The Islands of Sicily
As Gabriel Garcìa Màrquez once said “Going to Sicily is better than going to the moon.” And we couldn’t agree more! With thousands of kilometres of coastline, archipelagos, islets and islands, Sicily is a true fanta-sea world. To really live, eat and breathe this region, however, one must organize an outing to the islands. From the sparkling volcanic Aeolian islands to the heavenly Pelagie including sun-bleached Lampedusa to the historic Egadi to the VIP glamour of Pantelleria to the tiny Baroque Ortigia, these Mediterranean jewels offer the perfect summer escape. An extraordinary mix of sand, seascape views and Sicilian culinary traditions, the region truly has an island for anyone!
The Aeolian islands are perhaps the most familiar Sicilian archipelago for foreign travellers. Located northeast of Sicily’s mainland, off the coast of Milazzo and easily reachable by ferries and hydrofoils from Milazzo, Palermo, Messina and Naples, the islands are named after the god of wind, Aeolus. According to Greek mythology, Aeolus established residence here and it is also said that the islands temporarily sheltered Odysseus during his travels, and it is where he met the cyclops, Polyphemus.
The seven islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site and include Salina, famous for its capers and sweet Malvasia wine, Lipari, the largest and most visited, and Panarea, the smallest of the seven, known for its star-studded fashionable summer nightlife. The two minor westerly islands, Alicudi and Filicudi, are the most wild and remote. Alicudi is a true nature reserve with few homes and even less shops, perfect for those seeking absolute privacy and relaxation. Filicudi boasts crystal clear waters, pebble beaches and stretches of rocky coastline. Vulcano, is indeed as it sounds and famous for fanghi (mud) baths and hot springs, along with its characteristic sulphurous aroma! Finally, Stromboli is all drama, especially given that it’s in permanent eruption! One of the most active volcanoes in Europe, it’s worth an ascent when conditions permit.
On the northwest side of Sicily lies the Egadi Archipelago, just off of Trapani, which includes Favignana (the largest of the three), Levanzo and Marettimo, along with the islets of Formica and Maraone. The largest protected marine area in Europe, the islands are also testimony to the history of the western world thanks to great underwater archaeological findings. Favignana has become famous for its tuna fishing business, while Marettimo is the highest and rockiest (great for a hike!) and also the most peaceful. According to Greek mythology, the island was part of Ithaca, the ancient homeland of Ulysses. Levanzo is the smallest and most exquisite with sparkling crystal-clear water and quaint white homes dotting its shoreline.
From here, we head directly south to Pantelleria. Located on the southwest coast, the island is amongst Sicily’s largest and just 70 km from Africa. Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts and beach goers will all do well here thanks to stunning and diverse landscapes. We highly recommend a jaunt to the Specchio di Venere (Venus’s Mirror), a sulphurous green lake where apparently Venus loved to go dip her toes and see her reflection, comparing her beauty to that of her rival, Psyche.
Situated farther south, the heavenly paradise of the Pelagie Archipelago is more than a hop, skip and a jump from Sicily’s mainland! Located between Tunisia and Malta and closer to Africa than Italy, the trio of Lampedusa, Linosa and the uninhabited Lampione (just a lighthouse!) comprise Italy’s southernmost territories. The perfect haven for diving enthusiasts, the islands offer unrivalled wildlife preserve with Caretta caretta turtles, poseidon fish, parrot fish and lobsters. Lampedusa is a fishing centre and its white sandy shores boasts some of the Mediterranean’s most stunning beaches including Cala Madonna, Cala Pulcino, and the unsurpassed Rabbit Beach, while Linosa charms with its pastel-coloured dwellings.
Heading back towards Sicily’s mainland, one encounters the tiny Baroque island of Ortigia just off the south-eastern coast. Known as the città vecchia (old city) and historical centre of Siracusa, Ortigia was shaped over millennia by the sea and Sirocco winds, acting as a halfway point between East and West, Carthage and Rome. Founded by Corinthian colonists in 734 BC, Ortigia was once the largest city in the ancient world, welcoming Greek and Christian ships to its port. Nearly 3,000 years later, the island’s timeless beauty endures with historic palazzi, baroque piazzas, a winding labyrinth of mediaeval paths lined with quaint artisanal shops and dazzling blue sea. Don’t miss a trip to the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis before you head home, one of Sicily’s (and Italy’s!) best archaeological sites.