Mention “the best island in Italy” and it often conjures up images of its most glamorous island getaway, Capri, the playground of the rich and famous.
But in Sicily, there lies the beautiful Egadi Islands, 7km off the coast. I like that very few travellers have heard of this undiscovered paradise, which is made up of five small mountainous islands.
I spent one birthday weekend in Favignana, the largest and most important of the Egadi Islands with good, frequent connections with the other islands and the port of Trapani. Unlike some of the famous islands in South-East Asia, life comes to a standstill in Favignana and encapsulates the pursuit of the la dolce vita (the sweet life), a wonderfully simple yet contented life, evident on the faces of the friendly locals.
This was what drew me here.
Epic industrial empire
Favignana is known for its ancient practice of tuna fishing, also known as mattanza (which means slaughter or massacre and yes, it’s gory!) that dates back to Phoenician times. Tuna fishing is synonymous with the epic story of the Florio family, how they transformed the tuna business on the island, creating an industrial empire that brought economic prosperity to its inhabitants.
Consider a visit to Favignana’s historic tuna factory, which has been restored as a museum for a fascinating glimpse at an ancient activity, including innovations that characterise life on the island in the past. Tuna is still a mainstay of the Sicilian diet so make sure to indulge in some delicious tuna meatballs (or anything tuna).
Known as the “butterfly of the sea” for its characteristic shape, Favignana is relatively easy to explore with only one hill and one town. Due to its flat landscape, cycling is the best way to explore the island.
Relaxing and laidback
The centre of the town is pedestrianised and a great place to soak in the local atmosphere and enjoying the relaxing and laidback lifestyle, an antidote for anyone wanting to escape the stress and excesses of modern living.
For an island that beckons with serenity, don’t expect full-on amenities or high-end restaurants or bars. What I love most is the authenticity of the place: It is filled with real Italians who aren’t out to impress obnoxious or loud tourists.
Favignana doesn’t disappoint when it comes to beaches but most aren’t the sandy variety I was expecting. Cala Rossa, one of the most beautiful bays there, is 5km from the harbour. It resembles a rocky amphitheatre that boasts glorious crystal-clear waters and changing hues of the turquoise sea.
Rent a bike or a scooter from the harbour or if you’re lucky, you will find bikes ready on arrival at the property you are staying, which was the case for me. There are no luxury or chain hotels on this island but I stayed at the beautiful Ajamola, a Mediterranean-inspired bed and breakfast on the seafront promenade, about five minutes walk from the harbour.
All year round
Accessibility to Egadi islands (Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo) is easy with regular ferry and hydrofoil (costlier but faster) services from the port of Trapani. The islands are possible to visit all year round though both the crowd and prices skyrocket during summer when tourist attendance is at its peak.
Levanzo and Marettimo make an excellent day trip but Favignana is the largest island and I recommend spending at least one night here.
Enchanting, wild and surprisingly affordable, the allure of Favignana is not exaggerated. Why else would Italians keep this paradise a secret or that designer Miuccia Prada owns a seaside villa here?