Sicily - South West← Back to all destinations
Sicily, triangle of intensities, has a history of cultural rape, occupation and exploitation yet it remains fiercely independent and a law unto itself.
A fairytale land of wealth and beauty stolen by invaders, where paradise turns into poverty, hope is warped into despair, the Sicilian language is the only one in the world without a future tense.
Yet for all that, Sicily is the most rewarding of any of the Mediterranean islands; wonderful food - swordfish involtini alone is sufficient to breathe life into the most jaded palate - fabulous ruins of ancient temples and layer upon layer of civilizations all melded into an extraordinary club sandwich of styles, architecture and culture.
Sicily provides a wake-up call to the spirit and a shot of sensuality to the brain which you won’t find in any other Mediterranean country. For the sleepy times in which we live, that renders any trip to this beautiful island priceless.
Decaying, dusty Palermo offers the visiting yachtsman friendliness and a welcome in total juxtaposition to the outside world’s view of its associations with the Cosa Nostra. The ancient historical centre is stuffed to the gunnels with palaces, churches and museums as well as wonderful markets and restaurants. Well worth arriving here a day or two early to savour the hurly-burly of the capital city before heading off for some wonderfully remote destinations on this circumnavigation of the island. An afternoon departure for forty mile passage out to the islands sees the mainland slipping slowly beneath the horizon and the remote mass of Ustica beckoning in the long shadows of evening.
Since the 1960’s Ustica has been the gathering point for the worlds scuba divers in July each year and its crystal clear waters and mind-boggling selection of marine wildlife makes it a paradise at any time for snorkelers and swimmers. The brightly painted town contains 90% of the island population and is a lovely place to awake. The morning is spent exploring the myriad caves that extend to the south of the ancient little port of Cala Sta Maria. The 300 ft long Grotta Azzura is famed for its colour and with its stalactite-laden neighbour, the Grotta Pastizza, are both must-sees. A lunch-time steam takes the yacht to the Egadi archipelago of three islands, Favignana, Levanzo and Maréttimo. Each has a personality of its own – Favignana, the largest is the island of tufa, tuna and tourism, dinky little Levanzo is dry and rocky with fabulous Palaeolithic engravings. Maréttimo is mountainous with fascinating rock formations and sea grottos and a fishing village that has hardly been touched by the passage of time and this is the destination tonight.
The total island population of 80 souls in engaged in fishing and with no restaurants or hotels the local invite visitors into their homes - a wonderful treat. Plans for development of the island have been gently ignored - in typical Sicilian style leaving this as a beguiling time warp. Up the coast to the north is the lovely Grotta Camello and beyond a secret beacjh with a precipitous climb up to the Saracen Castello di Punta Troia with stupendous views over the island and the sea. A lazy afternoon exploring the rocky coastline before heading across the straits to Marsala and the chance to taste some of the eponymous wines.
The choice at this point will divide the classical interests from the hedonistic. The latter will opt for a sail out to the very trendy island of Pantelleria and a night there before returning to Syracuse on the mainland. Pantelleria is the summer home for the uber- fashionistas and at night the island heaves with life and excitement. In the day the seas are full of marine life and lobsters and ashore the traditional squat dammusi are the typical local house. For those with classical bent, the southern coast of Sicily is littered with Greco-Roman remains and no visit to the island is complete without experiencing at least a couple of these fabulous architectural wonders. Selinunte is a short sail east and the site of the ancient Greek city of Selinus dating back to 650BC and standing right on the seashore.
Overnighting in the pretty bay of Palma di Montechiaro, the next morning a visit to the fantastic Agrigento is a must. The most opulent of the Grecian cities, Akragas’, now modern Agrigento, Valley of the Temples sprawls down to the water. “Valley” is something of a misnomer, the six temples stand on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, unmissable from the sea. This place is well worth several hours’ exploration; for many Agrigento eclipses the Parthenon in its atmosphere and beauty – and is rather less crowded. An afternoon and early evening steam along the coat brings the yacht to Capo Pássero, the south-eastern extremity of Sicily and the bay of Portopalo beneath the extraordinary Castello Tafuri.
A morning steam up the coast leads to modern Syracuse and its satellite island of Ortygia. One of the most stunning locations of any port-city – “it’s fame is not undeserved” in the words of Cicero - Syracusa was the New York of ancient Greece whose spiritual heart lies in the island city of Ortygia. Plato came here to teach philosophy, Archimedes invented his brilliant war-machines to defend the city against the Romans, the light is brilliant and at every step, there is evermore evidence of its colourful history of adaptability. The Cathedral was once the temple of Athena and the Doric columns have been incorporated into a stunning Christian building. Ortygia, the quail in Greek, is a warren of ancient streets and baroque mansions and there are a plethora of churches, museums and ancient Greek structures to satisfy the most ardent students of archaeology. But sitting on a street corner in one of the many delightful cafés watching the Ortygians go about their business is an equally fascinating pastime. Syracuse is well worth a day’s exploration.
An early morning start across the bay of Catania for Taormina and one of the most romantic places in Italy if not the whole Mediterranean. A spectacular situation overlooking the sea with it little ancient Greek theatre, the streets of this lovely town are filled with beautiful buildings, swathed in bougainvillea and everywhere the scent of lemon and orange groves. Behind Taormina the omni-present Mount Etna, blue and snow clad, forms a spectacular backdrop. A walk up to Castelmola on the slopes of Mte Venere is rewarded with spectacular panoramas and the local almond wine – either being ample recompense for the five kilometre walk! Overnight in the bay with the resort town of Giardini Naxos nearby for those wanting a little post-dinner entertainment.
A two hour steam across the bay to Catania with its wonderful markets and beautiful baroque mansions, one of which incorporates a complete Roman mosaic floor. Good last minute opportunities for typical Sicilian gastronomic souvenirs and the international airport is a short drive out of the city.
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