Places to Include in a Malta/Southern Sicily Sailing Holiday
The capital Valletta is the usual point of entry to Malta. A city with a rich history and a Unesco Heritage Site, Valletta was founded by the Knights of St John in the 16th century as a haven for soldiers and pilgrims engaged in the Crusades, Valletta became a fortress of strategic importance in the warring between Mediterranean powers. Now supporting a significant tourist industry, Valletta is a great place to start your Maltese charter.
Once the sights are seen in the old part of Valletta, or if coming directly from Malta International Airport, it's only a 15-20 minute taxi ride to Roland Marina to connect with your charter boat.
Malta's size makes it an ideal destination for a leisurely seven-day charter. In the tourist literature the western islands of Gozo and Comino are the most talked-about, so suggested itineraries tend to chart a course in their direction from base, thus circumnavigating Malta counter-clockwise.
It's a leisurely day sail to Gozo, where most charterers aim to end their first full day at the fishing village of Mgarr ix-Xini, on the south side of the island. On the way there's the north-western corner of Malta island to discover.
It's worth having a full day to explore Gozo, given the fame of the island's dive and snorkeling sites such as the Blue Hole and Coral Gardens, and attractions like the Inland Sea and the remains of the Azure Window, which partyially collapsed in 2017. There are a number of beaches to choose for a lunch stop. Perhaps Rampla Bay with its orange sand, from where it's a short walk to Calypso's cave. Here mythical nymph Calypso is said to have imprisoned Odysseus for seven years in effort to make him her immortal husband.
Comino, Natural Delight
Whether explored outward to Gozo or after visiting that island, Comino is a must-see. Just 2.8 sq. km and with virtually no permanent residents, Comino is a bird sanctuary and nature reserve, and the waters around it a protected marine area. Comino is popular with day-trippers, and the authorities are balancing the protection of nature against commercial activities. Most human impact is seen at Blue Lagoon, which lies between Comino and the islet of Cominotto. There are plenty of swimming and snorkeling options on Comino. But if the bays are crowded the little island is a great spot for rambling and communing with nature. Blue Lagoon is an idyllic overnight option once the crowds have gone home.
Eastwards to Marsaxlokk
Sailing on, the south side of the main island is a somewhat imposing coastline, so best to aim for your next night at Marsaxlokk, at the eastern end but still only 25 nautical miles from Comino. There are some interesting spots along the way, such as Anchor Bay, the Dingli Cliffs and Hagar Qim Temples, access to which will depend on time available and the wind.
Marsaxlokk's attractive harbour is home to a traditional fishing fleet of luzzu, colourful double-ended craft with the bow decorated by a pair of eyes that are said to protect the fishermen at sea. Marsaxlokk is Malta's largest fishing base. Stroll around the waterfront and observe the activity, visit the markets or take a longer walk out of town to enjoy the stunning scenery of this part of Malta. In the wider vicinity and best accessed on your boat, a number of secluded and unspoilt coves offer much more than one could hope for by any other means of travel.
Back to base via Marsaskala
It's just 17 nautical miles back to base from Marsaxlokk, and there's still the interior to explore - places such as the ancient capital Mdina. So you may wish to sail on back to Valletta, and perhaps find an alternative place to overnight in the vicinity. There are a number of marina possibilities in harbour that surround the Valletta peninsular, or you may find a suitable anchorage such as Bighi Bay. Alternatively, spend your last night in Marsaskala Bay, just round the corner from Marsaxlokk and a larger centre with some 12,000 people. Enjoy another of Malta's lovely fishing towns and its surrounding, or hire a car for a tour of the island.
Whichever way you chose to plan your Malta charter, there are numerous options for exploring the place in some detail, or simply sailing along and relaxing aboard as you soak up the Mediterranean sun and sea air. Or, your journey could be part of a larger expedition that includes the south of Sicily.
Sailing between Sicily and Malta
Charter operators recommend that this passage be navigated by experienced sailors only. It's a busy stretch of water with some local issues, a journey of 55 nautical miles between Valletta and Marina di Ragusa, the nearest main sailing base on Sicily. For the charterer with previous sailing holidays on the log, it should not be too daunting with proper planning and an understanding of weather variables.
Once in Marina di Ragusa, or if setting out from the Sicillan base, 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.
West along the South Coast
It's 35 nautical miles from Marina di Ragusa 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 ffer 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. Or you may have decided to call in here on your return from the Egardis. 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.
Reaching the Ergadi Islands
Pressing on to the Egardis, it's another 50 nm from Sciaccia to the main island of Favignana. 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.
The Ergadi islands are a well-kept secret, somewhat playing second fiddle to the Aeolians on the charter sailing map. The Egadis 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. And there's more to enjoy on the return trip to Marina di Ragusa if time allows.
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.
In the shadow of Etna
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.
Weather and Sailing Conditions
Malta lies just 240 km from the North African coast, and that continental landmass largely dictates the archipelago's climate. Very hot, dry summers are followed by mild winters, with light to moderate breezes prevailing from the northwest throughout the year. That wind pattern is broken periodically by the sirocco, the dust-laden wind that blows from the south when hot Saharan air meets a low-pressure system over the Mediterranean. The sirocco can reach hurricane force and may last a few days or blow itself out in hours. Rainfall is low and the air generally dry, with increased humidity during a sirocco event. .
The result of local climate conditions is a long sailing season around Malta and southern Sicily. Malta's size means there is always a sheltered place to anchor or berth near to hand, while southern and eastern Sicily are sheltered from the prevailing conditions. Some ports towards the Straits of Messina can be exposed if winds veer to the north.