Sail in any Direction, and Expect the Unexpected
Sicily is Italy's largest island with a land area of 25,706 sq km (9,925 sq miles), as well as being the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
Because of its strategic location (latitude 38° north), Sicily has been invaded countless times over the centuries; by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards. Each occupier left behind their cultural influences that have blended to give Sicily its own distinctive personality in its architecture, cuisine and customs. A visit to Sicily is certainly an experience to treasure, and that's without taking account of all the great sailing to be had.
There are bays and ports well worth stopping into all around the island of Sicily. The Aeolian and Egadi island groups are also magnets for travellers, making this a vast sailing destination too big to do justice in seven or even 14 days. So many charterers restrict their Sicilian sailing holiday to the northern coast, visiting the city of Palermo, historical Cefalù and delightful Portarosa. But with a little planning, two whole new worlds open up to you.
Using Palermo as your northern Sicilian base, it's just a short sail to either or both island groups - an interesting cruise along the coast. Castellammere del Golfo, Trapani and Marsala (west) and the medieval town of Cafalu and the alternative base of Portorosa (east) all worth visiting.
The Aeolian Islands
Rising out of the Tyrrhenian Sea some fifteen miles off the Sicilian coast, the Aeolian Islands - Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Vulcano, Panarea, Filicudi and Alicudi — with their black beaches of volcanic soil and dazzling clear light, have everything to make your yacht charter an unforgettable experience.
The history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is recorded back at least 5,000 years, and traces of human presence can be found in the form of prehistoric villages, ruins, excavations, pottery and tools. The setting is a volcanic one, “Fire above and below” is how one writer describes the ambience, "baking under the constant glare of a Sicilian sun."
Colourful fishing boats line lively ports, filled with charming cafes, bars and restaurants. While the islands’ interiors offer the most varied and contrasting landscapes and scenery, the crystal clear water in sheltered bays and coves, volcanic activity, isolated reefs, starkly-painted houses and archaeological sites are unmatched for beauty and drama. The food and wine are simply extraordinary, and some of the islands offer the rare experience of an almost vehicle-free environment.
Sailing here is away from it all, detached from the highly populated tourist tracks. Although Italians have been holidaying in the Aeolian islands for centuries, the rest of the world is only just now awaking to their charms.
Combine your trip to the Aeolian Islands with a tour of Sicily, or travel to the 16th Century Calabrian town of Tropea, and use that as your base for this great Mediterranean charter holiday option.
The Egadi Islands
Lying just to Sicily's west, the Egadi islands are increasingly being added to itineraries where time permits.
The Ergadis are a well-kept secret, somewhat playing second fiddle to the Aeolians on the charter sailing map. These small islands have remained largely unchanged over the period of their long history. On charter you can expect to find isolated bays in which to anchor, deserted mountain paths on which to walk, and a local populace of around 5,000 spread over the three islands who go about life at a very relaxing pace. As an ultimate charter sailing holiday destination, the Egadis are hard to beat. Read more about the Egadi islands here.
Southern Sicily - west
If a short charter is all there's time for and Southern Sicily is your destination, the area's main charter base is at Marina di Ragusa, from where you may sail west or east as time and inclinations allow. To reach the Egadi Islands and have time to enjoy them, you would need a full seven days out of Marina di Ragusa. Eastwards it's a similar distance to Reggio Calabria at the very toe of mainland Italy. So a charter taking in both southern Sicily and Malta requires a two-week charter at minimum.
It's 35 nautical miles from Marina di Ragusa westward to Licata, a town of 37,000 with a modern marina. While not a tourist hot spot, Licata is genuine and the people friendly. All services are available and it's a nice walk to the 16th century fortress Castel Sant'Angelo that stands guard above the town. On a leisurely coastal cruise, a number of attractive beaches in the area offer a diversion for lunch and a swim. For a shorter journey west from Ragusa, the town of Gela offers another overnight option.
Continuing west, it's a slightly longer sail of 50 nm to Sciaccia, a well-preserved town with Greek origins that like so many others along this coast is an important fishing port. Once more, marina availability makes stopping over convenient and the prices in this part of Sicily are considered very reasonable. Another option in the area is the resort town of Porto Palo di Menfi, a large harbour with plenty of places to anchor.
Along the way you sail past the UNESCO World Heritage -designated Valley of the Temples at Porto Empedocle. The marina here is small and often full, so it pays to plan ahead, and there may be other options. The main attraction is a short taxi ride from the port, a collection considered one of the very best the best of the ancient Greek world and a most important monument to Sicily's classical culture.
Pass by or sail in proximity to a number of important centres: Mazara del Vallo is one of Italy's largest fishing ports, Marsala is known for its wine, and Trapani is an important charter base in its own right, the nearest port to Sardinia. All have berthing facilities, meaning you are never far from services on a charter in this part of Sicily.
Southern Sicily - east
Sailing east then north from Ragusa (an attractive town in its own right that's well worth exploring), you are in the vicinity of what some consider the best of Sicily, an area of glorious baroque architecture counterpointed against a landscape of rugged beauty. This is home to some of Sicily's best beaches, best wines, and most special food delicacies.
First stop on a Ragusa-based itinerary may well be Marzamemi, after rounding Sicily's south eastern corner at Isola delle Correnti. Marzamemi is another of those ubiquitous fishing villages along this coast, a picturesque old town with marina and provisioning facilities. From there it's a short hop with a fair breeze to the large natural harbour of Syracuse. Early arrival means all the more time to get ashore and delight in this most famous example of Sicily's timeless beauty. Ancient ruins abound, and you may even get a chance to attend a performance at the Greek Amphitheatre (in season, late spring/early summer). Syracuse offers mooring stern-to with anchor at no charge.
From Syracuse, the popular destinations of Catania, Riposto and Taormina are all within a leisurely day's sail, with plenty of choice for exploring this coastline in some detail depending on time. At Catania, Sicily's second largest city, there are several yacht clubs offering hosting facilities. The old town has Unesco World Heritage listing for its architectural history. Further north, Riposto has excellent overnight boat accommodation, while the attractive coastal area around the resort town of Taormina is suitable for anchoring. In Taormina itself moorings are available.
Overlooking all three ports is brooding Mt Etna, accessed from any of them through the culturally-rich rural hinterland that surrounds it. The volcano is in an almost constant state of activity, and ash can be a nuisance when sailing this coast. On the other hand, the fertile lower slopes of the mountain produce some of the finest produce around, all just waiting to be enjoyed while on charter.
At this point you've seen the best of southern/eastern Sicily, and if you still have the time on your seven-day charter out of Ragusa, consider backtracking from Taormina and checking out places you may have missed earlier. Or to complete the course, continue into the Straits of Messina. The city of Messina offers modern marina facilities as a place to stopover, or alternative accommodation may be found three miles across the strait on the Italian mainland at Reggio di Calabria. Anchoring is prohibited in the whole Straits of Messina area.