Our first port in Italy on our cruise aboard Costa Diadema was Palermo on Sicily. But we decided to go on an excursion instead of visiting Palermo. Our excursion was to Salemi – one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The excursion was called “The hidden treasures of Italy: Salemi” and belongs to a new series of excursions which are promoted by Costa. For that cause Costa Crociere parnters with the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy (l’ associazione dei Borghi più Belli d’ Italia). The aim is to promote the beauty as well as the cultural and territorial heritage of less-known Italian villages and thus give them the chance to benefit from local tourism.
And now: Who of you knows Salemi? We didn’t know Salemi when we discovered the small town on Sicily in the excursion program of Costa and therefore we were all the more looking forward to the excursion to this hidden village. But of course we did some research on this viallge first. Our first research showed us that Salemi is located on a mountain just 37 km southeast of Trapani (we visited Trapani on our last cruise aboard MS Berlin). The name Salemi apparently originates from the Middle Ages, when the Arabs ruled there and comes from the Arabic word salam. That means health and peace. There is a castle and several small museums in Salemi. We were already very curious to discover this cute place.
At first we were curious to see how the trip is organized by Costa. The excursion to Salemi could either be booked in advance online, on board in the cabin in the on-board TV or at the excursion office on deck 4. It cost 35 euros for adults and 24.50 euros for children and should last 6 hours. The price seemed to be quite reasonable.
The tickets were brought into the cabin. On the ticket we only found our bus number 18, but no meeting point. There was no meeting point on board before going to the busses. In the daily program we also found the information, that people with booked excursions should go directly to their bus on time. Our bus with the number 18 left at 08:15 am. So we went ashore at 08:00 am to go straight to the bus. Before entering the bus we had to hand out our excursion ticket and show our boarding pass. Then we got a sticker with the number 18 to put on our jacket. In the bus you could choose your place to sit.
After about 1 hour and 25 minutes bus transfer we reached the hidden treasure Salemi. We arrived on the main square of the small town and had the possibility to explore Salemi on our own or to take part in a walking tour with a local guide for 15 euros. The price of the walking tour should have been announced in the programme beforehand. However we decided to discover Salemi on our own. First we searched for a café to buy breakfast, because we did not have enough time in the morning to eat breakfast on board .
We immediately saw a corner bar with white umbrellas in front of the door. This place was surrounded by chatting locals. It looked like the place to be in Salemi. So we went to the Extra Comfort Bar Di Vito & C. Sas and found what we were looking for. This cute little bar offered plenty of sandwiches, cakes and coffee. There were no price tags, but everything looked very tasty. We chose two fresh sandwiches with mozzarella, tomato and ham. Then the waitress explained to us how to get to the best photo spot in town: the Castello. We paid only 2 euros for both sandwiches. Great! A real insider’s tip, because the sandwiches were very very tasty! Then we went to the Castello, which we could already see from below.
We started at the bar and turned left on Via Francesco Crispi Paved streets lead us up in narrow alleys. The Via Francesco Crispi goes to the right after a few metres and becomes Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, which we simply followed uphill to reach the Castello.
On our way through the alleys we did not only see the first exhibition board, but we also met a dog lying in the sun. He looked at us briefly and then decided to follow us. At first we didn’t pay any more attention to him, but then we noticed that he was always waiting for us. While we stopped to take photos, he stopped and waited. Then he followed along to Piazza Alicia, the highest point of the hill, where the Castello Normanno glistened in the sunshine. At this time we fell in love with this small village and also with the cute dog.
The castle was built in the Norman period by Frederick II of Swabia in the XIII century on existing Greek-Roman-Arab fortifications and has been reconstructed over the years. In the Middle Ages it was the seat of the governor and can be visited today. The rooms inside are empty and the visit takes only a short time, but it was nice to see this well-preserved building from the inside. In front of the door our friendly dog had disappeared. We walked around the Castello to enjoy the fantastic view. There were exhibition boards everywhere, which explained the history in English and German.
Afterwards we went to the ruins of the Chiesa Madre. The massive destruction of the church was caused by the 1968 earthquake. The crypt and its history are explained on the exhibition board in front of the ruin. We walked around the church with its crypt to discover more.
We saw the bell tower of the church. It is a former 12th century watchtower called Torre Campanaria.
There was not much to discover behind the building, so we turned back and walked along Via Francesco D’ Aguirre. According to the city map, it should take us to the other sights of the city. When we turned here we met the dog waiting in the sun again and were happy to have this cute local guide at our side. The dog accompanied us from Palazzo to Palazzo and to the churches and museums of the city and again waited for us to take our photos.
We strolled through the picturesque old alleys to the former Jesuit College, where you can visit the Museo Civico. The museum displays art from the churches around Salemi and archaeological finds. It also explains the famous section on the history of the Mafia and its victims. The section on the Mafia shows 150 years of Cosa Nostra history. We didn’t have that much time left and wanted to visit the bread museum, so we only had a quick look into the inner courtyard.
On the way to the Bread Museum we passed the Chiesa S. Bartolomeo and the former Jesuit College.
This church was in a very good condition and was beautifully decorated, so we went inside. White baroque stucco decoration on the walls and an impressive organ, marble columns and 18th century paintings adorn the interior. A beautiful place.
Afterwards we went to the last sight in Salemi, which we wanted to see. The Bread Museum in Via Giovanni Consenza 26. Salemi is also called the city of bread. In fact at different times of the year, different loaves of bread are baked that are dedicated to different saints. The various types of bread are explained in the Bread Museum, which is only a small room. We were particularly impressed by the bread altar. This was made for the San Giuseppe Festival on 19th of March. Here we bought a magnet made of bread and left some greetings in the guestbook.
After our stroll through the lovely alleys, we were a bit hungry and searched for another bakery on Via G. Amendola, the main shopping street. We strolled past small shoe shops, a jewellery shop and various renovated houses. Then we found a small shop to buy some water and a delicious chocolate croissant. A perfect end of our wonderful day in Salemi. We enjoyed this croissant in the sun with a wonderful view of the hills of Trapani.
Then our time in Salemi was already over and the tour bus took us back to the ship. In the bus we got a real Sicilian cream roll, called Cannolo, as a present. The pastry roll was filled with ricotta and chocolate chips and was delicious. The bus ride took about 1.5 hours and we were happy that we discovered this hidden treasure in Italy.