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Yacht Charter Guide to Sicily & the Aeolian Islands

On a Sicily and Aeolian Islands yacht charter, gently puffing volcanoes rise out of a blue-green sea, morning church bells sound across whitewashed villages and shady piazzas, and stunning black and white sand beaches glitter under the Sicilian sun.

Born of fire, the landscapes of Sicily and the Aeolian islands are pure theatre— a breathtaking visual feast of dramatic volcanoes and red rivers of lava, bubbling mud pools and lush fern forests. Inland, quiet mountain valleys are carpeted with wildflowers and grazing sheep, and shady orchards of olive and lemon trees are patchworked by ancient drystone walls.

Bow of yacht on Sicily charter

This is a place where the old and new exist in perfect harmony, where Ancient Greek temples stand high above the Mediterranean, mules drag luggage up cobbled streets to whitewashed hotels, and brightly-painted fishing boats jostle with superyachts in glamorous ports.

As you float along the rugged, breathtaking coastline on your Sicily yacht charter, you’ll look up to see medieval fortresses perched on sheer cliff-tops, and anchor in spectacular deepwater bays to dive off the yacht into deliciously cool, cobalt-blue waters. Under the surface, the volcanic activity has created spectacular underwater topography and marine life in abundance, making Sicily one of the best diving yacht charter destinations in the Mediterranean.

Yacht wake in Sicily

On a yacht charter in Sicily, spend days lazing about on dazzling white powder beaches, hike to the top of an active volcano, or watch opera in an ancient amphitheatre perched on a steep terrace above the sea. Clamber between the columns of mighty Greek temples by the sea, and explore the rabbit warren streets of walled cities, where Michelin-star restaurants and chic wine bars are popping up next to Byzantine cathedrals and bustling food markets barely changed by the passing of the centuries.

Street in Taormina, Sicily

The Sicilian food is a highlight of any Italy yacht charter, with a unique fusion of all the civilisations which have crashed upon these shores, resulting in a ‘cucina povera’ of stunning simplicity and flavour. The ingredients are unparalleled— plucked straight from the sparkling seas, sunny orchards, and lush mountain valleys, and delicious dry wines grown on steep volcanic slopes. From grilled swordfish with a rich caper and tomato sauce to creamy ricotta-filled pastries, the food on a Sicily yacht charter never fails to astonish.

When and Where to Go on a Sicily & Aeolian Yacht Charter

This is a place of ravishing, almost desolate beauty, and the spectacular coastline and archipelagos of Sicily can only properly explored by a yacht. Be warned: there is so very much to see on a Sicily and Aeolian island yacht charter that deciding what to leave out may well break your heart.

Church on the Italian island of Sicily

One popular yacht charter route is to cruise the Aeolians, taking in Stromboli, Panarea, Lipari, Salina and Vulcano, before crossing to Taormina on the mainland then onto Catania, Syracuse, Ragusa, Agrigento and finally back to Palermo.

Due to its long, hot summers and warm waters, Sicily enjoys an extended yacht charter season, with superb cruising from as early as May right through to October.

The Aeolian Islands Yacht Charter Guide

Set 15 miles off the Sicilian coast, the UNESCO-listed Aeolian archipelago offers a breathtaking mix of active volcanoes, crystal clear coves, great diving, and upmarket port towns. In Greek mythology, these enchanting, wild islands were known as the floating islands of Aeolus, and they provide much of the literary setting for much of Homer’s epic, Odyssey.

The island of Lipari

Lipari

Lipari is the largest island in the chain, and is particularly famous for Spiaggia Bianca, a dazzling white beach of pumice powder, left over from the centuries of pumice stone mining on the island. The pumice has the doubly-splendid attribute of filtering the water, meaning the waters off this beach are an astonishing turquoise blue, contrasting vividly with the white beach and conjuring up a Caribbean-like paradise in the Mediterranean (minus the palm trees, that is.)

Panorama of the island of Lipari

Other attractions of Lipari include Atilla’s famous pop-up beach restaurant where the fish of the day is as fresh as it gets, the excellent Filippino restaurant above Lipari town, and the fortified Greek acropolis and Archaeological Museum. A walk to the top of Mount Chirica delivers splendid view across the Aeolian chain and its puffing volcanoes, while the town of Lipari has a lively bar scene, including the infectious fun of an evening of music and cocktails at Bar Chirrata.

Salina

Salina’s film-set beauty was made known to the world in the iconic 1994 movie, Il Postino, which was filmed in the dramatically beautiful bay at Pollara, set in an underwater crater and surrounded by cliffs and verdant green. Drop anchor here near the natural stone arch for a blissful afternoon of swimming and watersports, before having drinks on the sundeck and watching the dramatic Aeolian sunset. If you’re chartering in the first week of June, the annual caper festival here transforms Pollara into a vibrant village of street games and dancing- and plenty of delicious Sicilian food.

The port at Salina in the Aeolian Islands

There’s a gorgeous little port at Santa Marina Salina lined with boutiques and restaurants, while Lingua is a great place to anchor and go ashore to enjoy a watermelon, pistachio, or almond granita at Bar da Alfredo while looking back out across the sparkling water to your yacht.

Rinella has excellent snorkelling on the shoal off its black sand beach, while the whitewashed village of Malfa sits in its nest of hills above the sea, surrounded by rolling vineyards that produce the delicious Malvasia wine. Salina’s beauty is not limited to the coast, with a magnificent primeval fern forest that winds up into the mountain, cool and dripping, before opening up to huge coastal panoramas and the volcanic crater of Fossa delle Felci.

Stromboli

Stromboli is Europe’s only constantly active volcano, and anchoring off at night to see the crater glow red and send its river of fire down to meet the sea is one of the great experiences of a Sicily yacht charter. You can also take a guided hike up the volcano (as long as it’s behaving itself) to see one of the explosions from a safe yet thrilling distance and feel the hot blast and sulphuric fury of the earth’s molten core on your face.

Stromboli volcano in Italy

This is all very spectacular at night, yet you should definitely arrive in daylight to enjoy Stromboli’s other charms- such as the lovely white seaside hamlet of Ginostra on the volcano’s lower green slopes, the terrace of the L’Incontro restaurant in the village, and the island’s lava black beaches. The waters offshore hide an incredible volcanic landscape and vibrant marine life, with particularly good diving at Strombolicchio, Le Sciara del Fuoco, and Secca di Sirocco.

Vulcano

A yacht charter in Sicily is a journey through the myths of gods and men, and the island of Vulcano is certainly no exception. The Roman god of fire, Vulcan, was believed to live in the belly of the Gran Cratere volcano, where he made weapons for the gods. Today, the cone of the volcano gives off clouds of sulphurous gas, and you can hike to the top for great views and a surreal experience. The whole island writhes with volcanic activity, with hot springs, fumeroles, bubbling seas, and milky-white mud baths that are known for healing and beautifying properties. There’s also the Michelin starred Il Cappero Ristorante Gourmet to indulge in when you’re done exploring, where the gambas risotto is a standout and the chef’s tasting menu continues to astonish.

Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands, Italy

Panarea

After the savage beauty and burning nature of the active volcanic islands, Panarea is a more gentle, romantic place that buzzes with just the right amount of glamour in the summer months. White-painted villages are wreathed in bougainvillea and lush green vegetation, and upmarket hotels, boutiques, and restaurants line narrow, car-free lanes. Offshore there are some rocky islets which are ideal for snorkelling and kayaking around, and the coast is full of dramatically beautiful coves and bays.

Panarea in the Aeolian Islands

Days on Panarea are spent anchoring and swimming under volcanic cliffs, hiking up to the top of Punta del Corvo, or exploring the Bronze Age huts at Cala Junco. There’s also a marine reserve at Cala Junco, and some excellent diving at Cala de Nave.

When night falls, it’s time for drinks at Bar del Porto in San Pietro, before dining on sushi at the Bridge Club and ending up on the famously chic terrace at Hotel Raya, where DJ’s play in August after 1am.

Alicudi

After the refined pleasures of Panarea, travel back to a simpler time on Alicudi, where mules carry luggage to the island’s one hotel, fishing boats are pulled up on the pebble beach, and the small village on the steep hill is covered with flowers. It’s a simple, lovely place, where you might want to walk off some of the excellent meals you’ve been having on board by taking the strenuous hike to the peak, passing a beautiful abandoned church and across a heath of wildflowers, before coming to the summit where all the islands of the archipelago are visible, all stretching out in a chain. The whole western side of Alicudi is uninhabited, and make for some sensational cruising as you float past the huge sheer cliffs.

Alicudi, Aeolian Islands

Filicudi

Filicudi, like Alicudi, is quiet and much less developed than the other islands. Volcanic sea stacks rise tall out of the water, blue grotto caves glow with light along the coastline, and prehistoric ruins and ancient terraces litter the landscape. There’s a small port at Filicudi Porto, with a few restaurants and shops, while there’s a Neolithic village at Capo Graziano. In truth, there’s little to do except anchor and swim, dine and swim again. If you want to escape the world and all its troubles, come to Filicudi on your Sicily yacht charter.

Filicudi island

A Yacht Charter Guide to Mainland Sicily

As if there wasn’t enough to see in the Aeolian Islands, the mainland has even more in store for your Sicily yacht charter, from soaring Byzantine cathedrals to huge Greek temples, glittering film festivals and Michelin star dining.

Favignana, Sicily

Taormina

This glorious, glamorous town sits perched high above the Mediterranean, with stunning views of Etna in the distance and an impressive culinary and nightlife scene. Taormina has been a destination for Europe’s elite since it was fashionable to take a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe in the 19th century, with luxury hotels opening up to cater to these early high-end travellers.

Theatre in Taormina, Sicily

Visitors have flocked here since the mid-1800s to take in theatre and operatic performances in the ancient Greek amphitheatre, perched on the cliff-side with its breathtaking view of sea and volcano, and to dine and drink and dance in the town’s grand hotels: the most famous of them all, the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo. 

Coast near Taormina, Sicily

Taormina’s roll call of famous visitors through the centuries is nothing short of dazzling- Goethe, Alexander Dumas, Oscar Wilde, Johannes Brahms, DH Lawrence, Capote, Cary Grant, and Greta Garbo are just a few of those who fell in love with the town’s charms in days gone by. Today, Taormina’s amphitheatre hosts the glittering Taormina Film Festival in June as part of its summer-long Taormina Arte culture fest, with Robert de Niro and Colin Firth just a few Hollywood stars to walk the red carpet.

The town’s winding medieval streets are lined with designer boutiques, bars and restaurants, with each bend in the lane providing yet another heart-stopping view. For dining, Principe Cerami is the 2 Michelin star highlight for a meal, while the one-star La Capinera has a famously good tasting menu with a focus on Sicilian cuisine done in innovative ways.

Square in Taormina, Sicily

A walk through Taormina is a walk through history, with the stunning Palazzo Corvaja a dizzying mix of Arab, Norman and Gothic architecture, while the Piazza del Duomo has a splendid 13th century Baroque cathedral.

Catania & Mt Etna

The ancient city of Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna, on the shores of the Ionian Sea. Etna has shaped the history and the architecture of this city, with each tragic catastrophe creating a new era of city design. The huge volcanic eruption and later earthquake of the 1700’s led to a baroque re-creation of the old town, with wide avenues and spacious piazzas, all created in grey lava rock from Etna’s explosions. The people of Catania know how to begin again with what they have, and have a healthy respect for ‘La Muntagna’ which smoulders above, occasionally sending perfect smoke rings into the sky.

Catania, Sicily with Mount Etna

In Catania’s Piazza Duomo, visit the Cathedral, re-built on an earlier foundation of Roman baths and columns, the lava elephant fountain, or wander the nearby fish market, observing a way of Sicilian life that has not changed in centuries. You can also see the three Greek theatres in the ancient quarter which have survived the volcano’s fury for millennia, take in an opera performance at the Teatro Massimo Bellini, or visit the Museo Belliano, also dedicated to the Catanian composer, Vincenzo Bellini.

Oranges in Catania market

The gardens and orchards surrounding Catania are bursting with lemons, oranges and vibrant vegetables, while the vineyards of Etna’s slopes produce wines that are gaining notoriety in Europe, with spicy, deep reds and dry, high altitude whites. The reds are commonly known as the ‘Burgundy of the Mediterranean’, and vineyards producing top drops include Passopisciaro, Graci, and Fessina. If you don’t have time to visit any vineyards, the enoteca Wine and Charme in Catania is an absolute delight, showcasing the best Etna wine as well as delicacies from across Sicily- capers, Modico chocolate, pistachios, cured meats, cheeses, and olive oils.

Slopes of Mt. Etna, Sicily

All of this excellent produce as well as an abundance of seafood finds its way to Catania’s restaurant tables. For pizza, go no further than Cutilisci; for seafood, Osteria Antica Marina by the fish market is a standout. For cannoli— that delicious, creamy ricotta stuffed pastry—head to Savia. While in Catania, it is near-compulsory to try the Sicilian staple, Pasta alla Norma, which originated here and is a deliciously simple combination of fresh pasta, eggplant, ricotta, basil and a rich tomato sauce. Trattoria del Forestiero is known as serving up the best, but there’s some stiff competition.

Mount Etna volcano in Sicily

Mount Etna itself is situated in a beautiful national park with some stunning walking trails– where the volcano rises above the trees and you walk through an ever-changing landscape of lemon groves and vineyards, up to beech and oak forests and finally across dark lava beds as you move higher.

Cefalu

Cefalu is an enchantingly pretty medieval seaside town with a superb Byzantine cathedral erected by the Norman king, Roger II, and a lovely stretch of beach. The walled medieval town was made famous in the 1998 film Cinema Paradiso, but the real highlight is the cathedral with astonishing mosaics, particularly the apse mosaic of Christ Pantocator, which is considered perhaps the finest Byzantine image in all of Italy.

Cefalu, Sicily

On charter in Cefalu, you can hike up the imposing La Rocca above the town to see a megalithic temple and superb views, or stay in town to visit Lavatoio, the Saracen wash-house or the ruins of the 13th century medieval palace, Osterio Magno. The Madralisca Museum is also a highlight of Cefalu for visitors, while the town itself is wonderful for exploring with its jumble of Greek, Italian, and Arabic architectural influences.

If you’re in the mood for a seafood lunch, head to Ostaria del Duomo in front of the cathedral for the simply unforgettable carpaccio di pesce, a medley of wafer-thin sardines, anchovies, prawns and whitefish dressed in local olive oil and lemon juice. Afterwards, stroll along the waterfront eating gelato, looking out at the colourful fishing boats bobbing in the clear emerald waters.

Syracuse

Stunning, World Heritage-listed Syracuse is one of the dazzling highlights of a Sicily yacht charter. The walled city of Syracuse abounds in ancient ruins, baroque piazzas, and quiet olive groves. In Ortigia, the atmospheric old quarter located on a narrow isthmus, you’ll find glamorous wine bars and designer boutiques alongside old fishermen mending their nets by the sea.

Once the largest city in the ancient world and later the birthplace of Archimedes, Syracuse’s crowning glory is the Temple of Athena, one of the great spectacles of Sicily. This ancient Doric Greek temple is still in use, after being converted into a Christian church in the 600s, a mosque during Islamic rule in the Dark Ages, and it is now a Roman Catholic cathedral.

Syracuse in Sicily

The fantastic Archeological Park Neapolis includes a Roman amphitheatre and a Greek theatre, where plays are performed in the summer months. There’s also a limestone cave called Orrechio di Dionisio, the acoustics creating a whispering gallery- one of Caravaggio’s old haunts. For archaeology enthusiasts, the Museo Paolo Orsi is perhaps the best museum of its kind in all of Italy, while the church of Basilica Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime is a spectacular modern edifice rising above the town.

For dinner, the smartest table in town is at the Regina Lucia in Piazza Duomo, while Oinos is also excellent. For more rustic food, head to the Osteria Da Mariano, where the cucina povera is heartily celebrated with local dishes like pistachio dusted ricotta, and parmesan cheese for pasta is replaced with a sprinkling of ground almonds. To indulge in some Sicilian wine, the Enoteca Solaria near the Piazza Duomo cannot fail to impress.

Ragusa

It may be difficult to drag yourself away from the spectacular Sicilian coastline, but Ragusa is utterly worth the trip. Sprawled atop two hilltops, in a tortured, beautiful landscape of valleys and ravines, this is a city of two hearts: one modern, one baroque, with the new town built after an earthquake prompted a new beginning (an old story in this region). When it came time to move to the new town, the old inhabitants couldn’t bear to leave, so built their houses on the ruins of the old town, creating the twin townships of Ragusa.

Ragusa, Sicily

The old town, Ragusa Ibla, is a wonderful network of laneways and cafes, artist studios and fine restaurants with highlights including the Michelin starred Ciccio Sultano and Ristorante La Fenice. This is where the hit show Inspector Montalbano is filmed.

As for the newer, upper town of Ragusa Superiore, it’s still worth a visit- if not just for the view of the old town on the next hilltop. There’s also a very good archaeology museum, and just outside town is the Castella di Donnafugata, a grand, pseudo-gothic country villa with splendid gardens and country walks.

Agrigento

Sicily was the site of one of the greatest flowerings of ancient Greek culture, with so many Greek colonies set up in the 8th century BC that the area came to be known as part of ‘Magna Greca’: Greater Greece. Sicily consequently has some of the finest surviving Doric temples and amphitheatres to be found on earth- and Agrigento is an archaeological treasure trove, with 10 such temples in varying stages of crumbling. The Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Temple of Hera are the most noteworthy. Agrigento is a superb destination for those with an interest in the classical world of the Ancient Greeks.

Agrigento, Sicily

Selinunte

Cruising up the coast a bit further you’ll find Selinunte, where the Temple of Hera, wife of Zeus and Goddess of Marriage, stands right on the edge of the coast above the sea. You can anchor your yacht right below the temple in the waters of the ancient port, and come up to explore this and the other temples, which are generally a great deal less crowded than those at Agrigento. Due to the seaside temple setting, this is a very special place to come at sunset.

Selinunte

Palermo

Finish your yacht charter in chaotic, vibrant Palermo. This city sings loudly of the past and the future, with fashionable wine bars and boutique hotels popping up by ancient cathedrals and rabbit warren streets.

Palermo, Sicilia

Once called ‘Ziz’, meaning flower, by the Phoenicians, Palermo has stood for nearly three thousand years, and is a dizzying mishmash of all the civilisations that have conquered these shores. Arabic domes, Byzantine churches and Gothic palaces crowd the skyline, and in the narrow, labynthine laneways you’ll find bustling, souk-like markets, and washing strung from balconies. People dance in the streets in Palermo, families sit chatting on doorsteps, and street art decorates the peeling paint facades.

Market in Palermo, Sicily

Palermo has both grandeur and grittiness in droves, with the largest opera house in Italy, noisy, tumultuous streets, and a spectacular setting framed by bay and mountains. There are still streets in ruins from the bombardments of the Second World War, horses roam the streets, and those who truly love Palermo are those who revel in the romance of faded glamour, and don’t mind decay one little bit. For with decay comes renewal, and that’s something that Palermo has been engaged in for millennia.

Church interior in Palermo, Sicily

There are stupendous things to see in Palermo, from the golden mosaics of the Palatine Chapel in the Norman Royal Palace to the Romanesque church of La Martorana in Piazza Bellini. There are two stunning modern art museums, the GAM and the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, both housed in palaces. For all the attractions, walking aimlessly may be the best pastime of all, ending up at the Via Chiavettieri for the evening passegiatta, the street only becoming more lively with bars and music as the night wears on.

For gastronomy, I Pupi Ristorante and Bye Bye Blues have both collected Michelin stars, while the vibrant street food scene of Palermo is centred around the city’s food markets, in particular the Barollo market. An exceptional authentic experience is the Trattoria Torremuzza da Peppuccio, where fish is grilled on braziers in the street, with Ilardo just around the corner serving delicious gelato. Gelato is a Palermo passion, and many will tell you it was invented here.

The city of Palermo, Sicily at dusk

Given its grandeur and grittiness, its perfect blending of old and new worlds, Palermo is the perfect place to end your Sicily and Aeolian Islands yacht charter.

This guide was written by Jo Morgan – Jo is a freelance writer for yachts and travel, offering targeted feature articles, content marketing, blogs and press releases for the yachting and travel industries.

To find out more about booking your Sicily charter yacht, contact the Mediterranean yacht charter experts at Bespoke Yacht Charter:

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