Marsala, the Arab “Marsa Allah” –Harbour of God–, is known in the whole world for one thing: Wine!

But the city does not only feature plenty of wines to taste in the town’s bars, enotecas and restaurants, there are also the great surroundings to be explored, wineries and vineyards, olive oil farmhouses and some historic sites.

As in most of the Sicilian towns they were all here: Cathaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Vandals.

The huge port was built under the Carthaginians in the year 396 BC. Some 450 years later the Romans recognized the town’s potential, and used it as a point for trading with other Mediterranean peoples, and for some empire expansion into North Africa. It must have been a very beautiful town at these times, Cicero spent some time there and described Marsala as “a wonderful city”. Marsala and its surroundings have been influenced more by the Arabs than by the Normans, unlike Palermo, Monreale and Cefalù.

It were the Arabs who turned the city once again into a trade centre and thriving port.

A big day in Marsala’s –and Italy’s– history was May 11, 1860 when Garibaldi’s troops landed in Marsala, and the unification of Italy began.

The date went down in Italian history as the “Landing of the Thousand”.

This is a land of sea, countryside, hills, dominated by sun and the great history of the Mediterranean: historical, archaeological, and natural sites, culinary traditions that it is possible to learn along the ‘Strada del Vino di Marsala’, with its routes which combine Mediterranean Sea and Sicilian countryside.

There are reeds, scattered houses, and vineyards covering small patches of land and lots of ‘bagli’, extraordinary country buildings which have become rural farmhouses, inns, wineries. The sea, characterized by wonderful colours, is dotted with salt pans which produce what is considered the best salt in the world.


Wine, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Gastronomy. These are the most important highlights of Marsala in addition to wonderful landscapes and archaeological sites which are not too far away from this town

Marsala and Marsala Wine

An English story with a Sicilian flavour!

The Marsala Wine comes from the western lands of Sicily and its name derives from the homonymous town.

The Marsala is the oldest Italian DOC wine, with an average alcohol content of about 18 degrees.

The aromatic and sugary richness of the grapes of Marsala is born from the method of growing them in a ‘sapling’ style, a very ancient method, dating back to the culture of vine itself.

The vineyard is placed in a small basin with a particular pruning, so developing its clusters in the lowest part of the plant, almost in contact with the ground, while its many leaves create a shadow cone, protecting them from the sun and refreshing the underlying ground.

This is a special form of agriculture, ideal for the sunny climate of these lands, a traditional practice which just requires hard manual work, but gives few, but exceptional grapes for the most important Marsala.

English by chance and thanks to a storm

The Marsala wine owes its birth to a storm which in 1773 forced John Woodhouse, a rich and famous merchant of Liverpool, to land with his ship in the port of Marsala instead of Mazara del Vallo, where he was going to close a deal.

When he landed in this Sicilian town, in order to celebrate his lucky escape, Woodhouse went into a tavern in the port, where he tasted the ‘Perpetum’, a strong local wine similar to Madeira or Porto, which were so appreciated by English people.

So he decided to buy a large supply of that wine, which he wanted to sell in England.

However, at that time the wine transport by sea involved serious problems regarding conservation. Woodhouse added an amount of alcohol to those barrels of wine, so increasing the alcohol content of that wine and ensuring its preservation up to its destination.

The first expedition was an incredible success. All the barrels were sold in a few days and this convinced Woodhouse to return permanently to Sicily in order to develop a new and stable business.

At the end of the 18th century, the Marsala wine was habitually drunk on all Her Majesty’s ships.

Admiral Nelson, too, used to celebrate his victories with Woodhouse’s Marsala wine and, just after the naval battle of Trafalgar, the Marsala began to be proposed as a ‘wine of victory’.

Only in 1832 we finally find an Italian name among the manufacturers of Marsala, Vincenzo FLORIO, who still today is one of the leading and best-known manufacturers of this valuable wine.

I Leoni di Sicilia – The Lions of Sicily
One of the most successful Italian books, is a novel written by Stefania Auci narrating FLORIO family’s captivating history: entrepreneurs, aficionados and visionaries, adventurers and art lovers that pushed Sicily into modernity. READ MORE

Marsala and the Extra Virgin Olive Oil

From the Phoenician era!

The Sicilian extra virgin olive oil is from the Phoenician era, when the Phoenicians introduced the cultivation of olive trees. The climate of the island is very favorable to the production of extra virgin olive oil found almost everywhere.

Is the olive oil of Sicily overlooked? Maybe, but the extra virgin production of the likes of Umbria, Tuscany and Puglia does tend to remain top of mind.

Nevertheless, the olive varieties of this wonderful island were present long before those regions even existed.

The cultivation of olive trees in Sicily has ancient roots, thousands of years.

It was the Phoenicians and the Mycenaeans who brought this plant to the island, native to the regions north-east of the Caspian Sea.

The Greeks of Sicily, then, gave great importance to the olive tree so that eradicating even a single tree was a penalty of exile. Its history has had alternate phases, with the decline of the Roman Empire and the Arab domination in Sicily, the cultivation of the olive tree was neglected in favour of other species, like citrus.

Marsala Salt and Ancient Saltpans

Dating back as far as the reign of the Phoenicians some 2700 years ago!

Dating back as far as the reign of the Phoenicians some 2700 years ago, the ancient salt pans of western Sicily between Trapani and Marsala have played a hugely important role in the daily life of thousands of Mediterranean and European people for generations.

Along the western coast of Sicily, the production of salt reached its peak in the 1860s, with 31 salt pans producing over 100,000 tonnes per year, exported as far afield as Norway and Russia.

During this period, salt was a vital method of preserving foods and demand for it was high. Today, the salt here is primarily produced for a niche market, such as the gastronomes who swear by the salt’s unique qualities.

Being 100% natural and containing a higher proportion of potassium and magnesium, the flavour of Sicilian salt is enhanced and works exceptionally well with fish dishes.

How do they produce salt in Sicily?

Salt production in Sicily is particularly successful thanks to the hot summers full of sunshine and the relative lack of tide, the Mediterranean Sea rising and falling by only a few centimetres every day. In Sicily’s salt pan region, shallow pools known as saline work as the fields for salt production.

The saline closest to the sea are filled with seawater.

Then, thanks to the climate and occasional winds blowing in from Africa, the water evaporates down to a brine. When this happens, the mixture is continuously thinned by pumping it into saline pools further inland.

This used to be the job of windmills, many of which still stand today, but is now mainly done by industrial pumps. Eventually, a crust of salt crystals begins to form before the mixture dries completely, leaving beautiful white salt behind.

Salt harvesting season lasts from around June to September, during which workers will pile the salt high into the air, which helps with the drying process.

These mounds, sometimes up to three metres high and ten metres long, are then covered in makeshift terracotta tiles to protect them from the rain.

Where can you see Salt Pans in Sicily?

Stagnone, the largest lagoon in Italy, is the main area of salt production, situated just a few miles north of Marsala, and is well worth a visit. Windmills dot the horizon at the Stagnone’s salt pans – a remnant of how salt was once produced, pumping water through the sluice gates in and out of the various basins.

Beneath the road and the basins lie piles of harvested salt covered with terracotta tiles.

There are salt works at Marsala which were founded by the Phoenicians and are still used to make organic sea salt.

If you’d like to learn more about the salt pans of western Sicily while on your holiday, a museum dedicated to the salt industry can be found on the banks of the lagoon midway between Marsala and Trapani, telling the story of how the salt pans developed and functioned throughout the centuries.

The salt pans between Marsala and Trapani are of particular interest for their flora and fauna, since they are a refuge to thousands of migrating birds every year.

The Riserva Naturale Il Stagnone is also home to the island of Mothya, once the most important settlement of the Carthaginians in Sicily.

Alternatively, you can simply take in the spectacular views offered as you walk along the salt pans, which are particularly dazzling at sunset.

Along the old salt road, in front of the Old Salt Mill Museum “Ettore e Infersa” you can see the island of Mozia.

From here, you can take a ferry to join the archaeological site of Mothya. Its ancient Phoenician city still stands, including a massive shipyard and sacrificial altar.

There is a stone road under the sea which the Phoenicians used to transport barrels of wine from the island – where they had established vinyards – to the mainland by horse-drawn cart (in about 3 feet of water): The Sicilians were still using it till the 1950’s.

A visit to both, the islet and the mill is highly recommended. Just pack some pick nick, head to the Stagnone pier and hop on a boat.

Marsala TOP 4 dishes

Most popular traditional food!

Pesto alla Trapanese
This Sicilian cousin to the popular pesto alla Genovese is prepared with fresh basil, almonds, garlic, olive oil, and ripe tomatoes. Traditionally, this pesto is prepared in a mortar, producing a chunky sauce with contrasting red and green colors.

  • 1 handful of cherry tomatoes (pomodoro piccolo)
  • Half a handful of blanched almonds, lightly toasted in a frying pan
  • Half a handful of basil leaves
  • Half a handful of pecorino, grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic


Busiate is an Italian pasta variety originating from Trapani in Western Sicily. The pasta is made from durum wheat flour and water (eggs are not used). Although the pasta is available in dried form, many Sicilians prefer the homemade variety.


Cous Cous
Sicilian cuisine is very diverse, as it has been influenced by the many cultures that visited its wonderful land in ancient times. Cous Cous is a very important example. Cous Cous is typically a traditional Moroccan dish, but while in the African coast it is prepared with meat and vegetables, in Sicily – and more precisely in Trapani – it is seasoned with fresh fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea.

The origins of Cous Cous alla Trapanese are therefore very ancient, but this dish continues to amaze and delight the palates of the Sicilians even today.


Cassatelle are sweets typical of the province of Trapani. They are traditionally made with sheep milk ricotta. It is a poor man’s dish, which means it won’t cost you much to make and it is made with local ingredients (Sicilian that is, but all easily available everywhere nowadays).  They are basically shallow fried crescents of dough filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate and dusted with icing sugar.  They are best eaten hot, when the chocolate melts and the ricotta is creamy and velvety.


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