A tour of Marsala between wineries, salt marshes and beaches

It was all thanks to Napoleon, who closed the Spanish and Portuguese ports to the British merchantmen at the end of the nineteenth century. Thirsty for wines from Southern Europe, British importers discovered the vineyards that were being cultivated in the sun of Western Sicily: Marsala. 

In 2019, the dense and fortified wine celebrates the fifty years of the DOC brand, the first ever wine in Italy to obtain it. And the city celebrates it with a year of ideas and initiatives.

Revolution and Wine Tasting

Benedetto Renda, managing director of the Pellegrino wineries (carlopellegrino.it), calls it a ''Marsala Revolution''. "But this is a gentle revolution. For the occasion we have dedicated four new labels to as many figures related to the history of Marsala, from Anita Garibaldi to John Woodhouse, Benjamin Ingham and Joseph Whitaker, English merchants who valued the Marsala wine during the Napoleonic blockade".

Mild temperatures

Even out of season, thanks to the always mild temperatures, a wine tasting holiday in western Sicily, is a good excuse to rediscover crowded historic centers, pedestrian areas between baroque churches and the sandy beaches that come alive on weekends.

The surrounding countryside is dotted with ancient fortified dwellings (Bagli) and vineyards, while towards the sea, silhouettes of dozens of windmills stand out against the background of the wild and uninhabited islands of the Stagnone lagoon.

They are the windmills of the Saline di Mozia, used until the sixties to pump water into the tanks and grind the salt. The best way to visit them is to book a guided tour on the site salinedellalaguna.it.

Marsala Salt Pans

Aperitif in wine cellars

In the Cantine Florio (duca.it/florio/) you can taste different Marsala wines combined with interesting finger food. The Vergine, for example, accompanies a 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano and a chocolate from the Antica Dolceria Bonaiuto di Modica based on cocoa, tuna roe and nori seaweed. The Targa 1840 is the counterpart to the ''Cuddriredda'', a scented biscuit of red wine, cinnamon and oranges. 

Launched by Francesco Intorcia (intorcia.it), the Heritage project propose an "Anthologies of wines", made of great reserves and best vintages, combined with local excellences such as Bottarga (fish eggs), dates and seasoned Pecorino cheese.

Florio Wine Cellars

Tapas e Cocktails

"There is no one Marsala, but many Marsala", explains Francesco Alagna, who, in his new Marsala Wine & Tapas Bar, combines all types of Marsala (plus eight historical reserves, available also by the glass) with Ragusano cheese and onion compote or Caponata with almonds.

Then there are those who play with revisited historical mixes and new creative drinks.  At the Juparanà (juparana.it), for example, the reign of the barman Roberto Tranchida, but also in the halls of the Ouverture Pellegrino, serving the five Marsala cocktails designed by Gianluca Di Giorgio, mind and arm of the Bocum (bocum.it), Palermo's trendiest mixology bar. The rediscovery of the Marsala wine also passes through excellences like the restaurant Le Lumie (ristorantelelumie.com), where the chef Emanuele Russo uses a Vecchio Florio to cream his risotto with Ragusano dop and proposes the unusual combination of Vergine Terre Arse with tempura of Tennerumi (tender  zucchini's leaves) and anchovies in chickpea batter.

Carthaginian reminiscences

Marsala is not just for drinking. Founded by the Carthaginians in 397, priceless Punic and Roman remains, Norman cathedrals and Spanish palaces are hidden among the alleys and squares of the ancient Lilibeum. Beyond the arch of Porta Garibaldi, the baroque patterns of the Church of the Annunziata and its majolica dome give the first welcome to the city. Next is Via XI Maggio, known as the ''Cassaro'', the ancient Roman decumanus, famous for its nightlife, where an eighteenth-century doorway leads to the courtyard of Palazzo Fici and to the entrance of the Enoteca Strada del Vino (Via XI Maggio, 32), theater of succulent aperitifs.

Convents and monasteries

From Via XI Maggio to the former Convent of the Carmine are only a few steps. Some areas of the monastery, perfectly restored, host temporary exhibitions. Other areas of the convent have been transformed into the small charming Hotel Carmine, which preserves the original majolica floors, chestnut beams and exposed brick walls.

The Baglio and past splendours

You can expererience past splendours at the Baglio Anselmi, site of the archaeological museum, among the ruins of the Roman villa of Capo Boeo, embellished with colorful mosaics. Or in front of the eight Brussels tapestries at the Flemish tapestry museum (museodegliarazzimarsala.com). Beyond the Salt Pans, take the boat to the island of Mozia to discover the sumptuous funerary objects and the jewels of the Mozzian matrons at the Whitaker Museums alongside the elegant statue of the young Auriga. Symbol of the city, its history and its ancient beauty.

Marsala Salt Pans Windmill