Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Isola delle Correnti | Sunny Desert Islet where Sicily Ends.

Isola delle Correnti is something very special and unique in its kind, it is a sunny desert islet where Sicily ends and once there you are in the southernmost point of the Southernmost Italian Region facing the sandy beach of the municipality of Portopalo di Capo Passero along a splendid coastal stretch of of the Mediterranean highlighted by that great and suggestive attraction.

In that concrete geographical point in the province of Siracusa which is just 64, 0 kilometres away is where you will directly look at towards south and you can see from east the huge opening of the wide Canale di Sicilia, the Canal of Sicily also called by Tunisians Qanat al- Kelibia from the name of that town which is situated on Cap Bon, that Maghreb promontory facing the town of Mazara del Vallo and from which at distance you can also see the beautiful Malta and its splendid archipelago. (If you are interested I wrote a post about that place of Tunisia) 

The fantastic Ionian coast ends on the famous headland of Capo Passero the southeastern point of Sicily, the terminal of a natural paradise which meets the immensity of the Mediterranean, a place full of colours and lights with a stupendous horizon from that tiny island with a surface of just 0, 01 square kilometre and at 4, 0 metres of altitude over the sea level.

Coming from north if you are spending holidays in proximity of Messina or Catania (I wrote a post about that city if you are interested) driving towards south you will be delighted by an enchanting coast flanked by citrons, picturesque hills with scattered olive groves and unforgettable virgin sandy beaches lined by a sea boasting stupendous crystalline waters with a tonality between emerald and a light blue.

In a fascinating journey you will reach one of the three historic promontories of the Region which were supposed to have created the name Trinacria which means triangle and refers to the shape of Sicily with the Tip of Faro near Messina and Cape Boeo in proximity of Marsala, which gave origin to the symbol adopted by the Sicilian government including in the Regional flag represented by a Medusa head encircled by three bent running legs and three stalks of wheat and  called Trinacrium by the Romans, the star with three point.

During a planned itinerary that site could be a great stage included in a wonderful route  visiting something of extremely fabulous about art and history with the marvellous chance to admire places declared UNESCO Patrimony Sites in 2002 such as Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa, Scicli, Modica, Catania, Militello di Val di Catania and Caltagirone, the eight marvels of the late Sicilian Baroque in Sicily which in their kind represent one of the last cycles of that kind of art in Europe, all them not far from Isola delle Correnti.

The visit of that islet is particularly suggested to all people who are planning a Fly & Drive or a tour around Sicily and they want to see something of extremely suggestive and greatly fascinating along an enchanting coast and a 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.

Furthermore next to all those marvels you can also enjoy the enchanting Siracusa, so famed for its superb Hellenic past, a relevant centre founded in 733 B.C 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.

That municipality boasts a historic and monumental patrimony listed by UNESCO in recent times as a World Heritage site, a settlement which had in the 5th century B.C the same size of Athens and it is also the birthplace of the emblematic engineer and mathematician Archimedes.

That islet with all those stupendous wonders could be a very attractive image to take home with very pleasant memories of that land for all people who love art and history but also scenic places and in a day after a full immersion admiring monuments and palaces of high historic value to enjoy in a pleasant break the beauty of the Mediterranean admiring something of different, alternative and beautiful in its kind like that.

That area in proximity of that islet is also particularly suggested to all the visitors who are sea, sun and water sports lovers 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.

That large and sharp promontory bathed by the Mediterranean and that wide sea hallway facing that tiny island in ancients times represented a very important cross point of cultures between Europe and North Africa and it was also in many occasions characterised by several clashes.

The first Hellenic colonists who founded relevant centres of Megale Hellas, the Magna Graecia, that famous cradle of a civilisation in the Italic Peninsula developed by the Acaheans and different tribes connected 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 extending along all the coast of Calabria until Sicily  corresponding and that islet was reached, explored and integrated in the domains of the powerful Siracusa  which used that place as a secondary dock for its ships.

Historically those waters were protagonists of the epic Punic wars so famous for the endless battles between the fleets of the Imperial  Rome and the most powerful city of Africa, Carthage which were in that time fighting to have the total domain of an immense sea with open doors to other lands to conquer expanding their influences.

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

It was since then, during the period related to the Imperial Rome when it took its current name derived by the Latin denomination Currentium Insula which translated means the island of the currents and those former rulers gave it such name because the intense changes of the sea currents with different intensity just few kilometres offshore from that site sometimes gentle but becoming insidious just some miles after and creating high waves. 

In days of storms and bad weather they are often very insidious complicating the navigation and much more when the Sirocco, that Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara with speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour in the spring and also in the autumn is protagonist in that geographical point.

The Romans immediately noticed all that when they started to sail in excellent conditions and in a while less than one kilometre offshore all changed with the Mediterranean showing another attitude as upset and sometimes furious and that islet facing all that took such name since then.

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 started in 827 with Asad Ibn al-Furat, a domination which continued with Fatimid dynasty and which endured approximately two centuries with the main invasion entering from Mazara del Vallo but including also that area.

The defeat and end of the Moorish rule took place in the late 11th century by the Normans led by 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 of that leader for his routes towards the conquest of Malta in 1091.

Since medieval times it was a land of Tonnare those activities linked to tuna fishing, hard job for many Sicilian fishermen who since a long time ago until today in long sailing through that large sea canal facing one side North Africa spent and spend days searching the best fish to sell on the markets and often landing in proximity of that islet in the nearest Isola di Capo Passero and for long time that site with its lighthouse indicated them the navigation.

That place has always been witness of generation of that people living that very dignified life in constant contact with a sea which with its pitfalls and risks highlighted their great work offshore from the mainland and that sunny site was and is as a sort allied and constant point of reference always present.

The local sandy stretch facing in the immediate mainland that little island is highlighted by its light brown tonality lining turquoise waters and characterised by the smell of marine salt with its unmistakable presence in the air, a typical Mediterranean vegetation and scattered wild cliffs all around and the first impact with that land is extremely pleasant.

 Its view 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 as 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 county road leading to Pozzallo corresponding to the Strada Provinciale 67 at distance it seems as an egg and from the cape is the unique point in which you can see its real conformation with a tip and another one corresponding to a thin string of soil forming a narrow inlet in its western side while the eastern and southern are pretty rounded. 

The strength of the Mediterranean and those famous currents have modelled its aspect 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 those remote times linked to epic eras, you can feel sensations that in that geographical point happened something of important where Sicily ends.

Its silhouette and the view conceal around it as a mysterious air because now it is desert and that sort of mystical atmosphere is highlighted by only the cry of migratory birds landing there and all around apart that, silence, just 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 of that Sicilian corner reminds in a sort of comparison those places at the foot the Mount Olympus which was according historic narrations home of the iconic twelve Olympian Gods.

You are there in the most Southernmost point of Sicily and 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 section of Maghreb, a territory of North Africa.

From that coast you will see the silhouette of the lighthouse which was once residence of the guardian which indicated the maritime routes to the boats, merchant ships and fishing vessel sailings in the Mediterranean.

That building the old faro is today in ruins, originally the construction was developed on a rectangular plan with a small courtyard which was also the passage leading to the access of that structure and with a strong protective wall. 

The Summer is hot but ventilated at evening and night thanks to the breeze of the Canal of Sicily which characterises the entire coast of Siracusa, the 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. 

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

The rest 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 areas. 

In addition some scientists decided to explore that islet because some years ago it started to host some species of insects very rare in the European continent and they are still object of study.

Another very interesting feature is that despite its very small size in that islet there is 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 or also white tonalities and all that has generated curiosity and interest from part of various geologists who are analysing that varied presence unique in its kind.

A further attraction which captured the attention in particular of scuba divers is the seabed which is pretty rich of marine fauna with different species of fish, some kinds of rare algae and marine flora and in addition special rocks of different formation. All that in the past was of great interest for scientific researches and further explorations with a deep study of different kinds of rocky fragments. 

That site since a long time ago is also a beloved point by ornithologists due to different kinds of birds which land there on the route towards the coasts of Tunisia and Libya as a natural stage of migratory transit.

Other species constantly stop there because they find for a long period the right habitat to live and survive and if you are a lover about that kind of fauna you can see on that islet a large variety of gulls, herons, red herons, albatross and woodcocks 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 when the sun rays fall combined with that light brown colour of the coast and in that point you can also see the old path leading to lighthouse.

Around that desert islet is very lovely place for snorkeling and swimming  enjoying the magnificent crystalline waters of that corner of Sicily and other activities pretty loved by some people are 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 offshore south and towards east of the cape you will have an excellent perspective of its entire shape showing you a great image of that scenic site.

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

 Many are the places of historic interest you can visit in the surroundings. In Portopalo di Capopassero you can admire 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 50s a property of Tafuri family from which took its name. 

It is a fine Renaissance replica highlighted by a beautiful facade boasting refined arched windows and superb outlines with a magnificent high crenellated tower of medieval inspiration and that building 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 attraction is the Isola di Capo Passero, another small islet with a surface 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 century and ended the 30s of the 17th century during the times of the King Philip III of Spain.
That island has a beautiful sandy beach and 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 base headquarter which hosted the tuna fishing operations.

Apart the stunning Siracusa, I suggest you some visits as Noto which is a gem of Baroque art with Churches and palaces absolutely beautiful and also Pachino very famous for its archaeological sites, some ancient grottoes and a very rich architectonic patrimony.

 Avola is a further one boasting a great historic past and well known for a very important dolmen discovered in that municipality in 1961 and that town more than famous for its prestigious wines.

During an enjoyable stay you can enjoy a delicious cuisine which reflects all the Sicilian and Mediterranean spirit in its true essence. 

You will be delighted there by a superb tuna, fried fish and delicious seafood and try the delectable Zuppa di Pesce alla Siracusana, a fish soup prepared with mussels, clams, prawns, mackerel and cuttlefish with an addition of green olives, capers, slices of bread, tomato, olive oil and chili pepper.

Simply exquisite are the Calamari Fatti Fritti consisting in fresh squid before fried and then filled by fresh tomato and baked in the oven or the superb Tonno a ghiotta, fresh tuna cooked with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, garlic and pepper.

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

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

You can find an ample variety of pasta prepared in different sauces and also the Pizza Siracusana made with onion, fresh tomato, cheese and potatoes,An endless list of different kinds of local baked bread products similar to stuffed Calzoni is another culinary highlight such as Cudduruni, Mpanate, Vastedda, Pastizzi, Nfiughhiulate filled by cheese, sausages, salami, fish, meat, vegetables and one of them very typical of that specific area is the Caiccu containing fish and potatoes.

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

Simply outstanding is the quality of local olives, there are different kinds such as Zaituna, Biancolilla, Moresca, Nocellara and Tonda Iblea and a speciality with that product is the delicious Alivi Cunzati in which the olives are flavoured by garlic, vinegar, pepper, salt, adding celery, carrots in slices red chili and conserved under olive oil.

Naturally you can taste also other typical Sicilian products, such as Granita, Cannoli, Cassatedde and Cassata among many others.

The local wines are superb, Nero d´Avola, Eloro di Pachino and Syrah, very smooth, palatable, result of robust grapes which enjoy sun and salubrious breezes, highlighted by a supreme colour and texture, rich of flavour and very savoury.

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 of the county Road SP 19 in direction Pachino. I wrote below some links of good accommodations in the case you are thinking in a tailor made itinerary in that geographical area.

If you are planning a trip to Sicily, I suggest you a visit or why not stay close to that site, a splendid sea, crystalline waters, a mild climate and a sun shining all year will delight your days in a magnificent Mediterranean environment to admire and enjoy where special lights always shimmer next 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