FIVE ISLANDS - 2013

Three off the southern coast of Sardinia------and two off the northern coast of Sicily



After our visit to Sicily in 2011 and our visit to Sardinia in 2012 we knew we wanted to go back to both of these wonderful islands. And after the day we had spent in 2011 walking on the island of Levanzo, in the Egadi group, off the north-west coast of Sicily, we knew that we wanted to go to the Egadis again and, while we were at it, explore some more of the small offshore islands with which both Sardinia and Sicily are blessed.

So autumn 2013 was to be our 'autumn of islands.' It would be a watery autumn, filled with lots of sun and sea and sky and--we hoped--lots of beautiful walks. And so it was.
Our journey to the sea began with a three hour fast train ride from Paris to the southern port of Marseille, where we stayed overnight at the Marseille Centre de Joliette B&B, which is right next to the Joliette metro station and about fifteen minutes' walk from the ferry.
Since our ferry to Sardinia didn't leave until 6 pm the next day, we had plenty of time to explore Marseille, especially the old port area. One of the things that fascinated us was the abundance of public art.

The Meridionale ferry to Sardinia landed us at Porto Torres in time for a leisurely breakfast, after which we caught the bus to Alghero, where we stayed for one night at the Alghero City Hotel. Next morning, we caught another bus down the coast to what has become one of our favourite places, the beautiful, unspoilt town of Bosa. Here we stayed two weeks in the same little fourth floor apartment in the old town that we had stayed in last year and enjoyed, as we had before, looking out over the River Temo, watching the herons and egrets fishing and the boats coming and going. We walked a lot, especially to the beach at Bosa Marina, and gradually relaxed into the peaceful pace of Sardinian life. 

Until it was time to go south...

Since this trip was all about islands, what could be more fitting than Cagliari's well-known treasure-house of yummy treats, 'The Island of Gelato?' Needless to say, we visited daily. Well you have to, don't you?  Here's why...
South to Cagliari, Sardinia's main city, with its bustling crowds, its interesting architecture, its ups and down, hills and steps and thousands of narrow alleyways, most of them filled every evening with restaurant tables. Our hotel room at the Affitacamere Arcobaleno, was over one such alleyway and when the shutters were open it was filled with the sounds of clattering cutlery, laughter, conversation and the music of the strolling accordion players who came to entertain the diners.
Another treasure we discovered in Cagliari was the absolutely beautiful botanical gardens. Of all the botanical gardens we have seen in the world, this one--though small and compact--is definitely one of the loveliest. 
Then it was time to set sail for the first of the five islands we had come to visit. Except that we didn't literally set sail, for Sant'Antioco is so close to the Sardinian coast that we went there on a bus, across a causeway. We travelled through the island's main town, also called Sant'Antioco, and around to Calasetta, a much smaller town. There are a lot of vacation homes around Calasetta and a lot of moorings for boats, so in the summer season it is probably quite a busy place, yet by October when we visited it had become a real sleepy hollow and there were very few people around, even on the attractive main street, the traffic-free Via Roma, with its palm trees. However, after the buzz and bustle of Cagliari, it felt wonderfully restful, especially at our pleasant little hotel, the Cala di Seta
From Calasetta, we caught a boat across for the half-hour  journey across to the next island, the Isola San Pietro and its  small town of Carloforte. 
Carloforte turned out to be a lot livelier than Calasetta. We enjoyed the wide promenade along the seafront with its stores and cafes and mature trees.

Stayed at a charming hotel called the Villa Pampina, tucked away up a steep and cobbled street .


We called in at a funky little place called Il Barone Rosso (The Red Baron) for lunch on the first day. 
It calls itself a pub and it is the tiniest one imaginable.
The staff were jolly and the pannini were the best we've ever tasted.

Hills rise steeply up behind the town and most walks start with a climb. This one started with a flight of more than 90 steps. But whoever built it thoughtfully provided plenty of places to stop for a rest! We walked up into the hills, from where we got a great view of the town and the harbour below us.
Without a doubt, however, the highlight of Carloforte for us was a walk along the long path that winds its way half away around one of the ancient saline (salt pans). There was a salt industry here for several centuries and there is still rusty machinery standing around but now there are interpretive signs as well because nowadays this is a Nature trail. Salt production did not cease until very recent times but now the shallow salt lagoons have been turned into an ecological reserve, a rich habitat for a number of birds including the beautiful fenicotteri (flamingos) which overwinter here before returning to France for the breeding season.

It was only when this flamingo flapped its wings that we were able to see  the beautiful colour underneath.

From here to our third island was a long journey. We had to retrace our steps as far as Cagliari, from where
we caught an overnight ferry to Palermo and then a bus from Palermo to Trapani, on Sicily's north-west coast.
After a brief Trapani stopover, we then climbed aboard the slow ferry that would take us to the island I had
wanted to visit for a number of years - Marettimo. Small and remote, with a permanent population of only
around 300 people, it is basically a mountain rising out of the sea. Like most of Sicily's islands, this one was
once a volcano. The only roads are in the  town itself, which is basically a collection of small, whitewashed
dwellings clustered around the harbour, with half a dozen small stores and three restaurants. Access to the
rest of the island is only by rough tracks and walking paths. The whole place is utterly delightful. It was misty
when we first arrived...
...but the sun soon came out again. And stayed out.
We stayed at the island's only hotel, the Marettimo Residence
and what a terrific place it was!
And the walks were absolutely superb - as we knew they would be


Of all the places we visited on this trip, Marettimo was by far the hardest to leave




Steps up to the castle on top of the hill
But leave we must for there were two more islands still to visit. So back we went to Trapani, then back on the bus to Palermo and then the train to Milazzo, where we stepped aboard the hovercraft that would take us out to the Eolian islands. After a brief stop at Vulcano we reached Lipari. Here we were booked to stay at Villa Sea Rose, where we had a nice little apartment with a terrace full of flowers and the sea just a few steps away down the alleyway.

It was very close to the pretty little harbour called Marina Corta

Like the other islands, Lipari is volcanic. So most of the walks involve walking uphill.
But getting up to where you can look straight across at the smoking fumaroles of
Lipari's brooding neighbour Vulcano is well worth the climb.

And on the horizon, Stromboli
The last one of our five islands was Salina.  Whilst Lipari was quite busy and quite touristy, we found Salina the exact opposite.  Here, the season had well and truly ended and there was hardly anyone around. We stayed at the Hotel Mercanti di Mare, right at the harbour of Santa Marina Salina, and with so few guests at the hotel, we got the best room, with a gorgeous private terrace at the front on which to sit and sip our wine.


There was still one restaurant open, plus a pizzeria and a
very nice bar where we had our breakfasts and our coffee.
We only stayed here in Salina for two days but it was a very
pleasant and relaxing experience.
The back gate of the hotel led out on to Santa Marina Salina's main street.
And this, believe it or not, is the main street



By the time we left this last of our destinations and boarded the hovercraft for the ride back to
Milazzo and the long journey home (by ferry and train via Palermo, Genova, Milano, Zurich, Paris
and London) it was nearly the end of October. Most of the visitors were leaving or had already gone.
We left the islands to their winter peace.