Pantelleria and Ustica
While many people consider the Aeolian Islands as the all and end of scenic volcanic islands in Sicily, they aren't the only islands worth visiting. Pantelleria to the south of Trapani and Ustica to the north of Palermo are some of the idyllic island delights in the western part of Sicily.
Pantelleria is known as the island of the rich and famous, and a holiday refuge of some hollywood stars
Ustica is diver's paradise, featuring some of the most stunning underwater spots of the Mediterranean.
Pantelleria is Sicily's largest volcanic island, although it is considered quasi-dormant so you don't need to fear a volcanic explosion or dangerous gases being vented anytime soon. The 15 km-long island is dominated by two calderas that are fantastic for hiking and has a series of coves and inlets that are great for swimming, scuba diving and snorkelling.
The Moors occupied Pantelleria for 400 years and much of their influence is still visible today in the language, housing and cultivation.
It may surprise you to realize that Pantelleria is actually closer to Tunisia than Sicily. In fact it is just 60 km from Tunisia and yet 100 km from Sicily itself. There is much that is more African than European about this island.
How to get to Pantelleria
The island can be reached by ferries from Trapani. There is also Pantelleria Airport with services operated by Air One. To get around on the island make use of the local bus service, taxis or rent a car, bicycle or scooter.
Sailors will find information of touristic ports in Sicily here
Things to and see in Pantelleria
Most people use Pantelleria town as a base, and it is the most convenient for access to ferries, the airport and buses. The port town is pretty active day and night as fishing boats come and go, ferries disgorge tourists and the locals go about their daily activities. The main sight in town is the 16th Century Spanish Castello Barbacene.
But really most people visiting Pantelleria come to enjoy its thermal pools, swim in the sea or head to the hills for a hike. One of the most popular places to have a thermal scrub is in the centre of the island at the Bagno dell'Aqua. The sesi (neolithic funeral cairns) are also worth checking out. These are thought to have been left by Pantelleria's first settlers and are of striking quality not dissimilar to those on Easter Island. Some of the best are near Cuddie Rosse, a place that marks a prehistoric cave settlement.
While there are no real sandy beaches on Pantelleria, there are some fantastic places for swimming such as Gadir and Bue Marino.
Accommodation and restaurants in Pantelleria
While you're in Pantelleria you should try to immerse yourself in some of the Moorish traditions of the island by staying in a traditional Arabic house (dammuso), and drinking plonk made from the local wine grape known as Zibibbo. The local ricotta cheese or tumma comes highly recommended particularly in the plate "ravioli con menta e ricotta". Some eateries you'll find here
The turtle shaped island off the north coast of Sicily is a pleasant day escape from Palermo, although it is best explored over a few days. Its sparkling clear waters are perfect for scuba diving and it is actually considered the dive capital of Sicily. So if you like all things submersible grab your fins and mask and head over.
How to get to Ustica
Ustica is 60 km north of Palermo. The best season to visit is between June and September although August can be hopelessly overcrowded. Ferries from Trapani, Napoli, Palermo and even Favignana run to Ustica. Some sailings can be cancelled at short notice if the weather turns bad.
Things to do and see in Ustica
If you haven't come to dive there is still plenty to do on the island. Ustica Town is the arrival point for ferries from Palermo and is a pleasant little place with murals decorating the buildings, an old tower, good restaurants and access to tourist services such as bicycle or scooter rent. You can also rent a snorkel and mask here and then head out to explore.
There are a number of great dive sites scattered all around the island that include unusual rocks, caves, crevices, vertical walls and various passages filled with coral and fish. Those that like a bit of activity on foot will enjoy exploring the series of paths that crisscross the island around its volcanic cones in the centre, or along coastal routes that circumnavigate the island. Some of the paths take you past evidence of Roman habitation on the island that date to the third century BC.
It's also possible to rent a boat and explore the jagged coastline from a fantastic seaside vantage point.
Accomodation and restaurants in Ustica
The best thing to eat in Ustica is anything that involves fresh seafood. Restaurants in Ustica town provide a fantastic selection of squid, grilled fish, swordfish and home made pastas. Most people stay in Ustica Town for the widest choice of accommodation.