ERICE, Italy — “You don’t come here to see sights, you come here to be here,” I was told by one native of this walled town that crowns an isolated mountain 2,400 feet above the port city of Trapani in northwestern Sicily. I was well into my week’s stay by then, but even days earlier, as the switchback road with its heart-stopping drop-offs first carried me upward, I began to sense that Erice would stand distinct from the surrounding countryside of intense heat and sun, olive groves and vineyards. I was ascending toward a cool, gray, mist-shrouded world.
During my stay, the town’s singular perch, which once provided a natural defensive position for the island’s numerous occupiers — Greeks, Cathaginians, Phoenicians, Romans, and Normans among them — afforded me unlimited vistas of seas and the other Sicily below. The light was always changing over Trapani to the west and south, its crescent beach and salt pans lapped by the Mediterranean. To the north the limestone slopes of another isolated peak, Monte Cofano, sometimes ran red, then blue, then ochre, its colors reflected in the Tyrrhenian Sea below.