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Ustica

Attractive and low-key island destination for divers, walkers and adventurers.

About Ustica

Ustica

Ustica is a small island off the north coast of Sicily, reached by ferries from Palermo. The tip of an ancient, extinct volcano, its black rocky slopes and plateaus are now covered in green vegetation and spring flowers.

Ustica is, for Italy, very well-protected from development and environmental damage. The waters around the island are a marine reserve, are famously clear and are very popular in the summer with divers and swimmers. Coastal footpaths and a bus service circle the island, so it is also unusually accessible for exploration.

Ferries and hydrofoils dock in the island's port, a picturesque curved bay. The main part of the little town - or the Paese, village - spreads out above. The most direct way from the port to the town is by a couple of flights of steps (signposted 'centro'). Cars and scooters follow a winding road up to the heart of town. Hotels will generally meet their guests from the ferry, so there's no need to drag your cases uphill.

Ustica's heart is a long chain of three piazzas (effectively one long piazza) which slope down from the pretty island church towards the road to the port. The sea can be seen from railings just off the main part of the piazza. In this square you'll find bars, restaurants, the marine reserve information office and a few other businesses. Several other shops are situated just off the square; you'll find two or three small food and general stores (look for 'alimentari' or 'market' signs). It's easy to stock up on picnic ingredients - very useful if you are heading on a walk or to the sea, or if you visit out of season when few restaurants and bars are open.

In the summer months - especially July and August - Italians and Sicilians come for their summer holidays. Many aim to relax, socialise, sunbathe and swim. Others come here specifically to dive and there are several organisations which organise diving trips. Popular locations include an underwater archaeological trail - like other Italian islands, Ustica is surrounded by shipwrecks and their contents: Roman amphorae, anchors and so on. The water is also rich in marine life.

Boat trips circle the island and its caves, and you can also take a landbound tour on the island's little orange bus. The bus service runs clockwise and anti-clockwise services around the island, one approximately every hour in April but varying through the year. The full round trip only takes about half an hour and is a great (and cheap) way to see Ustica in its entirety. You'll pass long rectangular smallholdings which are still cultivated, vines, olive trees, maybe the odd horned cow or laden mule used as a beast of burden. The route runs right along the rocky shoreline for a while.

There are some good walks to do on Ustica, with a simple map available locally and interesting guidebooks if you read Italian. One of the best walks from town is a short excursion up to the fortress overlooking the town (on the right as you arrive on the ferry). The Bourbon-era fort was built over and alongside a Roman settlement; nowadays you can explore the remains of both (but take care not to fall in one of the deep cisterns dug centuries ago to collect rainwater). The views over the island and sea are marvellous.

Travel to Ustica

The most convenient airport for Ustica is Palermo, which is served by direct budget flights from the UK. From Palermo airport you can catch a bus into the heart of Palermo which stops close to the port (Porto). The bus is half-hourly and the journey takes about 45 minutes.

Both ferries and hydrofoils connect Palermo and Ustica; the ferry is more scenic but the hydrofoil is much quicker. Ferry timetables vary hugely throughout the seasons, changing frequently. Companies providing services also change, so it is important to check you have up-to-date information. Island hotels are likely to be helpful if you're confused - after all, they have a vested interest in your arrival. At the time of writing Siremar run daily services, both hydrofoil (aliscafo) and ferry (nave). For much of the year you're likely to have a choice of at least two or three departure times.

Ustica accommodation

There's a choice of hotels, B&Bs and rooms to let on Ustica. The most convenient place to stay is the village itself, but there are a few accommodation options outside the town which offer their own advantages such as a more peaceful setting.
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Useful external links

Ustica accommodation

Siremar ferries



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