Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, may be a part of Italy, but it remains a world apart. In search of culture and history you are confronted with two sides of reality. With the sunny postcard image and everyday life in Bella Sicilia.
Wait for about fifteen minutes, and Stromboli burps again. There! Now it spits out glowing magma. The show is short but impressive. Especially at night. We bob up and down in front of the fire mountain in our Bavaria Cruiser 51 sailing yacht and are amazed, especially our daughters. The day before, on Vulcano, they had nagged about the omnipresent smell of sulphur – that’s how rotten eggs smell. Here in front of the fire breather, we look at the spectacle from a safe distance – and also experience ist odour. The regular spitting can also be different. From time to time the rhythm is interrupted by stronger eruptions. In the summer of 2014, lava spilled over the Sciara del Fuoco into the sea for several weeks on the northwest side, creating a kind of „lava sandbank“.
The Aeolian Islands are the first highlight of our summer holidays. Stromboli’s sisters Vulcano, Lipari and Salina are a casual day’s sailing away from the Dream Yacht Charter base in Portorosa. The entire archipelago (together with the islands of Panarea, Filicudi and Alicudi) is named after the Greek wind god Aeolus. And quite correctly so, as we experience on the first day of arrival at the volcanic islands. Of course, the Mistral is blowing straight on our nose. Only the last remnants of it, but still …… The strong northwest wind blowing has kept everyone in the harbour, and the sheltered marina near the open city quays of Lipari was filled to capacity. And so we anchor in front of Marina Corta with its picturesque little church on the pier. Fortunately, our charter boat has enough chain, because the depth increases rapidly around the volcanic islands. As the swell settles down, our yacht is shaken by the waves of the small ferries, fast hydrofoil boats, that are still plying the waves back and forth. At midnight, calm finally settles.
Marina Capo d‘Orlando
The next day we experience bustling Lipari and get to grips with its vibrancy. A lively coming and going prevails in the colourful harbour town, with many tourists and a happy holiday mood. There is less commotion in the Museo Archeologico Eoliano, located on the castle hill. Definitely worth seeing! The abundance of finds, including many prehistoric ceramics, almost overwhelms you. And one can but wonder how lively things here must already have been in the Neolithic period. Trade flourished, and bronze weapons and volcanic obsidian glass (with its sharp edges) were popular barter goods.
The Cathedral in the Desert
After some sightseeing around the islands, we head for Capo Orlando, where a brandnew marina has been opened. As we make to enter the harbour, an excited employee orders us to wait at the „checkpoint“ of the largely empty facility. Then, further inside, another mariniero appears in a rubber dinghy, having obviously been awaiting our approach. What shall we do now? Obey the command or listen to common sense? Since the entry procedure seems to be in need of some coordination, we decide on the rubber dinghy. We have plenty of room for the mooring manoeuvre, plenty of free space, an unfamiliar sight in the Mediterranean. The mooring lines are red and green. Who came up with that idea?
The port office smells of fresh paint, all very modern and bright. The service column at the berth will be unlocked after paying the mooring fee in remote mode. The lady at the counter, Lara, is from Berlin. Love has brought her to Capo Orlando. She offers us the free bicycles of the marina to visit the more distant town.
In the marina itself, not much is happening now in July, but in various shops and snack bars people are working feverishly so that during the peak season in August, the roubles can roll. Our aperitif visit in the XXXX with local tapas and wines is quite promising. „Cattedraleneldeserto“ Italians call the somewhat exaggeratedly elaborate cathedral, which stands useless somewhere in no man’s land. The many empty slots of the Euro‐Marina will fill up gradually, because the location is ideal and the service perfect.
In the Footsteps of the Normans
Next Stop: Cefalù. Anyone approaching the city by sea will inevitably be impressed by the Norman cathedral. This towers over the white city, a symbol of ecclesiastical and military might. It is protected by the striking cliffs, which from a distance offer themselves as an unmistakable navigational aid. We anchor before the city and enjoy the sight of a sea of houses in the evening sun. That evening, we dive into the fray in the streets and inspect the restaurants.
We choose one with a terrace directly over the sea – we can never get enough of Mare Nostrum. The next morning is dedicated to culture and commerce (shopping and bunkering). First, a visit to the Norman Cathedral, where the famous golden portrait of Christ was unfortunately being renovated. The fabric curtain with the printed image in its original size is only a poor substitute. But the architecture alone is impressive. Roger deHauteville laid the foundation stone in 1131, and 17 years later the cathedral, with its two different towers, was completed.
Naturreservat Lo Zingaro
The knight knew how to co‐exist with Muslims and Greeks in Sicily and slowly become the ruler of the island. Quite different from the experience of England, which the Normans had conquered with much cruelty in no time. King Roger was much wiser in Sicily. Each ethic group had a mission to fulfil that matched their abilities. And so, it was already a tradition for a Greek to always be Fleet Commander of the Normans – they were considered to be the best sailors of their time. The supervision of the state finances was overseen by Arabs, who were characterized by their mathematical knowledge. In any case, Arabic numerals were faster in arithmetic than their Roman counterparts. And for the above‐mentioned Byzantine‐style portrait of Christ, Roger had specially commissioned artists from Constantinople. The wealth that he had amassed during his forays, and the conquest of the island afforded him a standing army and the strongest fleet of his time. When he died in 1101, peace and prosperity prevailed in Sicily.
The oppressive heat continues even through the night, and the next day the air is grey and hazy. In the mountains, huge stretches of land are on fire, and the nature reserve and open‐air museum Lo Zingaro also fall victim to the flames. The Circolo Nautico, which manages our pier, is openly talking about arson. Even fire‐fighters could reportedly be bribed to do their job half‐heartedly. The airplanes are still in use on the „Continente“, the Italian mainland. Sicily is only of secondary importance. In fact, we do not see any of the legendary Canadair Brummer all day long, the flames are getting progressively worse, and at night the scene is particularly striking. In the evening, nothing works in the village. All ATMs have failed because the fire has cut the landlines, and so paying by credit card is impossible. Cash rules in San Vito lo Capo.
We spend the following days on the Egadi Islands. Our passage plan takes us to the picture‐book bay of CalaRossa on Favignana. Our timing is rather awkward, as it is a beautiful summer’s Sunday and half of Trapani is anchored in front of the chalk cliffs. The chartering of ribs and motorboats must be a huge business. On the edge of the colourful „In water boat show“, we make our way into the fray, not really in a seaman‐like manner, but the fleet of ribs take it with a sense of humour, after all we are all close together and Italians do not like to be alone. At 5 pm the exodus of inflatable boats begins. One by one, they leave their anchorages and head back to Trapani.
Unfortunately, in the evening, wind and swell increase so much that we, too, have to leave the now empty bay with heavy heart and cross over to Levanzo, where we move into the lee of the island. We anchor in front of the town of the same name and regret our decision immediately after dinner. On the pier, the village disco opens up with huge speakers mounted on a pick‐up truck, and hammers away into the night. Pump up the volume! Let’s dance! The wind also joins in, blowing with increasing strength, and our Bavaria swings uneasily at anchor. Silence at 2 o’clock, and we can finally sleep. At about 5 o’clock, the duty anchor watch (the best of all wives) awakens the dormant skipper: the tanker is approaching, all yachts have to clear the anchorage. We make the most of the situation and set a course northward again.
A trip around Sicily had actually been the plan for our vacation. But strong winds from the northwest announce themselves. If we continue sailing, we will have to travel many miles each day and forfeit any rest days. So, it's better to go back the same way along the northern coast, and anyway there's still plenty to see.
This time we leave San Vito to our right, round Italy’s highest lighthouse and sail southwards into the vast Gulf of Castellammare. Gusts from the hot fall winds coming down the burned mountain flanks rush towards us, and in no time we approach the city of Castellamare. According to the Pilot Book, three organizations manage the individual marinas. Which one is the best? Destiny liberates us of making a decision. A motorboat overtakes us and asks if we want a mooring. Yes, sure! So please follow us, the nice people say. Made, done UNCLEAR and so we come to lie on the jetty of Giuseppe. We will get to know him shortly after the mooring operation. The operating company acts as a sailing club, which results in less bureaucracy. When I mention that we would like to visit the temple of Segesta, he morphs into the perfect tour operator. With two phone calls, he organizes a rental car for the next day in front of the jetty. Even my desire to visit the temple on quads doesn’t embarrass him. On the contrary, his cousin and namesake operates the quad rental, and coincidentally there are still two quads available. Happy about so much fateful coincidence, we stroll carefree through the beautiful Castellamare and look forward to our shore excursion. The quad‐trip turns out to be a very informative rally with a high fun factor passing through fields and vineyards, with several stops where we are allowed to enjoy self‐harvested grapes, melons and tomatoes.
And then, after a few turns through an enchanted valley, we see it – the Doric temple of Segesta, almost unreal in the evening light.
The next morning (as outside the Mistral blows) we want to use our rental car for a visit to Tonnara in Scopello. But the beautifully situated, former tuna factory is so besieged by tourists that we would have to wait two hours for the visit. We turn around, drive back, and are suddenly surrounded by thick grey smoke. At walking pace, we drive on, then suddenly blue lights, police, fire‐fighters. We weave our way through, flames flaring left and right. The forest fires are back, the wind heats up accordingly. Later in the piazza in Castellamare we look up to the mountain flanks, where the fires burn brightly. The fire‐fighters try to protect individual houses from the blaze, but the rest of nature is left to the flames without defence. And then the hotly awaited Canadair fire‐fighting aircraft appears, humming deeply. In a dive, it discharges its 6,000 litres of water, a drop on the hot mountain. And with each approach, the pilot becomes bolder, more spectacular, but also more effective with his discharges. The people in the piazza applaud as the air show takes effect.
The good bits were so close
When we return to Portorosa after two weeks, we remember the words of Natale, the nice gentleman at the check‐in. He had raved in the most complimentary tones about the surrounding area, of Capo Tindari, the sandy headland, the nature reserve. We had originally wanted to circle the island and had ignored good tips. But now, on the last afternoon at sea, we have to admit that the area in the Patti Golf also has its charms.
The Lipari Islands ahead
Marinas & Moorings
Unless you’re sailing in August, it should never be a problem to find space. When strong winds announce themselves, quickly look for a safe spot to stay. The few ports on the Aeolian Islands then fill up quickly. Price examples for a 15‐meter yacht / night:
- Salina, Porto delleEolie: EUR 75
- Marina Villa Igea, Palermo: EUR 135, Footbridge
- Circolo Nautico San Vito Lo Capo: EUR 90, Mooring buoy
- Aeolian Islands: EUR 38.50
- Marina Porto Orlando: EUR 125
Charter in the Mediterranean
We rented a BAVARIA 50 Cruiser through „My Charter“ at Rosa dei Venti Charter. The yacht was in perfect condition, and Giovanni and Natale from the base in Portorosa were pleasant and efficient at check‐in and check‐out. Marina Portorosa is the ideal base for this trip, as the Aeolian Islands are before it.