Villa Altair and Mazara del Vallo: a pleasant surprise in Sicily.


When I planned my tour of Sicily I thought I would see as much as possible of it, thus I needed to well balance driving time and allocate reasonable visiting time at every stop, including overnights. Mazara del Vallo was a big surprise which exceeded my expectations thus I stayed too short.

I scheduled an overnight in Mazara just to break my driving time between Agrigento and Marsala, thus I had no specific highlight to spend time at, neither I expected any, being Mazara usually spoken about on TV news as a place of controversy between Italy and Lybia about the red shrimps fishing area. However it turned out to be one of the best stop on my tour and I regret I only spent one night there.

The first big surprise was the Baglio were I stayed: Villa Altair. Baglio are old farms, some of which are still working while others have been swicthed off and others turned into B&B. Villa Altair is an exception because it is a B&B but it also is an active farm producing both wine and olive oil. The rooms are simple but also very big and you won’t believe how much we have been served for breakfast: the owner, who is a young girl, came at our table with an impressively big tray full of sweet of every sort, spanning from ricotta cheese cakes, pistachos croissants, almond cakes and especially the most delicious Pane Cunzatu (Dressed bread with tomatoes and olive oil). There was o much food on that tray that we couln’t make it to finish it all, thus she prepared a travel bag for us with all the leftovers. She turned the previous oilve rest tank into an infinity pool: it’s a squared tank which she didin’t modify much except the infinity side which overlooks the olive tree fields.

The farm produces white wine such as Grillo and Muller Thurgau and some red such as Nero d’Avola and Perricone: we bought a box of 6 bottle of each and we found them on our doorstep upon our arrival back in Torino. We also bought olive oil because the one used for their pane cunzatu was delicious but we have to wait a bit for that as harvesting season will happen in October, thus the new oil will be available by November.

We spent some hours at the pool, waiting for the temperature to cool down and allow us a pleasant walk in Mazara. Look at the map of the city here below and you will notice a section of the old town, coloured in yellow, that is called Kasbah San Francesco.

Map of Mazara del Vallo. Old Town

Kasbah is the most interesting section of Mazara. Sicily has been dominated by several populations: the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs and the Normans. That is why some cities still keep traces of each domination, for the good or for the bad. In Mazara it is defintely for the good. The Christian and the Muslim community live very well together here, making Mazara a city of tolerance and mutual respect. Such wellbeing is displayed at every corner of the Kasbah, which is in fact decorated with coloured tiles telling the stories of the people behind the dedication of each street, backstreet of small piazza inclusing both Muslim and Christian personalities as well as mythology episodes. Here below is a collection of some of the artistic tiles you can find meandering inside the Kasbah.

Kasbah San Francesco, Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Kasbah San Francesco. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Kasbah San Francesco. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Kasbah San Francesco, Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

There are many more decorative installations at the Kasbah but I didn’t want to spend all my time there through the lenses of my camera, thus I just took some and enjoyed the rest.

One of the things that me and my travelmates enjoyed Mazara is the fact that it is not yet considered a trend tourism destination. It was far less crowded that all the other places we have been to during our tour which made our walking around as pleasant as can be. There is an incredibly beautiful Cathedral here also, which despite being out of the Baroque official circuit, is a real masterpice to me, especially for the painted ceiling and the impressive curtain-shaped decoration of the main chapel..not to mention the carved-silver altar.

The frescoed ceiling of the Cathedral. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Central Apse of the Cathedral. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Cathedral. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The main square is also very nice, surrounded by elegant palaces and home to a big fountain. To get there you have to climb the few steps of a nicely tile decorated stair, leading you to the facade of the Cathedral

Stairs in Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
Piazza della Repubblica. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Before closing this post I want to share with you one last picture which I took along the main shopping street of Mazara, which summarises the real spirit of the people of Sicily, who are among the most welcoming populations you will ever meet during your travelling adventures around the globe:

Shop shutter. Mazara del Vallo. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

It is the shutter of a shop which replaced the common opening hours plate, usually sticked on the glass, with a very funny and symbolic message adressed to the customers. It says

Weather, love and hunger may change the opening and closing hours of this shop”.

And that is Sicily in just one line.

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