Once a Greek colony, a Roman province, an Arab emirate and a Norman kingdom, Sicily boasts a fascinating history. The land where Archimedes taught and Saint Paul preached is perhaps the world’s first multicultural society. A reflection of its unique background, Sicily’s art, archeology, architecture, folklore and, of course, its food are an irresistible draw for visitors. This itinerary takes you around the largest island in the Mediterranean – from Palermo’s historic bay, along Sicily’s dramatic northern coastline to the remote islands in the northeast and back to the mainland’s chic ports of Portorosa, Taormina and Messina.
PALERMO Pick up guests at the airport in Palermo, Sicily’s capital and the largest city on the island. The city is stupendously located in its own wide bay underneath the limestone bulk of Monte Pellegrino. Send the guests ashore to explore some of Sicily’s legendary sites, such as the ornate Piazza Bellini, the cathedral and the Arab-Norman Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace. A trip up to Monreale gives a panoramic view of the Conca d’Oro – the spectacular and evocative valley beyond Palermo.
In the evening, serve the guests on board under the stars or send them ashore to dine at one of Palermo’s fine restaurants. The Grand Hotel Villa Igiea overlooks the port and is a wonderful spot to take in the sunset and have drinks or dinner. Note that the Marina Villa Igiea in Palermo is tight for a 50-meter-plus yacht. Be sure to book well in advance and don’t be surprised by the price!
USTICA The next morning, set sail for a three-hour hop (assuming a 12- to 15-knot cruise) to the tiny volcanic island of Ustica, which measures just 3.3 square miles. Unspoiled by tourism, Ustica’s magnificent seabeds are protected as a natural marine reserve. Sail leisurely around the island, visiting the numerous grottos along the coast. Then drop anchor near the town, which houses quaint restaurants and cafes and an underwater archaeological museum.
The area around Ustica is a paradise for scuba divers and snokelers. Some diving highlights include the delicate fan-like red gorgonias and the rainbow-colored sponges at Grotta dei Gamberi and at Secca di Colombara, and the archaeological artifacts at Punta Gavazzi. In the evening, make an overnight run to Lipari and the Aeolian Islands.
THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS From lunar-like Vulcano, to the quiet beaches of Salina (of Il Postino film fame) to the lush, cliff-top meadows of Lipari, the Aeolian Islands are a fascinating, diverse mix of unusual topography. Sail on to Panarea, the smallest island of the archipelago, which, thanks to its natural springs, can offer guests a relaxing mud bath if they choose.
The diving center La Gorgonia on the island of Lipari offers dive expeditions to such famous Aeolian Island dive spots as Punta Castagna, Capo Grosso, Capo Grillo and Pietra Menalda. During the evening hours, sail over to Stromboli, the “Black Giant,” which is one of the few constantly active volcanoes in the world; the view from the sea is unforgettable! You may be lucky enough to glimpse the volcanic eruptions lighting up the night sky. Anchor overnight near one of these enchanting islands.
THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS Spend the day cruising the solitude of the Aeolian Islands. Guests may want to take advantage of more scuba diving opportunities or sail to nearby Vulcano, studded with fantastic lava formations. Or perhaps they may choose to spend the afternoon anchored in a remote bay near the island of Lipari, where they can relax, sunbathe and take a light lunch.
This is a good time to break out all the water toys or go for a fishing expedition. If the guests wish to explore Lipari, tender them ashore to enjoy an afternoon meandering through the narrow streets. Anchor out again for the night near the island of Lipari and prepare to head on to Portorosa in the morning.
PORTOROSA After breakfast, depart for a two-hour cruise back to the Sicilian coast, where Sicily’s most modern and efficient marina, Marina di Portorosa, awaits. Besides a splendid swimming pool surrounded by green vegetation, a wide beach and an efficient shopping center, the fashionable tourist harbor of Portorosa offers a great base for getting out and exploring the surrounding areas. There is also the possibility for a small fishing or diving expedition.
HISTORIC TAORMINA Depart Portorosa early in the morning for a five-hour cruise around Sicily’s northeast coast towards Taormina, a city that clings to the cliffs high above the spectacular eastern coast. Drop anchor just off the island in the bay of Taormina in about 10 meters of water. Tender the guests ashore to Giardini for a trip up the hill to picturesque Taormina, which is built on terraces cascading down to the sea.
A walking tour will lead them past cobblestone piazzas, elegant shops and outdoor cafes en route to the Greek theater. The spectacular theater was built under the beautiful backdrop of Mount Etna in the distance. Strolling along Taormina’s Corso Umberto (central street) offers excellent shopping choices. Alternatively, guests may take an excursion to Mount Etna, although it is also spectacular from afar. In the evening, the guests may savor authentic Sicilian cuisine in one of Taormina’s many restaurants.
MESSINA/CANTANIA In the morning, head out for a two-hour hop over to the port of Messina, the setting for Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Messina has much to offer in the way of history. Its dramatic, boulder-filled harbor has challenged navigators since the days of Ulysses. The Strait of Messina also offers opportunities for fishing and hosts many different types of fish with a good gastronomical reputation.
Near the Torre Faro, a small fishing village overlooked by a lighthouse, you can find the “Fossa dei sugarelli,” a dark blue, cylindrical shaped fish only found off the Sicilian coasts. Many other varieties of fish can be found around Messina, including tuna, moon fish, red picarel and grey mullet. Far out off the coast of Capo Peloro, large amber jacks can be caught with a line.
For guest drop-off the next morning, decide on a departure port based on guests’ preferences. Catania, a four-hour cruise from Messina, is as close as you can get to the airport – about 10 to 15 minutes. But it’s extremely commercial. Siracusa has a proper yacht marina but it’s about a 45-minute to one-hour drive to the airport. If your guests opt for the quick departure, make sure you pull in to Catania about an hour before they want to leave because the location is bustling and dirty.
Know Before You Go
Agent Palermo: Dr. Vittorio Meli of the Maritime Agency: Email: Tel: +39 091588210 Lipari: Giulia Albergo at Carbomare: Email: Tel: +39 090 9811090 or +39 338 6484 322 Catania: Seamar Srl: Email: Tel: +39 095 7152441 or +39 335 7876181
Private Driver Romano Milici in Taormina can organize mini buses and luxury cars Tel: +39 3382315010
Rendezvous Diving Tatjana from MareNostrvm Diving Center can provide assistance in. By Capt. Carl Sputh, MY Starfire http://www.dockwalk.com/SuperPorts/Chartered.aspx?id=9360