After our misadventures on the Egadi islands and Trapani, we could finally set sail again. Our first stop-over was San Vito Lo Capo, a small city that has become very touristic in the recent years. The beach is filled with bars and restaurants so we had some free live entertainment until very late at night at our anchorage. We left the next morning for Sferracavallo. We were quite happy to see that we were the only boat anchored there (except for a few dinghies that left at sunset). While we were having dinner we discovered why our anchorage was so nice and quiet, an old Sicilian fisherman came to us and started to shout at us in Italian and then left again. After dinner he came back, we tried to talk to him, we didn’t mind moving a few hundred meters so he could put his nets, but he kept shouting (and gesturing) in Italian and started to put his fishing nets all around our boat. We had to leave our spot anyway while we still could and re-anchor a few hundred meters further (chased by an angry fisherman: check).
The next morning we sailed to Arenella, a cheap marina in the north of Palermo. Palermo has a huge waste problem which is quite visible when you approach the city as we were sailing in a plastic soup. From Arenella there are buses that go to Palermo every 30 min but we thought we could just walk the 2.5 km that separate the marina from the capital of Sicily. In the end we walked 4 km to get to the city center and still had to walk around to visit the city (on crappy sneakers). Our feet were completely dead at the end of the day so we did take the bus back. Palermo was quite an interesting city, filled with either very nice historical buildings or very decrepit buildings. The city is over 2700 years old and was among others part of the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, conquered by Arabs, reconquered by Christians from Normandy who created the kingdom of Sicily, then part of the Holy Roman empire and kingdom of Spain. These various influences are still visible today which make the city’s cultural sights wonderfully varied. Our next stop was Termini Imerese (we just anchored North of the industrial harbor) on our way to Cefalù. In Cefalù we anchored in front of the old harbour for an easy access to the city. We didn’t expect the city to be as crowded as it was: the beach was so full of people you could barely see any patch of sand and the narrow streets were so packed with tourists we had the impression of walking in the Kalverstraat of Amsterdam on a Saturday afternoon. Despite the crowds Cefalù was worth a visit as it’s a cute medieval city.
We left the next day for Sant’Agata di Militello and anchored in the unfinished marina. From there we sailed to the Aeolian islands. The islands are peaks of volcanoes of which two remain active: Stromboli and Gran Cratere on Vulcano. We first stopped in Salina, the anchorage was super crowded and we were not too happy to see that the transmission of our engine slipped when we were trying to anchor. The next morning we called our hotline Scheepswerf Stallinga and Bas our mechanic suggested that the transmission could be leaking so we had to refill it with the right oil. After doing some research we rowed to the shore and found a gas station selling the oil we were looking for. Back onboard we filled up the transmission and tested the engine: it seemed to work fine again. The next day we sailed to Panarea, an island popular with the local jet-set, and then to Stromboli. We were lucky to be able to hike the volcano as two people cancelled the day before and usually these hikes have to be booked weeks in advance. We were super excited at the idea of seeing a live volcano. We first had to sign a paper stating we should be aware that volcanoes are dangerous and we are physically fit enough and capable to do the hike. The hike itself lasts in total 6 hrs (3 hrs to climb up, 1 hr on top of the volcano, 2 hr to get down). We arrived on top of the volcano just after sunset and seeing the continuous small eruptions of the Stromboli was one of the most impressive things we’ve ever seen. We felt very small and insignificant looking down at the crater. It was definitely the highlight of our Sicilian journey. After Stromboli we stopped in Panarea again and then in Lipari, the main island of the archipelago. From Lipari we sailed to Vulcano and hiked the Gran Cratere. It’s only a 30 min hike and after the Stromboli was a bit of an anticlimax. It was still nice to see (and smell!) a different kind of active volcano (especially a stinking one). The Aeolian islands are very beautiful and to see/visit them with your own boat makes the experience a hundred times better.
We stopped in Spadafora on the North coast of Sicily before crossing the strait of Messina. There we had one of our worst anchorages ever. Our boat was teeming with mosquitoes, at night a swell came rolling in so we were rolling in our bed too, but the worst was a karaoke bar right on the beach, horribly out of tune and so loud it sounded like they were singing in our cockpit! We seriously considered lifting anchor and crossing the Strait of Messina in the middle of the night.
In the strait you have to be careful with tides, whirlpools and eddies, and squalls blowing off the land. We had during our passage wind and waves in the back and encountered no whirlpools. We continued until Taormina as there is no real option to anchor before that. From our anchorage in Taormina we could see the Etna in the distance. We were warned that Taormina is really crowded in summer with tourists, but that it was still worth a visit. We once again rowed our dinghy to the shore and this time took a bus to the city. It was quite crowded but not as much as Cefalù. The main attraction is the ancient Greek theater. We saw it from the outside only as you of course have to pay to visit it. The rest of the city is also nice but sometimes feels like a theme park with its many bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, more bars and more restaurants. Taormina was also our end point in Sicily before crossing to mainland Italy (even though we would have liked to see Siracusa it was too far South for us to visit this time, but we will return to Sicily).
In the end we spent a lot more time in Sicily than we initially planned to, but then again we enjoyed it a lot. The Aeolian islands and the Stromboli in particular were amazing!