The Aegadian Islands: Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo
The Aegadian Islands archipelago, with the islands of Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo and the small islands of Formica and Maraone, is an extraordinary synthesis of history and nature. Land and underwater archaeological finds dating back to the Palaeolithic age bear witness to the permanent presence of peoples from all around the Mediterranean, the populations behind the history of the western world.
It’s Europe’s most extensive Protected Marina Area and has vast meadows of Posidonia, like an enormous submersed tropical forest. It’s thus a precious breeding ground for numerous species of fish, and there are a large variety of resident and migratory birds, extraordinary cetaceans, loggerhead sea turtles and the extremely rare Mediterranean monk seal.
This is the largest of the Aegadian Islands: the small town, centred entirely around the port, has a few noteworthy buildings, such as the small Palazzo Florio and some small Baroque churches. Its name is forever linked with tuna fishing and processing. It was the site of the Mediterranean’s largest tuna fishery, an industry essential for the island’s economy for several centuries. This is now a museum. You can cycle over the island quite easily as it’s rather flat and mostly composed of tuff rock used for building. There are deep quarries along the paths, partly the result of human excavation and partly caused by the sinking of the crumbly rock, covered and surrounded by low bushes.
Its coasts are full of ravines, coves and caves, and are lapped by a clear, turquoise sea with beautiful reflections.
Treat yourself to a lovely swim in the sea!
Cala Rossa: the effort to get here is immediately forgotten. It’s such a picturesque spot, nothing but rock and the blue sea, a natural swimming pool. It’s less suitable for children as it’s difficult to get to and there’s no easy way of entering the sea.
Grotte del Bue Marino: near Cala Rossa. You have to climb over the stones of tuff a bit to get to a suitable point for diving in…and you have to dive in because it’s the only way of entering the water. The water is very fresh, the vegetation is wild, and the colours range from intense blue to almost blue white: it’s amazing!
Cala Azzurra: beautiful and wild! A beach with fine sand, very suitable for children, with snorkelling masks and sun cream always at hand!
Lido Burrone and surroundings: this is suitable for families with children as the azure water is easy to enter and it’s not deep.
Scalo cavallo: rocks and stones with deep water right from the edge. An ideal place for snorkelling, not to mention the wonderful sunsets of Cala del Pozzo and Punta Sottile.
Favignana and the Florio family
For Favignana, tuna fishing is not just about the fish. It’s a centuries-long tradition which was a central feature of the social and economic identity of the whole island until it ended in 2007. With the Florio Favignana family, it experienced a period of great growth: Ignazio Florio set up home in the building
named after him, and bought the factory. This soon became one of the largest industrial food complexes in the world, at the forefront of the preservation and canning of tuna.
Today this factory, the Stabilimento Florio, has become a museum, the Ex Stabilmento Florio delle Tonnare di Favignana e Formica. The building has been very well restored, the site is truly evocative, and the guides are well prepared and conduct you on an exciting trip. The finds from various eras include a 15th century pilgrim’s flask containing wine, and amphorae from various periods.
There are churches and the Norman castles of Santa Caterina and San Giacomoto visit. The tuff quarries are veritable works of art with their unusual geometric columns, and with galleries which look like great cathedrals, all excavated by the skilled hands of the pirriaturi, masters in the extraction of tuff.
Various disused quarries are used for the cultivation of fruit trees and so form underground gardens, another of the island’s characteristics. Piazza Matrice pulses with the islanders’ daily life and is really lively on summer evenings.
This is the smallest and most precious of the Aegadian Islands. With its white houses nestled around the port, it looks like a nativity scene. It’s surrounded by a pristine sea.
On the eastern side, a stone’s throw from the village, there’s Cala Fredda, with a small beach of smooth, light pebbles and, a short distance away, Cala Minnola, backed by a pine forest with a slide to the sea and a beach.
On the opposite side, a path leads to the Caletta del Faraglione, a cove which the environmental organisation Legambiente considers one of the twenty most beautiful beaches in Italy.
On the other side there’s Cala Tramontana, where you can enjoy the sunset in silence. Are you a fan of diving? Levanzo offers a very interesting underwater archaeological itinerary. Between Cala Minnola and Punta Altarella, at a depth of around 27 metres, there are the remains of a shipwrecked Roman ship, with wine amphorae and fragments of ceramic pottery with black paint, dating back to the 1st century BC. The walls of the Grotta del Genovese bear the painted figures of men and animals which date back to the Palaeolithic Age, with its obscure rituals and wild, mysterious life. The Cave is one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the world.
Of the archipelago’s three islands, Marettimo is the most “isolated”, since it was detached from the mainland several millennia before the others. The Greeks called it Hiera, the Sacred Island, which some believe might be ancient Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus. Marettimo is the highest and rockiest of the Aegadian Islands. Its single fishing village is composed of small, closely-packed houses, and its daily life is one of peace and serenity.
A quiet, peaceful island, where your days are either spent by the sea, walking along paths bordered by overflowing vegetation, or are devoted to diving, because of the various seabeds and the hundreds of caves you can explore along its jagged coast. There are around 400 caves in all, some above and some below the surface, and there are many coves where you can bathe in pure, clear water.
For those who love trekking this is a perfect island: there are several enjoyable paths from the village and there are many possible excursions: Punta Bassano, Cala Bianca or Punta Troia under the Norman castle of the same name. The castle has been restored and is now a museum, the Museo delle Carceri, and is also used as an observatory of the Aegadian Islands Marine Protected Area.
There are the Case Romane, the remains of a large building dated to between the 1st and 2nd century AD and a small Byzantine church; there’s the Punta Libeccio Lighthouse, with its legends; and there’s the Semaforo, a viewpoint from which you can see the infinite line of the Mediterranean horizon. In the early hours of the morning, you can see numerous mouflon sheep and, if you’re lucky, even the island’s few deer.
The paths wind their way up to Pizzo Falcone (686 metres above sea level), which stands out majestically about 700 metres from the sea. Here, among rare, aromatic plants, you can admire the hovering peregrine falcon.
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