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The island of Marettimo

GUIDE TO SICILY

Marettimo is the westernmost and most remote of the three Egadi Islands, just over an hour’s hydrofoil ride from Trapani on Sicily’s western tip.

Largely untouched by tourism, the island is a real hideaway, a quiet, sleepy place for most of the year. Then, in the summer months, expat islanders return to see their families, catch up with the news and renew their vows of love for their home. The story of Marettimo’s diaspora and how the islanders took up salmon-fishing in Alaska is the stuff of legend and an intrinsic part of the island’s identity. 



Marettimo packs a surprising amount of history and archaeological interest for such a small, relatively remote place. Looking down from a vantage point above the village are the remains of a Roman military outpost, built after the First Punic War and testimony to the strategic importance the island played in antiquity. Next to these ruins is a small Norman church, built after the Arabs were ousted from Sicily in 1072. It was the same Arabs who built a fortified watch tower on the top of Punta Troia, an unassailable promontory at the northeastern tip of the island. Roger II (the Norman king responsible for building the cathedral in Cefalú) transformed it into an impregnable castle, which remained in use variously as a prison, a military outpost and a communications centre until the early 20th century. and a military , on an off until the early 20th century. Recently restored, it is now open to the public and is reached either by boat or by trekking along a splendid, if rugged, coastal path. The reward at the end of this path is a refreshing dip in the sea from the rocks below the castle.

Largely untouched by tourism, the island is a real hideaway, a quiet, sleepy place for most of the year.

Marettimo is a great destination for those who love trekking. A network of well-signposted walking routes criss-cross the island, offering unending panoramas of heart-quickening beauty. Perhaps the best view of all is to be had from the top of Pizzo Falcone, the island's highest peak at about 500m above sea level.

Marettimo's coastline is one of dramatic charm. Numerous sea caves puncture the plunging, precipitous dolomitic cliffs as they meet the sea. One such is  the Grotta del Cammello, which hosts a pebbly beach and the remains of a Roman settlement. A day or two exploring these caves on a boat is a fabulous experience. Lovers of the sea will also delight in the swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities Marettimo has to offer. Its crystalline waters are an integral part of the Egadi Island Marine Reserve, one of the largest in Europe (along with Alonissos Marine Park in the Greek Sporades Islands).

When it comes to eating out on Marettimo, there are several excellent restaurants and pizzerias to choose from. Fish and seafood (caught fresh and delivered directly to the chefs) rule supreme, and the island has achieved something of a cult status amongst Sicilian food-lovers for its lobster soup. As part of his Great Italian Escape series of 2005, Jamie Oliver spent an entertaining few days on Marettimo having the secrets of the island’s cuisine beaten into him.

One final, curious feature of Marettimo is its large family of English Setters. Bred to help out during the short hunting season, these good-natured pets are allowed to roam free during the day and it is not uncommon to come across one in the most remote parts of the island, hurrying to an appointment somewhere. Independent as they may be, by 6 o-clock they’ve all gone home for their supper. 

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