Accessible by hydrofoil and ferry, Sicily’s many islands have individual characters all of their own, and offer visitors idyllic sea swimming, excellent diving, long coastal walks and wildlife spotting.
The Aeolian Islands
On the Aeolian Islands, the largest one of which is Lipari, visitors have a choice of either white or black beaches, thanks to the volcanic rock. The other islands are Alicudi, Filicudi, Panarea, Vulcano, Salina and, the most famous, Stromboli, with its active volcano.
The Egadi Islands
Favignana is the largest of the Egadi Islands. The island’s vast bay is dominated by The Fort of Santa Caterina, built by the Saracens, rebuilt by the Normans and used by the Bourbons as a prison. The island is characterised by its inviting beaches and coves, among which are Cala Azzurra, a small sandy bay; Cala Rossa, a rocky cove and the extensive Burrone Lido beach. Divers will appreciate the sea caves, such as the Grotta Azzurra (named for the blue water) and the Cave of Sighs (named for the moaning sound the waves make when the sea is rough).
The northernmost of the three Egadi Islands, which lie off the coast of Trapani to the west of Sicily. It has been inhabited since 10,000BC – as the Neolithic cave paintings at Grotto del Genovese testify – but the island remains largely unchanged, with empty bays and coves, quiet beaches and a relaxed pace of life. There is little to do here but enjoy the great outdoors, whether by walking or snorkelling or going on a boat trip.
The most isolated of the Egadi group, Marettimo is certainly one of the most beautiful, unspoiled and interesting islands of Italy. It has two harbours used by fishermen, and a small village with just two fish restaurants. It is also home to some unique flora, and makes a great base from which to study the migration of birds to and from Africa. There are numerous caves, which can be visited on a boat trip, including the Grotta del Cammello, which contains the remains of a Roman settlement.
The Pelagian Islands
The Pelagian Islands of Lampedusa, Linosa and Lampione form a small and isolated archipelago that has remained more or less unspoilt. Lampedusa is the largest island and the most famous, with jagged coastline in the north and sandy beaches in the south.
This volcanic island lies off the western coast of Sicily, cooled by sea breezes. It is closer to Africa than Italy and was colonised by the Arabs in the 8th century, becoming a major port for trade. Traces of their civilisation remain, including the distinctive, earthcoloured dammuso houses, built from lava stone with domed roofs to help collect rainwater. Of particular archaeological importance are the Sesi, stone burial domes from the Bronze Age. Inland is the Montagna Grande national park and a 836-metre-high peak from which you can see North Africa. The island is rich with hot springs, the most famous of which can be experienced at Lo Specchio di Venere, or Venus’s Looking Glass. This beautiful green lake, inside a volcanic crater, is fed by thermal springs – its name comes from a myth that the goddess came here to compare her beauty with that of Psyche. The island’s 31-mile coastline is home to a huge variety of aquatic life, including monk seals and dolphins; and the restaurants serve excellent seafood. The island can be reached by hydrofoil and ferry from Trapani or Mazara dei Vallo.
Just 50km north of Palermo, the small island of Ustica can be reached by hydrofoil from Sicily and is a popular holiday destination for the islanders during summer. Its jagged coastline is made up of inlets and bays that open into a beautiful grotto, reachable only by sea. Here, the waters of the Atlantic mix with those of the Mediterranean, creating a unique marine habitat that became a Marine Natural Reserve in 1987. In the centre of this 8km-long island is an elevated plateau from where you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view. For several years, local artists have embarked on a unique initiative, namely to paint the walls of homes with portraits, stilllifes and trompe-l’oeil scenes.