Endless shades of blue on which lie white tuff rocks that over time take on warm yellow-ocher tones, creating a magnificent contrast that enhances both elements, the sea and the land; mysterious caves that follow one another along the perimeter of the coasts interspersed with coves and ravines; a centuries-old tradition that has made tuna the undisputed star of these seas: we are in the Egadi archipelago, where simplicity and beauty come together, leaving anyone breathless who lands there.
Located off Trapani and Marsala, a few kilometers from the northwestern coast of Sicily, Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo overlook crystal clear waters with incredible shades of blue that resemble Caribbean seas. And it is certainly this immediate and disruptive beauty of the sea uniting the three islands, attracting many visitors in search of unforgettable bathing every year.
Favignana, the “butterfly on the sea”, as it was poetically renamed by the painter Salvatore Fiume in the ’70s for its morphology, is the most popular island of the Egadi not only for its proximity to the mainland, but especially for the extraordinary accessibility of its beautiful beaches and the wide range of recreational activities with restaurants and clubs located throughout the island.
Characterizing the economy and landscape of Favignana for a long time were the tuff quarries, a stone widely used in the building industry. Today, although the extraction activity has been abandoned and replaced by the more profitable tourism, tuff quarries have become one of the most fascinating elements of the territory thanks to their transformation into beautiful hypogeal gardens. Inside them vineyards, vegetable gardens and autochthonous flora develop in “natural greenhouses” sheltered from wind and saltiness. The ancient art of “pirriatori” (stone cutters) lives again in these enchanted gardens where nature and man’s work find new and more sustainable forms of coexistence.
If the success of the barren Favignana is mainly due to the simplicity of access to its beautiful beaches, not very jagged and easily reachable, the charm of the green Marettimo, whose name derives from the abundant presence of wild thyme on the island, is hidden in its lush and solitary nature. The island looks like an imposing mountain overlooking the sea, covered by lush vegetation with numerous water sources, pine forests and over 500 species of Mediterranean scrub. Under the white dolomite cliffs are hidden coves and caves waiting to be discovered with a boat trip. It is the island of walkers, of those who seek authentic contact with nature.
And then there is Levanzo, the smallest island of the Egadi archipelago, the buen retiro par excellence where you can enjoy distance from the chaos and abandon yourself to the rhythms of the island. Here time flows slowly, marked by the activities of fishermen, who willingly lead us to the discovery of charming coves such as Cala del Faraglione, Cala Tramontana or Cala Fredda. In addition to the beauty of the sea, there are very important testimonies of the prehistoric era, preserved in the caves of the island.
It’s time to start our journey through 7 unmissable destinations in the islands of Favignana, Marettimo and Levanzo.
The wonderful beaches of Favignana: Cala Rossa, Cala Azzurra and Cala del Bue Marino
In Favignana, where the sea never ceases to amaze and enchant, we find Cala Rossa permanently in the top ten of the classifications that award each year the most beautiful beaches in Italy. The name derives from the bloody battle fought between Carthaginians and Romans during the First Punic War (241 BC), which dyed these beautiful waters red with blood.
It is accessed via an asphalt road, at the end of which begins a dirt path that, in about ten minutes, will lead you to a dream place. The white cliff that overlooks a sea so blue and clear it seems fake, with Levanzo that stands out in the background, is an indelible image that will remain engraved in your memory. In the past, a part of the beach hosted a tuff quarry; here, too, man’s work has contributed to create suggestive sceneries, among squared rocks and natural pools. Go to Cala Rossa early in the morning and if possible, out of season, before it is taken by storm by tourists and the enchantment quickly turns into a nightmare.
Even Cala Azzurra, with the turquoise of its sea is one of the most popular destinations of Favignana, suitable for everyone, even families with children. It is located southeast of the island and is formed by two small specular beaches, separated by a row of rocks.
Among the unmissable stops, there is also the beach of the Bue Marino, so called because here once lived the monk seals. Located in the eastern end of Favignana and often lapped by currents, it owes its charm to the particular scenery of the landscape, once again characterized by the quarries, which here take on the profile of huge stone houses ocher color with huge doors, in the shadow of which find a cool and pleasant shelter in the hottest hours.
The “Garden of the Impossible” of “Villa Margherita” in Favignana
Not far from the famous Cala Rossa and immersed in the quiet countryside of Favignana, rises the “Giardino dell’Impossibile”, the most emblematic example of transformation of a former tuff quarry into a fascinating place in perfect symbiosis with nature.
This wonderful Mediterranean garden, bordered and framed by high walls of calcarenite that enhance its beauty, creating an almost labyrinthine and mysterious path, hosts more than four hundred species of plants.
A perfect and successful experiment of recovery of an environment destined to become a dump. Visiting of this place, intimate and majestic at the same time, becomes a moment to abandon oneself to exploration and contemplation, immersed in a silence and peace that in Favignana are one of those rare treasures to be preserved.
Exploring the caves of Marettimo
RReachable only by sea, the caves of Marettimo are among the most precious jewels of this wildly fascinating island. The mysterious names attributed by its inhabitants reveal their meaning as a sudden epiphany in the moment in which you access them. And the multiple blues of the waters that are hidden inside each cave each time mistakenly appear to us, not reachable from the next. Among the famous cave of the Camel, where the monk seals lived until the thirties, the cave of the Pipe and the Crib, the latter containing stalactites and stalagmites that resemble the statues of the crib. Under Punta Troia, the cave of Thunder recalls the roar of thunder every time the waves break inside.
The former Florio Establishment of the Tonnara of Favignana
To retrace the origins of the Tonnara dei Florio means not only to take a dip in the history of the last two hundred years of Favignana, but also to know its traditions, culture and rituals, such as the mattanza.
Favignana was purchased together with its small tuna fishery by the famous entrepreneurial dynasty of the Florios in 1874, upon payment of a large sum to the previous owners, the Genoese Pallavicini. In a few years was built what soon became the largest tuna fishery in the Mediterranean, where eight hundred employees, also from neighboring islands, worked on the transformation and preservation of tuna. In the month of May, in fact, the “mattanza” took place, a real ritual during which the raìs coordinated the operations of capture of tuna, marked by the rhythm of “cialoma”, the ancient song of the tonnaroti. Of the tuna, after the exsanguination, everything was preserved. And it was the Florios who presented at the universal exposition of 1891-92 the invention of the tin box in which tuna was preserved. It was a huge success which marked the fortune of the family, as well as the economic redemption for the inhabitants of the island, and which continued well after the decline of the Florios, until 2007, when the factory was closed. Today it is the home of a museum that collects memories, secrets and stories of the island, including those of Uncle Peppe, the current keeper of the tuna factory.
The path to Pizzo Falcone (686 m) and Punta Troia (116 m) in Marettimo
Among the most exciting paths that cross the island, the path that leads to the top of Pizzo Falcone repays the effort of its almost 700 meters of elevation gain with a wonderful panorama, those that only the peaks of the islands can give.
It starts from the center of Marettimo near the restaurant “Il Veliero”, from here you follow the signs and in a short time you climb in zig-zag between picturesque views of the country and the port. After about 45 minutes you reach the archaeological site of Case Romane (243m), where you can visit the ancient Byzantine church and the remains of a Roman castrum, as well as refresh yourself by taking advantage of the fountain. Continue the ascent through lentisk, heather, euphorbia and with a little luck you may spot mouflons in the distance. Following the arrows on the large rocks you reach Pizzo Falcone, where the wind will caress your faces as you contemplate Levanzo and Favignana in the foreground to the east, in the background the Sicilian coast with the tip of S.Vito lo Capo and Marsala, Pizzo Campana, the second highest peak of the island (630 m) to the south, finally the most inaccessible and wildest part of the island, a deep dolomite valley, to the west.
Retracing the path in the opposite direction, halfway along the route you take the detour halfway up the hill in the direction of Punta Troia. Crossed the isthmus, the path with several ups and downs becomes more difficult, but the view is breathtaking. A refreshing bath in the clear waters of the beach of Scalo Maestro and then straight to Punta Troia (116m), a former Arab watchtower became a castle under the Spanish, sadly destined to become a maximum security prison as the Castle of Santa Caterina in Favignana. Overhanging the sea, now houses the Prisons Museum and the observatory of the monk seal. Through the same path you return to the village.
Taste the delicacies obtained from tuna processing
Nothing is thrown away from a tuna: due to its versatility it is declined in many specialties, which you cannot renounce if you want to make your experience in the Egadi Islands more complete and satisfying. Starting from the prized ventresca, the lower part of the belly which is preserved in oil and being fatter is softer and tastier. Then there is the tarantello, which corresponds to the retro-abdominal muscles of the tuna, on a scale of softness halfway between fillet and ventresca. There is also the famous bottarga, a very appreciated product obtained from salted and dried tuna eggs, to be tasted grated on pasta or cut into slices.
Lattume is made by processing the seminal fluid of tuna which is salted, pressed and matured for about 40 days. The result is a tasty sausage to be eaten cut into slices and seasoned with oil; in the same way is prepared the heart, the first waste of the processing. We cannot forget the ficazza, an excellent salami prepared with the fat part of the tuna placed near the belly, the pulp of the back, scraps and internal organs, the so-called “busunagghia”.
The cave of the Genoese and the seabed rich in history in Levanzo
Discovered in 1949, the cave of the Genoese offers one of the most important examples in the world of wall art with thirty-two engravings and a hundred representations of men, animals and tuna fishing dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic. It can be accessed along a mule track from the port or by boat.
Levanzo is also an extraordinary site for diving, particularly exciting for the presence of wrecks and remains of Roman times. More precisely, in the site of Cala Minnola it will be possible to observe the wreck of a ship that would have belonged to a Roman family producing wine and that lived in Campania and sank in these waters leaving on the seabed also 80 Roman amphorae suitable for the transportation of wine.
Another very interesting site is Capo Grosso. Here during the first Punic War the Romans ambushed the Carthaginians coming from Marettimo and today you can see eleven Roman rostrums, several amphorae and iron and terracotta artifacts.
Let yourself be led by the desire for beauty and the desire for discovery: the Egadi await you for an experience that will conquer you.