On the western side of Sicily the coast road from Erice towards San Vito lo Capo takes one past the Santa Casa and San Cusumano districts of the lower part of Erice and into countryside bounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the left hand side of the road and Mount Erice on the right. The sea fills a small bay in front of the tuna cannery owned by the Nino Castiglione company on the edge of Erice. The company also owns a small garden between the road and the beach in San Cusumano, which is open to the public during the day.
The road then passes through Pizzolungo, a quiet residential town that offers holiday homes and B&B lets during the holiday season, and then through several other villages surrounded by fields of maize, sunflowers or grapevines. I followed the coast road until we reached Cortigliolo, hoping to find a café. No luck with getting coffee but I was able to capture some nice views of Monte Cofano, a jagged mountain that rises out of the sea. Monte Cofano has a nature reserve that is, so I am told, good for treks.
The coast road then took us to Rio Forgia at which point I took the road inland so as to drive directly to the town of Custonaci – a small hill-top town whose industry is based on the quarrying of marble.
Custonaci is an old town with narrow roads that, of necessity, have been made into a circular one-way system. We got a bit lost on the circuit but eventually found the centre of town – parking adjacent to the pedestrian area in front of the Santuario Maria Santissima Di Custonaci. The church is well known in the region, famous for the beauty of its interior and the artworks therein, thus attracting newly-weds for photo sessions or couples wishing to be actually married in the church.
Unfortunately the place was closed so I didn’t, at least on this occasion, get to see inside, but it’s on my list for next time.
At the bottom of the steps leading to the entrance of the church is Bar Vassallo, an ice cream parlour. The place serves a range of flavours of very nice home-made ice cream – if you like ice cream or sorbets, the ones here are delicious and not expensive.
Custonaci is a nice quiet town, worth visiting even if only for the excellent ice cream! It’s also a useful stopping off place for those wishing to trek in the Monte Cofano reserve, or those planning to visit San Vito lo Capo.
How to get there
From Trapani take the SP 20 / SP 18 for the more direct route, or take the lungomare coastal route off the SP 20 at Tonnara di Bonagia. Follow the road as far as you want before heading up to Custonaci. Journey time is 30 minutes without sightseeing or coffee breaks!
From Palermo take the E90 autostrada as far as Castellammare del Golfo, then the SP 187 to Custonaci. Journey time is between 90 minutes and two hours, depending on Palermo city traffic.
What to do there
Relax!, Drink coffee, have an ice cream and breathe in the tranquillity. Visit the church and the nearby Grotta Mangiapane to get a feel for the history of rural life in Custonaci. Those of a more adventurous spirit can go on to the Monte Cofano (Mount Hood in English) Reserve.
Floral pavement design outside the church. Summer fruits and lemon sorbet at Bar Vassallo