The ports of Lampedusa host dolphins
and, seasonally, sperm whales, along with more vibrant marine life
for the scuba diver. Grottoes
abound, shelf-like cliffs, sandy bays and deep ports protected by
ferocious rock formations.
island of Lampedusa
are beach holidays and there are beach holidays.
Sometimes you need a place where the toughest decision is what
level of sunscreen to apply, where the beach and the odd boat ride to
another beach can take all of your severely depleted attention span.
For this, Africa’s gift to Italy, the small cigar-shaped
island of Lampedusa, fits the bill.
This Italian outpost is perched languidly on the African shelf,
considerably closer to Tunisia (113 kilometers) than Sicily (205
I confess to having had minimal knowledge of this holiday getaway before
arriving via Air Sicilia from Palermo.
Guidebooks written about Italy (and even the specific tourist
information abut Sicily) had a single paragraph and the detail that
the Prince of Lampedusa (Giuseppe Tomaso di Lampedusa) had written one
of Italy’s most famous books (The Leopard, or, in Italian, Il
Gatopardo). This did
little to flesh out my mental image of a tiny island where it is still
warm enough to swim in November.
The view from the airport reinforced the African desert imagery, with
hints of the ferry termini on small Greek islands, where enterprising
hoteliers try to pick up reservation-less visitors.
Our arrangements had been made well in advance, so a group of
us scrambled into a Jeep-type vehicle – the real safari edition,
rather than the suburban version – it really did feel like we were
heading off on safari, with our luggage strapped to the roof and the
seats designed for efficiency, not comfort.
ride to Borgo Cala Creta is short – accommodation is laid out in an
Italian / African version of cottages – “hut” isn’t quite the
right word, nor cabin, nor bungalow.
They are too small to call villas, so they are called dammusi.
Picture a series of small buildings, well spaced, each with its
own low wall and gate, the building well set back from the gravel
pathway that winds its way around the settlement.
No vehicles tearing between the residences.
Admittedly, the roller wheels on my little suitcase struggled a
bit with the process, but my dammuso was well worth the little walk
away from the main building.
huge thick wooden door with iron fittings and a big padlock opened to
reveal a compact entryway, welcoming me with a blast of cool air.
Thick white plaster walls created the perfect refuge from the
requirements of a beach vacation hotel for me are pretty minimal –
clean (Borgo Cala Creta was spotless), cool (the thick stone and
plaster walls ensured that), good water pressure (yes, even on an
island with water shortages – they bring it in on special boats when
The one downside of Borgo Cala Creta is that the beach
requires transportation. It
isn’t far, but the walk isn’t particularly interesting.
A shuttle service is available and relatively hassle free.
While English is not universally spoken, waving arms around and
pointing at watches tends to work pretty well in most places.
For purchasers of tourist items (of which there is a pretty
good selection), looking sad, then writing down a much lower number
tells the shopkeeper you are interested in bargaining.
There may be bargains, but much depends on your negotiating
skills and when the vendors
last made a sale.
The main beach in town is across from The Hotel Club Baia Turchese –
the beach is nice, extending slowly into the water, allowing for
wading while keeping your eyes open for fish, skittering along,
seemingly oblivious to the humans.
A good beach for kids.
The convenience of being close to town makes this the beach to go to when
you plan on having a nice lunch.
Let’s not forget that, despite the imagery, we are in Italy,
so lunch is a prime consideration.
We have made friends with the right people – two
documentary filmmakers from Agrigento, who have done the important
research before arriving on this distant
island – they know where we can get a good meal.
And we do.
“best restaurant in town” looks pretty dicey at first and it takes
far too much effort to get the attention of the wait staff. We make
allowances for the fact that it is the end of the season and are
rewarded for our patience with carafes of wine before the feast.
What I love about eating in Italy is that there is never a thought
that one would only have a single course – it’s always a debate of
three, or four? If I
could recreate the calamari we have as an appetizer, I could make a
fortune at a restaurant at home.
As I am trying to explain this thought, I suddenly understand
why the service was slow – from the taste of the squid, it may well
be that they brought them in from the boat to fill our order.
The freshness is breathtaking.
As always in a small family run restaurant, it is best to
follow recommendations for what to eat and we are well satisfied with
the pasta that follows.
main course was tempting, but we were eating light, so a quick dessert
and coffee filled the bill, without costing an arm and a leg.
The main port is brimming with charter boats that will happily take you
around the whole island (a mere 26 kilometers) or over to one of the
main attractions, Isola dei Conigli (Island of Rabbits). It’s a little island that you can walk to from Lampedusa
and a beautiful beach protected by WWF.
Caretta turtles come here in June to lay their eggs.
The ports of Lampedusa host dolphins and, seasonally, sperm
whales, along with more vibrant marine life for the scuba diver.
Grottoes abound, with the island’s shore shared with
calcareous shelf-like cliffs, sandy bays and deep ports protected by
ferocious rock formations. As
some of these excursions are lengthy, they will feed you lunch on the
boat –complete with a huge cauldron of water boiling to make the
pasta – generally with a seafood marinara sauce (of course, there is
a salad and some dessert as well).
One final comment about Lampedusa – the heat is extreme in summer, and
I cannot imagine visiting in August – that is when it’s high
season, and prices are more than double the shoulder season.
During the spring and fall, the weather is lovely, and you are
unlikely to find yourself suffering from heat stroke. With the money
you save, take an extra outing to the grottoes and stop in at the port
for plate of calamari for me, would you?
Check out www.lampedusaonline.it
, Air Sicilia’s website (probably the
best deals to be had with all inclusive packages). Flights are available from the major cities of Italy and
prices are extremely attractive in the spring and fall, when the
temperature is more welcoming to those of us from northern climes. www.airsicilia.it