Are you thinking to spend your Christmas in Sicily? It is a good idea, if you know where to go and what to do. For this reason, I want to invite you to read my new travel guide about a Sicilian village where you can spend a fabulous and unforgettable Christmas vacation. My travel guide is about a very ancient Sicilian village, one where time has stopped over 100 years ago. If you visit it, you’ll notice that its look is very rural and the streets are just like the ones of the early years of the past century. Just for this feature, you could also see old women looking out the windows with a black handkerchief tied to the neck. This village is Custonaci. Its main feature is that it is surrounded from ancient rocky caves that have a high archaeological relevance. It is also surrounded by picturesque grottos, where every year, the locals organize an evocative living nativity scene. Follow and read the following paragraphs to get your first tourist information about this pretty Sicilian village to spend your Christmas in Sicily.
Custonaci is a small and charming Sicilian village in the province of Trapani. It has not over 5600 inhabitants. It is nearby Erice, San Vito Lo Capo and is only 13 km from the city of Trapani. Thanks to a tour to Custonaci, you can also admire the stunning nature reserve of Cofano Mount. But let’s go on in small steps. I want to start talking about the village, in order you understand why you must spend Christmas here. Placed to the eastern tip of Bonaria Gulf, Custonaci lies on a low hill, less than 200 meters above the sea level. Among its borders, as I just said, you’ll find the wonderful beach of San Vito Lo Capo, the silent village of Erice and the likewise charming town of Castellamare del Golfo. Custonaci overlooks the North-Western part of the Tyrrhenian sea, giving rise to the sea village of Cornino. Inside, the territory of Custonaci splits in picturesque districts, namely: Sperone, Assieni, Santa Lucia-Piano Alastre, Purgatorio, Baglio Messina, Baglio Mogli Belle and Scurati. The latter is the most picturesque one. Just in Scurati, you can admire ancient grottos, where archaeologists, scholars and scientists discovered ancient prehistoric findings, such as paints, ancient graffiti and tools. One of these grottos is called Mangiapane and every year, for Christmas, it hosts a living nativity scene. The representation is very evocative and it is absolutely to see during Christmas holidays. This could be the excuse to visit Custonaci for Christmas.
The history of Custonaci is very similar to many Sicilian countries. In 1241, the village was ruled by Frederick II of Swabia who decided to split the territory in several counties. The counties were given to the wealthiest families of Erice to manage them. The marble coast included seven counties with 36 lands to grow. Around the territory, they were formed the so called bagli, structures aimed to manage farming activities and the relating county. Around the Baglio, it was an inhabited village. One the most important bagli is Baglio Cofano on Cofano mount, which was abandoned at the end of the second world war. A baglio was as a large courtyard surrounding a farming land. Today, you can see the bagli attached to the homes in the Sicilian countryside. In the early years of the past century, Custonaci was included in the city of Erice, namely the municipality of Monte San Giuliano. Thanks to marble extraction from its rocky caves, Custonaci gained its independence from Erice in 1950. Today it is regarded as the most important marble producers of Italy and Europe after Massa Carrara.
What to see in Custonaci
In Custonaci you can see the sanctuary of Maria Santissima, the grottos of Scurati, that during Christmas holidays host a stunning living nativity scene, the bay of Cornino, the marble museum and the nature reserve of Cofano Mount with the tonnara.
Sanctuary of Custonaci
The sanctuary of Maria Santissima of Custonaci was built in 1500 and renovated in the past century. This is the most important monument in the village. It is also a religious place and a destination for pilgrims. The external façade with arched entrance and the internal new gothic rosette is a witness of the renovation works. Very impressive is the magnificent stair and the churchyard floor paved with stone pebbles. In this sanctuary you can admire a painting about the Virgin Mary sitting on a throne with her son and crowned by Angels. Painted in 1460, the Virgin has a cloak decorated with pod pots and ears of corn. The apse of the sanctuary keeps the painting and the most pompous architectural baroque furniture of Trapani: a great marbled vault surrounded by a marble statue of the Virgin and four wood statues. Here, you can also admire other magnificent statues, paintings and a wooden carved chorus.
To understand the tourist relevance of these grottos, imagine to dive into the secret folds of history and to know one the places where the human beings have settled since the Paleolithic. Well, this place comprises just the grottos of Scurati, namely one of the districts of Custonaci. As I said, in these grottos, archaeologists found many ancient tools, graffiti and animal bones dating back to the Superior Paleolithic. One of the most evocative findings is represented by the sea snails, they prove that the grottos were immersed in the waters of the Mediterranean sea. These grottos are: Crocifisso grotto, beyond the little religious chapel on Cofano mount, Rumera grotto, used as a stronghold against the Saracen attacks , Cufuni grotto with its stunning limestone walls, stalactites and stalagmites, and Mangiapane grotto. The latter is not only a grotto, but a miniature village. Inside, it contains homes, kitchens, stables, stores. In short, this grotto is a coffer amid rocky walls. For this stunning feature, this grotto is used for Christmas to organize a touching living nativity scene.
Mangiapane grotto, a beautiful location of a living nativity scene
The grotto is called Mangiapane because belonged to the namesake family. The family established in this grotto in 1819 and built a real village. Unfortunately, due to the marble extraction, the family was evicted from this grotto some years later. Today, the ancient houses of Mangiapane grotto are uninhabited, but everything remained like at that time. Inside them , as in an enormous museum, you can admire the traditional tools of over 70 old Sicilian crafts. The entrance of the grotto is about 60 meters above the sea level, on the slopes of Cofano Mount. The road to the grotto is well signposted, but you can also use Google maps to find it. At the entrance, you’ll met a kind gentleman who tells you the history of the grotto. To visit it, you must pay a ticket of three euros. This money will support the association which takes care of this place. There are no travel guides, no captions to help you visit the grotto, but, maybe it is wonderful to explore and enjoy the peace of this place and travel back in time. The vision is pretty evocative and fairly scenic, you walk amid shoemaker and carpenter shops, there is a kitchen with a very old stone oven, bedrooms and stables. Here, time has stopped! The grotto has hosted some episodes of the famous tv movie Inspector Montalbano and as I said, since 1983, every year , becomes the charming location of a living nativity scene organized during Christmas holidays.
The living nativity scene is, above all, a picturesque event because is also a witness of the agricultural Sicilian tradition. The scene is starred by 160 artists, peasants and artisans coming from the entire Sicily and locals who, voluntarily, besides playing the birth of child Jesus in the grotto, play some scenes of traditional crafts, like in a movie. For instance, housewives prepare pasta and bake bread, shepherds milk cows and make Sicilian cheese. That is the traditional and ancient Sicily, which plays the role of itself. Here is as an entire village takes part the sacred nativity scene and becomes a living museum. To visit the living nativity scene, you must pay a ticket of 10 euros, if you book online, you pay 9.50 euros. For children, ticket is 5 euros, 4.50 if you book online. Babies from 0 to 3 years and disabled people ( included their guide) can visit the nativity scene for free. It is better you book personally because the online ticket office closes every day as soon as the one in the center of the town opens. The ticket includes shuttle bus from the downtown to the grotto and vice versa, living nativity scene tour and typical food tasting.
If you want to visit this unforgettable and evocative event, you must know it holds every year in December, 25, 26, 27,28,29,30 and in January 5,6,7. For more information, you can visit this website: http://presepecustonaci.it/.
Instead, if you want to see other stunning images about Mangiapane grotto, see this website.
Custonaci beach – Cornino bay
If you visit Custonaci in the summer, you mustn’t miss a tour to the beach, namely Cornino bay. It is in a generous and large piece of land, at the foot of Cofano Mount. It is included in the namesake nature reserve of the mount. It is also near to Mangiapane grotto. With a stunning rural landscape and with its charming sights, Cornino bay is one of the most beautiful beaches of Western Sicily. It is usually a calm place if you visit it in the spring or in the early days of September. The seabed and shoreline is sandy and the waters are crystal and glittering as you have ever seen in your lifetime. Cornino bay has a free zone and an outfitted area with bathhouse offering sunchair, sunbed, beach chairs, bar, rental cycle, bar and a small restaurant. To rent a space in the bathhouse, the price is 30 euros per day. I suggest that you visit the bay during your Christmas vacation in Sicily. Thanks to the Mediterranean weather, you could have the luck to enjoy a sunny day in December, on the beach!
Marble Museum of Custonaci
Opened in 2017, the marble museum is placed in Europa square, in the district of Sperone. Before opening the museum , researches and studies have been conducted. The museum hall contains large internal communicating rooms , mixed light and an effective meeting room. In this museum, you can see marble samples and work tools used in the marble caves in the 1950s.
Nature reserve Cofano mount
Less popular than the nearby Zingaro nature reserve, the nature reserve of Cofano mount is located between the two villages of Custonaci and Castelluzzo. It strikes for the beauty of its coasts, for its grassland and large growing of palma nana ( the same plant used to make the Sicilian coffa bag). The nature reserve has also an abundant fauna, among it, the pilgrim falcon stands out. In this reserve, there is a watching tower dating back to the XVI century and built to guard the tonnara, that in the past centuries was used to shelve the boats of the tuna fishermen. This zone appears to be scarcely inhabited still today, the tower is nestled in the rocky shoreline , a few steps from the sea and alongside dispersed rural houses , among prickly pears, almond trees and ash trees, all grown, in small stretches. It always lies at the foot of Cofano Mount. The nature reserve offers you one the most rocky landscapes of Sicily, with high walls, which are suitable for trekking and climbing lovers. You can also hike the long trails leading to the cave of white marble. You can reach the nature reserve from Palermo and Trapani, through the A29 highway ( fork to Castellamare del Golfo) and SS 187. Just follow the directions to Custonaci , Castelluzzo and San Vito Lo Capo.
Hotels in Custonaci
In Custonaci, you can find hotels, apartments and B&B that are as picturesque as the same village. Their vintage stye and architecture will let you spend a unforgettable vacation in the real heart of Western Sicily. Moreover, they are located in a favorable position that makes you able to reach the attractions I mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
To book hotels and accommodations in the picturesque village of Custonaci, I invite you to see this wonderful list of hotels.
Featured image: www.turismotrapani.com
Image in the tourist information paragraph: http://www.italianways.com/
Custonaci sanctuary: Andrea Albini – Panoramio
Scurati grottos: Jim Waddington Flickr
Mangiapane grotto with sicilian cart: Felipe Garcia Flickr
Living nativity scene with women and with child Jesus: http://presepecustonaci.it
Custonaci beach – Cornino bay: ITERDOMUS Flickr
Marble museum: http://comunecustonaci.it
Nature reserve Cofano mount: http://www.castelluzzo.net/