After having left the boat two weeks in the Marsala marina, I returned with wife Mabi and another couple, Rita and Giuseppe, to tour the Egadi Islands, just 10 miles off the coast. Arriving by plane in Palermo, we first visited the city, the Vucciria food market (or rather souk), with very evident arab origins, and Monreale cathedral, 8 kms out.
By hire car we travelled along the coast, with its lovely wide blue bays and rolling vineyards and climbed up 700 metres to Erice, a mountain-top fortified town. This has litterally breath-taking views of the coast and an almost vertical view down onto the city of Trapani. The coast then flattens out and is dotted with islands and salt-pans with lovely old windmills and sandstone country houses, arriving to the ancient city of Marsala (in arabic, port of Allah). The city was founded by the Carthaginians and subsequently dominated by the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the French and Spanish. In fact we found that this varied assortment of dominations has left very rich traces in the local architecture, monuments, art and food, making Sicily a fascinating melting pot of cultures and a place well worth a lengthy and thorough visit.
Three kilometres along the coast west from the marina is the Baglio Museum, where a partially restored Punic ship is conserved along with a large collection of anfora. The adjacent wine shop provided us with liquid provisions, including the famous Marsala wine, a competitor of the Portuguese port wine. At the marina we met Francesca and son Diego, owners of the three new charter Bavarias, Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, (I've heard that before..) who can be contacted at www.daremarechartering.com Tel. 0923.952294.
On November 2nd, we set sail rather lateish at 4.00 pm and headed for Favignana in a warm light wind. As it grew dark we dropped the sails and motored the last two miles and docked well after nightfall. An evening stroll around the township before sitting down to a delicious dinner at the El Pescador restaurant, with its many tuna fish specialities.
Favignana is a butterfly-shaped island, with a long interesting history, from paleolithic times, to Punic settlement and location of a decisive naval battle in 241 BC between the Carthaginians and the Romans, when the latter finally took over control of the Mediterranean. Visited by Ulysses and dominated by the Normans who built the castle on the highest peak, the island was exploited for the extraction of sandstone blocks, which were exported as far as Africa and in the 18th century it became an important tuna fishing and treatment plant under the guide of a shrewd businessman, Ignazio Florio. He built the characteristic tunny buildings that surround the harbour and a magnificent Liberty mansion that dominates the village skyline. Florio was also the builder of the splendid Hotel Egea overlooking the marina in Palermo and founder of an economic empire that stretched from Sicily to New York.
Each year in July the strong-stomached may still witness the bloody massacre of tuna fish in the "tonnare mattanze" by the local fishermen in the waters in front of the island, a hazard that sailors should be aware of when sailing these waters at night time.
Another stroll around town in the morning sun, to discover other pretty views of this very pretty town and then off again, this time to make a quick visit of Levanzo, the small neighbouring island, just three miles acoss the water, with its tiny village and minute harbour. The Egadi islands merit a comprehensive visit in Summer, so one can explore the many magical inlets and the prehistoric caverns, but we were content to see what we did, counting to come back again some other time. The outer island, Marettimo, sacred to the Greeks, at 19 miles from Favignana, will have to wait for another trip.
The sail back to Marsala on Sunday was exciting, with a 16 knot wind in a flat sea sending us along at well over 8 knots. We quickly closed up the boat and went to the Mozia salt pans for lunch at the Eubes restaurant, another must for the discerning gourmet. Then back to the Palermo airport for our flight to Rome.