Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Isola delle Correnti | Sunny Desert Islet where Sicily Ends.

Isola delle Correnti is undoubtedly a place very special, significant and unique in its kind consisting is a sunny desert islet where Sicily ends and once there you are in the southernmost Italian Region and point facing the beautiful sandy beach of  of Portopalo, a municipality of approximately 3,900 inhabitants  along a stunning coastal stretch of of the  Ionian Sea highlighted by that great and suggestive attraction.
That tiny island has a surface area of  0, 01 square kilometre lying at 4, 0 metres of altitude over the sea level at 64,0 kilometres from the capital of province, the superb Siracusa, the iconic city of Dionysus  and you are coming from Catania driving towards south you will be delighted by an enchanting coast frequently flanked by citrons, picturesque hills, scattered olive groves,unforgettable virgin sandy beaches lining a sea boasting stupendous crystalline waters with a tonality ranging from a vivid emerald to a shining turquoise.

Once reached thast place you will be on the  terminal of a natural paradise where  the tonalities of the Mediterranean are part of an astonishing rainbow of colours and lights with a stupendous horizon and you will have the chance to admire the eastern side the wide opening of the Canale di Sicilia, the Canal of Sicily also called by Tunisian people Qanat al- Kelibia.

That Arab denomination is from that town situated on Cap Bon, the old Clupea, the current Kelibia founded by the Carthaginians,former Roman colony stronghold of the Berbers and the Aghlabid dynasty, a scenic tip of the Maghreb facing the fishing town of Mazara del Vallo, a town part of the province of Trapani from which at distance you can also see the silhouette of the beautiful Malta and its splendid archipelago. (If you are interested I wrote a post about that place of Tunisia)

Isola delle Correnti faces a further highlight of the local area, the famous Capo Passero, a very attractive southeastern Sicilian cape consisting in one of the three historic promontories of the Region which were supposed to have created the name Trinacria which means triangle which refers to the shape of Sicily with also protagonists the promontories of Faro near Messina and Cape Boeo in proximity of Marsala.

That denomination called in ancient times Trinacrium by the Romans, the star with three point gave origin to the symbol and flag adopted by the Sicilian government  represented by a Medusa head encircled by three bent running legs and three stalks of wheat. 

Summer in Isola delle Correnti is hot but ventilated at evening and night thanks to the Mediterranean breeze coming from the Ionian, early autumn is pretty warm with temperatures which sometimes can reach over 30º degrees while in the late season is more temperate descending around 20º/21º degrees.

Generally in winter the temperatures drop around a minimum of 6º-7º degrees in January but very rarely while in early spring you can often find temperatures reaching a media average of 25 º, 26º degrees.

The visit of that islet is particularly suggested to all people who are planning a Fly & Drive or a tour around Sicily, individuals or small groups who want to see something of extremely suggestive and greatly fascinating along an enchanting coast, highly recommended in addition for passionate photographers and sea lovers. 

The area close to Isola delle Correnti is also particularly suggested to all the visitors fond about water sports and with also the chance to appreciate a typical, genuine and delicious cuisine with very comfortable accommodations and kind local people with a very high sense of hospitality.

Another wonderful option once there is that to visit and discover the picturesque interior of that stupendous Italian region eternally illuminated by a warm sun and also for that a perfect destination to enjoy 365 days a year.

During a planned itinerary that site could be a great stage included in a wonderful route visiting something of extremely fabulous about fine art and magnificent history in Sicily with the marvellous chance to admire places declared UNESCO Heritage Sites in 2002 such as Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa, Scicli, Modica, Catania, Militello di Val di Catania and Caltagirone.
All those places are denominated the eight marvels of the late Sicilian Baroque representing one of the last cycles of that kind of art in Europe and that simply outstanding in the case you are thinking on future holidays in that land and not far from Isola delle Correnti.

Furthermore next to all those marvels you can also enjoy the previously mentioned enchanting Siracusa, so famed for its superb Hellenic past, a relevant centre founded in 733 BC by Greek Corinthians and Teneans settlers, well known during its long history to have been a loyal allied of Corinth and Sparta becoming an influential and powerful city-state in the times of the flourishing Magna Graecia and historic rival of Athens.

That beautiful municipality boasts a historic and monumental patrimony absolutely outstanding listed by UNESCO a settlement which had in the 5th century BC the same size of the current capital of Greece and it is also the birthplace of the emblematic engineer and mathematician Archimedes.

That islet with all those stupendous wonders in its proximity could be a very attractive image to take home with very pleasant memories for all people who love art and history but also scenic places

A brilliant idea could be during a day after a full immersion admiring monuments and palaces of high historic value to enjoy a pleasant break with the beauty of the most inspiring Mediterranean admiring something of different, alternative and beautiful in its kind like Isola dell Correnti.

Worth in addition a special mention about that site because Bizerte and Tunis at that latitude are northern than that islet and that is another attraction more because you are so close to the mainland of a big European island but further south of a part of the Maghreb, a territory of North Africa.

That large and sharp promontory bathed by the Mediterranean and that wide sea hallway facing that tiny island in ancient times represented a very important cross road of cultures between two continents and that area was also in many occasions characterised by several clashes.

The first Hellenic colonists who founded relevant centres of Megale Hellas, that famous cradle of a a very active civilisation in the Italic Peninsula developed by the Acaheans and different tribes linked to them such as the Dorians, the Aeolians and the Ionians from the Tarentine Gulf in the region of Apulia, including the territories of Campania with the foundation of Neapolis the current Naples also extended their influence along all the coast of Calabria also colonising the entire Sicily.

During those ancient times that islet was reached, explored and integrated in the domains of the powerful Siracusa  which originally used that place as a secondary dock for its fleet.

Historically those waters were also protagonists later of the epic Punic wars so famous for the endless naval battles between the Imperial  Rome and the most powerful North African City in those times, Carthage which were in that time fighting to have the total domain of the Mediterranean expanding their influences.

Isola delle Correnti was in those centuries perpetual witness of attacks, defences, sailings and landings and according narrations it was used as a small natural harbour for some vessels during the times of Publius Cornelius Scipius Africanus, that eminent figure of the Roman Republic who defeated Hannibal in the epic battle at Zama, a site just south of Tunis. (In the case you are interested I wrote a post about the Tunisian capital

It was since then, during the period related to Rome when it took its current name derived by the Latin denomination Currentium Insula which translated means the island of the currents.  

The Roman Admirals during the navigation  constantly noticed intense changes of the sea currents mutating with different intensity very close from that site sometimes gentle but becoming insidious with also a frequent presence of high waves. 

In days of storms and bad weather was pretty difficult to sail and land and much more when the Sirocco, that notorious Mediterranean wind coming from the Sahara with speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour in spring but also in autumn is protagonist in that concrete geographical point.

Other historic periods linked that sunny desert islet are linked to the landing in Sicily of the Moors between the 9th and 10th century with the Aghlabid dynasty of Ifriqiya who started the occupation in 827 with Asad Ibn al-Furat.  

The Moorish rule continued later with the Fatimid dynasty and the Arab domination endured approximately two centuries with the main invasion entering from the westerncoast but including also along the coastline of Siracusa.

The fall of that civilisation corresponded to the advent in the late 11th century as new rulers of the island the Normans led by the Grand Count Roger I of Hauteville who became King of Sicily and also in that case as in the previous centuries Isola delle Correnti was a relevant point of reference for that leader when he started his campaign focused to the conquest of Malta culminated in 1091.

Since medieval times the Ionian around that islet was also very popular destination of Tonnare, those activities linked to tuna fishing, hard job for many Sicilian fishermen who since then until today spent and spend days searching the best catch and often landing in proximity of that islet and in the nearest Isola di Capo Passero.

 For long time that site with its lighthouse indicated them the navigation alway supporting generations of people living that very dignified life in constant contact with a sea which with its pitfalls and risks highlighted their great work and despite today it does not work its silhouette is still as a sort allied and a constant point of reference.

The local sandy stretch of the immediate mainland facing that island  is highlighted by a light brown tonality lining unforgettable turquoise waters characterised by an unmistakable smell of marine salt, a typical Mediterranean vegetation, scattered wild cliffs and the first impact with that scenic territory is extremely pleasant.

 The view of Isola delle Correnti from the headland of Capo Passero immediately appears for someone as an illusion, a kind of mirage, there is people including who confound it at distance in a peninsula and probably also for that its image represents a sort of icon or something of simply special.

It has an irregular shape, from a perspective along the provincial road leading to Pozzallo corresponding to the Strada Provinciale 67 it seems as a big egg but it is from the cape the unique point in which you can see its real conformation with a tip facing the coast and another one corresponding to a thin string of soil forming a narrow inlet in its western side while the eastern and southern borders are pretty rounded. 

The strength of the Mediterranean and those famous currents have modelled in the course of the centuries its shape and you will notice the presence of a line of earth linking in periods of low tides the islet to the coast of Portopalo forming a sort of tombolo.

Once reached the concrete point facing the islet you will notice in the air something of highly suggestive reminiscent remote times linked to epic eras, feeling sensations transmitting in that geographic point where Sicily ends happened something of important.

Its silhouette and the view conceal around it as mysterious things because now it is desert and that sort of mystical atmosphere is highlighted by just the cry of migratory birds landing there and all around apart that, silence with only the sound of the sea waves impacting on the cliffs and no human presence.

Someone visiting that place including felt the aura of the mythological Hellenic Gods in a windy day, suggestive feelings but one thing is certain the colours and tonalities of the soil in that place are identical or very similar to those of the Greek Thessaly. 

Including the immediate interior that Sicilian corner reminds in a sort of comparison those emblematic lands at the foot the Mount Olympus which was according historic narrations home of the iconic twelve Olympian Gods.

From the local coast you will see the lighthouse, once residence of the guardian which indicated the maritime routes to the boats, merchant ships and fishing vessels sailing in the Mediterranean.

That building, the old faro is today in disrepair, originally the construction was developed on a rectangular plan with a small courtyard with a passage leading to the access of the main structure completed by a a strong protective wall. 

Since 1987 the Region Sicily included that site in a plan of Nature Reserve for a very interesting  presence of vegetation and some rare examples of psammophilus relitte and biocenesis halophile.

The rest of the natural environment consists in small Mediterranean bushes, a few sea lilies and small plants such as wild capers and ruchetta marina, a sort of a marine rocket which generally grows in sandy environments. 

The islet was also protagonist about some studies when a network of scientists decided to explore it for the presence of some species of insects very rare in the European continent and they are still object of study by the University of Catania.

A further attraction which captured the attention especially of scuba divers is the local seabed which is pretty rich of marine fauna with different species of fish, some kinds of rare algae and pretty interesting marine flora.

 In addition to that there are special rocks with a very varied formation and all that was in the recent past of great interest for scientific researches with explorations and a deep analysis of different kinds of rocky fragments.

Another very interesting feature is that despite the very small size that tiny island boasts a presence of varied kinds of clays of different colours such as yellow, brown others with a tendency to an ochre tonality and further with a sort of gray but also white and cream tonalities and all that has generated curiosity and interest from part of various geologists who are analysing that very diverse presence unique in its kind.
That site since a long time ago is also a beloved point often frequented by ornithologists due to many species of birds which land there on the route towards the coasts of Tunisia and Libya and they use Isola delle Correnti as as natural stage during ther migratory transit such as herons, red herons, gulls, albatross and waterflow among others.
In its extreme northern tip for all the photography lovers there is also a splendid view in late afternoon at sunset, a scenic paradise of lights, reflections and colours of the water and when the sun rays fall combined with that light brown colour of the beach all is pure  and in that concrete point you can also see the old path leading to the lighthouse.

Around that desert islet is very lovely place for snorkeling and swimming  enjoying the magnificent crystalline waters and other activities  as wind surfing and surfing thanks to winds and those waves generated by those famous currents.

There are some very panoramic points to admire the conformation of Isola delle Correnti if you sail approximately a couple of kilometres south and towards east of the cape you will have an excellent perspective of its entire shape a great image of that scenic site which will enchant you.

On the mainland if you walk for approximately 300, 0 metres north from the headland along  you will reach a small sharp tip and from there it is another splendid occasion to enjoy a great view and in addition you can find another one approximately 1, 0 kilometres further north in a point in which the coast forms a very attractive bay.

Many are the places of historic interest you can visit in the immediate surroundings as in Portopalo di Capopassero  where lies the scenic Castello di Tafuri, erected between 1933 and 1935 by the Florentine architect Saverio Crotti for the Marquis Bruno di Belmonte and it became in the 50's a property of Tafuri family from which took its current name. 

It is a fine architectural Renaissance replica highlighted by a beautiful facade boasting refined arched windows and superb outlines with a magnificent high crenellated tower of medieval inspiration, a building which became very famous in recent times because two notorious personalities as Michael Schumacher former F1 racing driver and the businessman Flavio Briatore wanted to buy it.

Another shining attraction is the Isola di Capo Passero, consisting in another small islet  with a surface area of 0, 37 square kilometres which was once a peninsula. It is just 1300, 0 metres long and with a width of approximately half kilometre. On it was elevated a small fortess between the late 16th and 17th centuries during the times of King Philip III of Spain.
That very small island has a beautiful sandy beach, some marine caves and a further attraction despite it is an abandoned building is the Tonnara which was since medieval times when it was erected in the 13th century the headquarter which hosted the local tuna fishing operations.

Apart the stunning Siracusa and the other gems related to the UNESCO Heritage sites previously cited at the beginning of the post and those mentioned above, I also suggest you some other visits as Pachino very famous for its archaeological sites, some ancient grottoes and a very rich architectonic patrimony.

Avola is a further one, a town with a great historic past well known for a very important dolmen discovered in that municipality in 1961 and that centre in addition is very famous for its prestigious fine wines.

During an enjoyable stay in the area of Isola delle Correnti you can enjoy a delicious cuisine which totally reflects all the Sicilian and Mediterranean spirit in its true spirit. 

You will be delighted by some very delectable gastronomic products and dishes as a superb tuna, fried fish and seafood of superb quality. Do not miss to try the exquisite Zuppa di Pesce alla Siracusana, a stew prepared with mussels, clams, prawns, mackerel, cuttlefish with an addition of green olives, capers, slices of bread, tomato, olive oil and chili pepper.
Absolutely excellent are the Calamari Fatti Fritti consisting in fresh squid which in the process of preparation are before fried then filled with fresh tomato and baked in the oven. A further superb speciality, pride of the local culinary art I recommend you is the Tonno a ghiotta, fresh tuna cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic and pepper.

The Pisci Spada gratinato is another gastronomic emblem consisting in baked swordfish seasoned with garlic, lemon, parsley, black pepper, salt, potatoes and with a “gratin” of pecorino cheese or in alternative Parmesan on the top.

Two notorious dishes are in addition the delicious Caponata and a local Couscous inherited by the Arab-Berbers with an use apart of semolina and meat also pumpkin, chickpeas and potatoes and do not forget to taste the exquisite and famed Arancini.

You can find an ample variety of pasta plates prepared with different kinds of sauces and styles and try the Pizza Siracusana made with onion, fresh tomato, cheese with an addition of potatoes, 

 An endless list of different kinds of local baked bread products similar to stuffed Calzoni is another culinary highlight such as the delicious Cudduruni, Mpanate, Vastedda, Pastizzi, Nfiughhiulate filled with cheese, sausages, salami, seafood, meat, vegetables and a further one which deserves a mention, very typical of that specific area is the Caiccu made with fish and potatoes.

Notable is also the quality of the local juicy tomatoes simply great in mixed salads or cut and seasoned with olive oil and salt on a toasted bread. You are in a geographic area well known for the production of the famed Pomodori Pachini, those little tomatoes absolutely excellent to to garnish a wide range of starters and appetisers.

Simply outstanding is the quality of local olives with different kinds present on the local territory such as Zaituna, Biancolilla, Moresca, Nocellara and Tonda Iblea among others.

An iconic speciality using that product is the tastefully Alivi Cunzati, seasoned with garlic, vinegar, pepper, salt, adding celery, carrots in slices red chili and conserved under olive oil.

Others traditional Sicilian delights you will have the chance to taste are the notorious Granita, Cannoli, Cassatedde and Cassata, brilliant opportunities to enjoy some emblematic sweet icons of Sicily well known worlwide.

The local wines is a further highlight delighting refined palates, they are absolutely superb, some of the best you can not miss are Nero d´Avola, Eloro di Pachino and Syrah among many others. They are products very smooth and palatable result of robust grapes, result of many days of sun and mild Mediterranean breezes highlighted by a supreme colour, texture, and very savoury.

 I suggest below some links, including some accommodations to spend a pleasant stay in proximity of Isola delle Correnti.

The Airport Fontanarossa Vincenzo Bellini of Catania is situated at 114,0 kilometres north of Portopalo di Capo Passero and in approximately one hour and half driving you can reach that beautiful area via Siracusa by E18 motorway until the town of Noto, once there you have to follow the indications towards the provincial Road SP 19 in direction Pachino.

If you are planning a trip to Sicily, I recommend you a visit or why not stay close to that site, the eternally splendid Ionian sea, crystalline waters, a mild climate and a sun shining all year will delight your days in a magnificent environment, next to special lights always shimmering around to that sunny desert islet where Sicily ends.

Francesco Mari

Recommended Accommodations in Portopalo di Capopassero

Hotel Ristorante Jonic
Hotel La Rosa dei Venti 
Albergo Perseo
Villaggio Capo Passero

Useful links