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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Ustica - a Diver's Paradise

Just arrived in Ustica. Tiny island of volcanic origin off the Palermo's coast.

The fresh sea breeze is soothing down the warm Sicilian heat and I am thrilled to show Dean around this special place that means so much to me.. .

My family grew up in Ustica and so did I. We used to all spend every summer in a lovely country-house located in the wildest side of the island, close to the Protected Marine Reserve, a paradise for divers world-wide.

My grandfather was very close to Enzo Majorca and Jacques Majol, two of the biggest lovers and supporters of this magnificent island. They used to dive in crystal clear blue waters and spend entire days admiring the abundant rainbow fish.

For a variety of reasons, I have not returned to the island for the past 18 years. While waiting in line to board the Hydrofoil to Ustica, it all started coming back to me, a flood of emotions, flashes of special moments and some of my childhood's happiest memories engulfed my thoughts. How could I forget the smell of just ripe cherry tomatoes, the donkey rides, the sleepy town coming to life at night in the piazza.
Nothing has changed since then. Ustica is still that timeless place that I had much loved.

The boat ride from Palermo takes about 1h15 and costs 19,00 euros one way. (http://www.usticalines.it/)

Upon our arrival, Signor Nino pick us up with a minivan, courtesy of our Hotel. Not that this was really necessary, I mean, the sleepy village of Ustica is about five minutes on foot from the tiny marina. Everything is so close and accessible that it does not even look real.

We are staying at Hotel Patrice, located just a stroll from the main piazza http://www.hotelpatrice.it/

Patrice, the owner, greets us with an overwhelming Sicilian hug. She remembered me from the good old times.

Hotels here are albeit basic but comfortable and above all the pricing is not inflated like most Italian summer destinations.

We prepare for another excellent meal in the terraza overlooking the deep blue Tyrrenian sea. The Chef is a big man, therefore we have great expectations.

The morning after we decide to hire a boat and tour the island and its magnificent grottos. The vision is surreal : the water from the seabed reflects an iridescent blue-green light inside the rock carved cave. Impossible not to swim.

To hire a boat or a dinghy in Ustica is a must. It costs around 45 euros for 2.5 hours, which is as long as it takes to make a round tour.

Da Gaetano you can hire almost everything : from scooters to diving equipments to boats.

Via C. Colombo 37 ( very close to the Port) – 091 8449243 (Italian speaking only)

In the afternoon we went on a donkey ride to another secluded beach. We “parked” the donkey, put on our snorkeling gear and dived in the natural pools close to Punta Spalmatore.

Our donkey was happy to take us anywhere for few cuddles and a little fresh grass in return!

But the highlight of our trip has been definitely our snorkeling guided tour inside the Protected Natural Marine Reserved in Cala Sidoti.

The excursion provides an amazing experience, by following a couple of Marine Biologist for a 45 minute snorkeling session. This Non-profit organization called S.E.P.I.A provides snorkeling gear, including a wet suit and waterproof headset to listen to commentaries underwater.

We follow a breathtaking underwater itinerary made up of extraordinary flora and fauna.

Ustica's marine environment has been greatly enhanced by the rare circumstance of having no source of water pollution, and having suffered relatively little from man's presence over the centuries.

You can follow your own free of charge lesson of marine biology by booking a snorkeling session with S.E.P.I.A at Piazza Umberto I – 091 8449456.

This is a truly amazing experience and you won't be disappointed.

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