverse landscape. The town itself was built around the baglio, a rural 18th century farmhouse, once sheltering local farmers and animals, which has now been modestly transformed into a central courtyard for a few casual restaurants and shops. Presided over by a grand eucalypt tree – making me nostalgic for my homeland of Australia, the courtyard is the perfect spot to while away a couple of hours taking shelter from the fierce Sicilian sun and enjoy a cool glass of vino locale, or maybe two – remember, there’s no rush here.
Just a few minutes out of town you can make your way down to the water’s edge where you will find a little bay so picture perfect, you’ll never want to leave. Surrounded by craggy, dramatic cliffs and flanked high on either side by two imposing medieval watchtowers the landscape is softened slightly by the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north. Home to a previously abandoned ancient tuna factory, the Tonnara di Scopello was once one of Sicily’s major tuna fishing sites and dates back to the early 13th century, when the industry provided much of the income for the local population. The site has recently been transformed into a luxury bed and breakfast and the adjoining area can also be enjoyed by sunworshippers and those looking to bask in some of Sicily’s most breathtaking natural beauty. The philosophy that I apply to the appreciation of good food and wine is quality over quantity. This same viewpoint is also evident when visiting the small but stunning township of Scopello, and for this reason I’ll never be able to resist her subtle charms or tire of her company.