Sailing around Sicily and its dramatic outlying islands in a crystal-clear sea is an uplifting cruising experience. The island only became part of Italy in 1861 and the convoluted tapestry of its history is reflected in its architecture, food and culture.
It has been invaded over the centuries by most of the civilised world. Sicily was first invaded and settled by the Greeks in the eighth century BC. Then came Carthage, the Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, the English Angevin kings, as well as Spain.
It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean at 25,700 sq km and its rugged coastline is beautiful. It’s ideal for a sailing holiday with plenty of sunshine. The average amount of sunshine in summer in Sicily is as much as 10 hours a day. But the summer heat is dissipated by the sea breezes. The best times for sailing are between April and October. There are stylish marinas, with the occasional billionaire’s super yacht, but sailors can also find secluded sandy bays which make good anchorages.
Dramatic and Volcanic Islands
Sicily’s east coast is the most attractive for visitors. South of the town of Messina there is a lot to see. You might come across local fishermen chasing swordfish. And the Aeolian islands, which are dramatic and volcanic, should not be missed. There are seven of them north of the eastern coast. Stromboli has an active volcano which often pours molten lava into the sea. The islands have bizarre rock formations caused by volcanic eruption and the constant wearing of the sea. On the islands there are captivating ancient ruins, miles of olive groves and several long, clean beaches of black sand.
A sailing holiday in Sicilian waters should be taken slowly. It could take a month to do a full circuit. Allow at least two weeks to cruise the north and east coasts and see the ancient ruins and the volcanoes.
History Written in the Stones
Palermo is the capital and in its architecture can be seen the contrasting peoples who have influenced the island over the centuries. The Arab, Norman and Spanish buildings exist side by side, with Sicily’s history written in their stones. Tourists can join the locals in the huge vibrant markets — the Vuccaria is probably the pre-eminent one. And there are the cathedral, palaces, churches and museums to marvel at. Make sure you try the local delicacies in Sicily. Its rich heritage is reflected in its food.
Another ancient city which should not be missed is Syracuse on the south-east coast. It was once one of the greatest Greek cities and home to, among others, Archimedes. The ruined Temple of Apollo is said to be the oldest Greek temple outside Greece. The city is now faded from its former glory, but is a must for anyone interested in ancient history.
Vaughan Winter is a seasoned sailor and traveller. He writes about sailing, travel and holidays for a variety of website and blogs. He recently enjoyed a sailing holiday around Sicily with Club La Costa.