A boat ride from Sicily, Favignana is one of Italy’s most charming getaways

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The southern Italian island of Sicily is a huge 10 million square meter piece of volcanic land in the Mediterranean with a population of five million. But off its northwest coast are three small Aegadian Islands, 175 miles from Tunis, the largest of which, Favignana, measures less than three miles at its widest point with a population of just over 4 000 people. The only way to get there is by boat, 18 km from the Sicilian town of Trapani, so although it attracts tourists during the season, it is still a largely unknown place, steep, cave-dug and reclusive. where peace and quiet are the rule. and the beaches are relatively arid.

Four strong winds blow over Favignana – the Mistral from the northwest, the Scirocco from the southeast, the Greco from the northeast and the Libyan from the southwest – whose name comes from a fishing net called a levanzo.

There are no chain hotels or golf courses, and the colorful wooden boats in the harbor are owned by fishermen for whom the tuna industry is a source of livelihood. tonnara tradition that awaits the arrival of bluefin tuna and their massive capture called mattanza which occurs from May to June. The canning industry was started here by Vincenzo Florio, better known as the Marsala wine producer, and built in a factory on the island by Ignazio Florio, once employing 800 men and women, while nuns of the island looked after their children.

Today, processing and canning takes place in the nearby town of Trapani, and tuna yields are not what they once were. You can still visit the vast pink sand colored processing plant with its thin lancet arches and towers where huge quantities of fish have been prepared for canning, and if you are lucky you can find a elder who still sings the tributes of the old tuna dialect while they were fished.

During World War II, as the story goes, General Patton’s invasion of Sicily led him to send two officers on an expedition to each of the Aegadian Islands in a fishing boat they bought for three dollars. Once ashore at Favignana, the Italian lieutenant-colonel was only too happy to cede the islands to the Americans and get rid of the Germans.

To get to Favignana, you take the Liberty Lines hydrofoil ferry from Trapani, a half hour trip (around $ 25 round trip). You slow down and glide through the crowded harbor with boats and when you disembark head to the cafe on the docks and order their specialty, a delicious pistachio cream espresso (which you can buy there or at any location. what a good Italian grocery store). Since no one brings a car to the island, you can walk around town in the morning leisurely or rent a bike from the docks (there is a large green sign saying “LOCATION”) for around $ 12 per day. , or find older bikes for half that price. Bikes will be needed to visit one of Favignana’s many beaches, including Cala Rossa, perhaps the busiest, and Bue Marino among rocks and caves and has a food truck selling tuna sandwiches. You can also hire guide boats to take you around the island. The beaches, despite all the rocky surroundings, have more fine sand than many pebbles in the Mediterranean and the views of the mountains and other islands are wonderfully calming.

The city center, if you want to call something so small and compact a city center, has the sun-bleached buildings of the southern Mediterranean and the usual glut of churches, as well as the 19e Century Florio Palace, now a local history museum. The island offers a plethora of guesthouses, many on or near the beach, such as La Praya 5, currently rented for $ 166 per night, including breakfast. New Cave Jardin rooms are dramatically located right above the caves, for $ 178.

Brand new is elegantly appointed Calamoni di Favignana beautifully appointed apartments right next to the vineyards of the Firriato family and a few steps from the lapping sea. With one and two bedroom apartments and villas, prices start around $ 1,000 a night.

There are many good causal trattorias on the island, all with seafood menus. The very popular, oddly named Quello Che C’e C’e, on Via Garibaldi, which roughly translates to “This is what it is”, is always crowded during the season, and outside tables are sought after and occupied early, but meals go quickly here. Pasta is around $ 15, main courses around $ 25. The fougasse is irresistible.

I had a wonderful, very friendly meal in the family home Trattoria del Pescador, the oldest in the city, located in Piazza Europa since 1974. It’s rustic and folkloric and very pretty, and you will be greeted by the gracious owner Rino, who will offer you a plate with a variety of daily catches, which will then be prepared by his wife Rosa. In every bite of his food there is the salty taste of the Mediterranean. The food is not fussy but simply brilliant and the dishes plentiful and meant to be shared. We started with antipasti then slightly tasty pasta bottarga eggs and another with small, tender clams in the shell. There were also freshly made busy noodles, the hole in the middle of the long strands of which is made with a knitting needle. A brilliant sarago (bream) was wearing a salmoriglio oil, pepper and lemon sauce, and preo (dentice) was simply toasted and meaty. Pasta race from $ 14 to $ 27; main courses $ 17- $ 33, with fish sold by the gram.

With the meal we drank a Firriato Favinia 2012 made from Nero d’Avola grapes and after dinner a Passitio 2015 with raisins from the same producer. You can skip the sweet and cloying cassata cake for dessert.

By late afternoon we were back on the ferry, crossing rough water, and as Favignana pulled away in the distance, he seemed to come back to the sea like a goblin waiting for the sun to set.

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