The good and the bad in Scopello, Sicily

This post, like the other ones from Sicily, had to be removed from Il Bel Centro because the book needed to focus on our lives as we became part of our Italian village. But I wanted to share with you, to help you discover the beauty of Sicily. Bear in mind that when we were in Sicily, we were battling illnesses that would wind one of us up in the hospital… but that’s another story.

Our trip to Sicily was divided into 2 nights in Trapani and 3 nights in Scopello. Scopello is so tiny, you have to zoom way into the promontory to find it, just at the edge of the Zingaro Nature Preserve. I had all sorts of plans to go walking in that preserve—with paths that skirt views of astonishingly blue water and compelling rock formations, past beautiful trees and evocative flowers. We didn't set foot in it. Hiking in a preserve will have to wait for when we're not fighting debilitating viruses. But even without utilizing one of the reasons that we picked Scopello, we're still so glad we stayed there. The hotel was beautiful, and had an air of calm. The patio and garden looked over the brilliant ocean. And the breakfasts were marvelous. More choices than I'd ever seen, but my favorite was the bread (I love Sicilian bread) with butter and the hotel's homemade jam.

Within the town were just a few restaurants, bars, and, for reasons passing understanding, a cart and pony for hire. Which really just added to the feeling that we had somehow been accidentally dropped into Mexico. We spent some time wondering why Sicily reminded us of Mexico. And then remembered that Sicily had been under Spanish rule for centuries, at the same time that the Spanish were conquering land in the Americas.

We visited a few beaches in Scopello. The town beach is sandy and was fairly empty the day we were there. The boys enjoyed playing in the water, and Siena amused herself making cairns. There are a few "beaches" (places where water meets land, not places to set up a lounger with a bag of cheet-ohs) in Scopello that we found by just following paths down from the main road. Well, I only went to one of these, I was completely devoid of energy one of the afternoons when Keith took the children. And so I stayed at the hotel, sipping water while reading and admiring the twinkling water from my dry perch.

Scopello is also home of a tonnara, a historic tuna fishery that sounds evocative but was actually an example of the downside of under-researching. Yes, going in cold can lead to adventures and a sense of discovery. It can also lead to significant grumpiness. First, a bit about tuna in Sicily—as tuna migrate past Sicily, tuna fishermen have for centuries "herded" them into a cove and then captured them, resulting in a reliance on tuna in the cuisine, and also as a commodity for export. Angelo told me the history of tuna fishing in Sicily as an example of the layered history of the region. You see, the word for tuna fishing in Sicily is mattanza, which comes from the Spanish word matar, to kill (like matador). And the captain of the mattanza is known as al Rais, dating from the Arabic period in Sicily.

Favignana is famous for its tonnare, and in fact we purchased a can of tuna from a company there that was distinguished with the best canned tuna in Italy award. Still haven't broken into it, it feels like we should use it for something special. When we had dinner in Favignana, it was a tuna feast. Directed to a restaurant from the local tuna vendor, we ate tuna carpaccio, tuna salami, tuna steaks, dried and grated tuna roe (bottarga). Though we never actually saw the tonnara in Favignana. And Scopello's comes up in google images when you search for Scopello, it's that much a part of the town.

We were excited about our visit, and delighted with the location, just below our hotel—but to save us the laborious walk back up the hill, we drove. We were directed to park up the road (which sort of defeated the purpose of driving), paid for parking, then walked to the tonnara, paid for entrance, and then realized it was not at all what we thought it was. We were expecting a sort of niche museum, where we could poke about and learn about the history of tuna fishing in Sicily. Nicolas has a fairly large obsession with Italian canned tuna (we've joked that we'll need to inspect his suitcase before getting on the plane, as he is liable to throw away all his clothes to make way for canned tuna), so this was an outing we thought would particularly appeal to him, and with its location right on the water, it would be an adventure for all.

Turns out…no.

What we didn't know is that the tonnara in Scopello has been turned into a hotel. So you can't actually go in the tonnara at all. But you can see people on the roof, reclining. Not the kind of exhibition we were hoping for. Other than being treated to the closed doors of the tonnara, there were chairs set out for sunbathing. It took us some time to realize that what we paid for was the right to sit on a private "beach". Which is where the concrete of the tonnara meets the water. The water was beautiful, but it seemed silly to pay to sit there. Surrounded by cranky people caught up in trying to find the very best place to sit. Gabe enjoyed climbing on the old anchors, Keith had a brief snooze, and all three children enjoyed the cats that the cranky people were shoving with their feet,. Then we left.

A waste of time.

And an exercise in saying, "Oh, well. Not every part of a vacation can be perfect. Having the expectation that it be so only adds to the straight jacket of pressure that precludes joy." I said it, but I'm not sure my heart was in accordance. I was annoyed. If we had felt better, we could have erased the bad taste the tonnara left in our mouths with a trip to the treat that the Zingaro Nature Preserve is sure to be. Instead, we contented ourselves with Scopello beaches, and another dose of Advil.

Have you been sick in a foreign country? Or do you have thoughts about Scopello you can share? Leave a comment or click the share button below!