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Ustica: one week in paradise

  • Flavio 

We continue our journey jumping from one island to the next one. After ten days spent visiting several cities in Sicily, we were missing the atmosphere we had in some more isolated places we have been over the previous two months: from Sicily mainland, we sailed to the small island of Ustica and we got the most of this authentic beauty.

Sentiero del Mezzogiorno: from Ustica to Faro Punta Cavazzi

On a very windy Saturday morning, we raised the anchor at Guidaloca and sailed east. After crossing the big bay of Castellammare and doubling Punta Raisi, the wind died and the waves faded away. We dropped the anchor at Isola delle Femmine, and took some rest after the sleepless night in Guidaloca.

Isola delle Femmine: perfect conditions to take some needed rest

After a good restoring sleep, the following day we woke up early, started the engine and sailed north. Six hours later we were already in Ustica, ready to explore this unknown-to-us place.

Anchored in the port

Ustica is a small, beautiful, unique, and wild island full of good-hearted people. With a fascinating historical background, the island is a marine reserve like few in the Mediterranean. Today, diving is one of the main touristic attractions (there are eleven diving centers).

Ustica is about 100 km far from Palermo

Also known as the black pearl of the Mediterranean, it’s a volcanic island that boasts of a heritage of outstanding natural beauty: all this in less than 9 square kilometers. Roughly 1,300 people live on this island but we were told that it can host up to 15,000 people in summer.

A view of the dock from the beach

To me, what makes it even more unique is the fact that it’s not really a sailing-friendly place, which means it doesn’t get the number of boats (and tourists) other Italian islands normally get. Anchoring is almost impossible, plus at this time of year, there are no buoys in place. The only way to spend some days on land is to moor in its port. More than a port it’s a sort of docking that doesn’t offer proper shelter and can be used only in settled conditions. The dock is small, very small: you need to drop the anchor and go stern-to the dock. A maximum of three boats can fit there.

Bolero moored stern-to in Ustica

It was the first time we were doing this maneuver, so we were a bit nervous. Luckily, it wasn’t a windy day and we managed to tie ourselves at the first attempt. We were welcomed and helped by Donatello, a linesman who works with Domenico (if you plan to sail to Ustica, don’t doubt to call Domenico +39 338 1888502 – he and his team will be of great help – and don’t forget to inform the Guardia Costiera on Ch. 16 and tell them you are willing to stay in the public quay).

A bit of history

When we visit new places, we like to read a bit of background: for sure Ustica has a distinctive history that I think is worth sharing. Here are some main facts:

  • In 1989 excavations unearthed what was a large prehistoric village dating from the 13th century BC.
  • The island has been populated at least since about 1500 BC by Phoenician peoples. In ancient Greece, the Island was named Osteodes (ossuary) in memory of the thousands of Carthaginian mutineers left there to die of hunger in the 4th century BC. The Romans renamed the island Ustica, Latin for burnt, for its black rocks.
  • During the Fascist years in Italy and until the 1950s, Ustica served as a prison island. Benito Mussolini banished thousands of political opponents to Ustica, often as many as 1,500 at a time; many were homosexuals.
  • And finally, on June 27, 1980, Itavia Flight 870 crashed into the sea off the island while en route to Palermo, killing all 81 people on board. The event became known as the Ustica massacre.

Lots of things to see in just 9 square kilometers

The first thing we need to take into account is that if levante blows (easterly wind) you’d better leave Ustica as some very nasty waves can make the mooring dangerous. A good and constant look at the weather forecast is mandatory.

Sea storm hit Ustica in 1996: its hinabitants still remember it well

The second thing we did, was taking the paddle and exploring the nearby Grotta Azzurra (blue cove). Over the last few years, we have seen a few cool coves, but this one is probably on the top of our “cove list”. An image is worth one thousand words.

Graffiti: the town is full of colorful paintings that give an artistic touch to this already nice village. The octopus was my favorite one along with the wording “ci pensa il mare a perdonare i nostri inverni” (Michele Gentile). In English, it something like “the sea will forgive our winter”.

Food: Ustica is part of Sicily and if you have followed a bit out blog, you know already that Sicily is synonymous of top quality food. We must have put on some kilos during our stay in Ustica, but we ha no choice really…

All in all, I’d strongly recommend spending a few days in Ustica, maybe it’s not the ideal destination for families with young kids, as there are no beaches and access to the sea can be somehow difficult. Apart from that, it’s a magical place and I’m sure we’ll try to include a stop here next time we are in Southern Italy.

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