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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Enchanting Egardis and amazing Aeolis 2007

To the west of Sicily lie the beautiful Egardi Islands, a group of four rarely visited by yachts or tourists.  As they were on the direct route from southern Sardinia, and the cruising guide said they were fantastic, we decided to stop for a few days.  
We pulled into the westernmost island Marettimo after an uneventful overnight passage and were stunned by this gorgeous island.  Colourful fishing boats lined the small dock, the waters were deep and crystal clear and the rugged coastline was spectacular.  The people ashore were relaxed and friendly and the town tiny and quaint.
From here we went to Favignana, the largest of the Egadis and famous for its annual Mattanza - tuna kill.  Huge tuna run between Sicily and the Egardis in the season and local fishermen string nets out to corral the fish and then spear them in a bloodied killing frenzy.  In early days the islands had many tuna processing plants but as stocks have dwindled these plants have closed and today the tuna industry has become a boutique one.  A handful of shops on the island sell expensive tuna products and restaurants sell tuna steaks, risotto and pasta.
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 The Mattanza has become a bit of a tourist attraction but one that we weren’t sorry we’d missed.  We love tuna and don’t mind catching the odd one but the sight of hundreds of huge tuna being slaughtered just doesn’t seem to make sense in these ecologically aware days.
The waters around the Egardis were thick with nasty brown jellyfish making swimming almost impossible.  We’d jump in with snorkel and mask and quickly check for jellies before having a quick swim around the boat constantly on the lookout.
We enjoyed the Egardis so much we decided to head on up to the Aeoli group which lies off the north coast of Sicily and includes the active volcano Stromboli.  There are seven islands and we visited six.  Anchoring here can be a bit problematical as being volcanic the waters are incredibly deep and the bottom is often rock.
Our first stop was Filicudi where we got our first shock – 40 euro ($90) for a mooring!  It was too late to go anywhere else so we reluctantly handed over the cash, pockets hurting.  Next day we moved on to Salina, famous for its sweet Malvasi wine made from grapes which are first air dried before being processed into wine.
We’d picked up Marlborough friends Helen and Zak Ensor in Sicily before heading up to the Egardis.  They’re grape growers and were intrigued at the intensive hand methods used in cultivating grapes here so did an island tour to check things out, buying a bottle of Malvasi en route.  After Salina we headed on to Lipari. 
The main town was a great place to wander and soak up the holiday atmosphere but the anchorage wasn’t great so we headed to neighbouring Vulcano, an active vulcano and walked to the top where you could look down into the smoking crater. 
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Then it was on to glitzy Panarea – island of the rich and famous and sure enough, Dolce and Gabbana were in town, well their gold motor yacht was anchored off in the very crowded anchorage.
We had drinks at a trendy bar and just as well Zak offered to shout – it cost 30euro for two beer and two glasses of prosecco.  Next night on Stromboli it was our shout and the same drinks cost 10 euro!
Stromboli didn’t perform for us.  She puffed white smoke at regular intervals but we didn’t get to see the red lava that she often blows at night, earning her the name Lighthouse Island. 
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Stromboli was a lovely island and we enjoyed a day and night here.  It would have been nice to linger in the Aeolis but they are very unprotected anchorages.  So, with a Mistral forecast we set sail for Sicily, having a rip roaring sail through the Straits of Messina.  As we did we watched the local fishermen try to spear swordfish from the long bow of a very strange looking boats.
Luckily for the fish, we only saw the fishermen miss.  The swordfish got to live another day!