Italy's Treasures: The Pelagian Islands

| Mon, 06/22/2015 - 09:02

Taking their name from the Greek for ‘high sea’, the Pelagian Islands, (Isole Pelagie) are closer to Africa than their political and administrative home of southern Italy. Belonging to the Sicilian province of Agrigento and situated between Malta and Tunisia this group of three islands comprises of Lampione, Linosa and the largest of the three, Lampedusa.

Being so remote they have avoided large-scale tourism and serve as a haven for scuba divers and people looking to enjoy a little solitude. In 2002 the islands became the, Protetta Isole Palagie nature reserve due to the nesting sites on Lampedusa and Linosa of the rare loggerhead sea turtle; so the low influx of tourists serves to help with the protection of this endangered species.


Lampione, the smallest of the islands, is uninhabited and houses a solitary building which is a lighthouse. The flora and fauna is protected and visitors are expected to treat the habitat with respect.

It is a premier destination for scuba-divers with parts of the sea floor descending to 60 meters in depth and an abundance of sea-life to keep divers and photographers busy. Groupers can easily be seen hidden between rocks and on the sea bed, these wide-mouthed, fierce looking fish lie almost motionless as they wait for prey to swim by. There are outcrops of magnificent corals close by that house lobster, crabs and many types of shellfish, including spiny sea urchin; occasionally a lucky encounter with a grey shark can be had, but caution needs to be exercised with these large predators.

Above the water the island is devoid of vegetation being nothing more than a rocky outcrop, which makes it a perfect home to a variety of seabirds including gulls, sea hawks and cormorants.

Although only having a surface area of 0.021km² this tiny island known to Sicilian fisherman as, Scoglio degli scolari, (rock of pupils) in summer it can often seem overcrowded as it becomes surrounded by the motorboats belonging to diving clubs and underwater photographers.

Moorage is mostly located to the south-east of the island, and many clubs host lessons for the novice diver here. For the more experienced diver there’s the cliffs that plunge sharply the Mediterranean, care needs to be taken as the water becomes deep very quickly as the rock face falls away, but the experience is well worth it.

Lampione Island Lighthouse, Ph. Wikimedia commons


At just under 5km², Linosa is home to approximately 200 inhabitants who over the years have greatly benefited from its rich volcanic soil to provide their employment in agriculture and farming, however much of the islands income is now made from tourism.

Uninhabited for centuries; in 1828 it’s only documented inhabitants were goats and rabbits. The island was first colonised in 1845 when 30 men from Agrigento landed here; their party including a priest and a doctor. The settlers began by building a church, a warehouse and a house before women arrived to join them and 1847 their numbers swelled to 115.

The town and harbour to the south of the island with its flat-roofed, pastel coloured houses has a more African feel than Italian and is a great place to stroll around with your camera, before taking a hike to the three extinct volcanoes that are responsible for the black sandy beaches.

Like Lampione the island attracts scuba divers, and there’s an established diving club on the island, but some parts of the waters are off limits due to the presence of the endangered turtles, as is the beach near Pozzolana Cala di Ponente. These sites are monitored closely by the, Hydrospera Conservation Group and the protected sites are adequately signposted to prevent tourists disturbing the turtles.

The island has two holiday villages and a selection of self-catering accommodation for tourists and most of these are sited close by the harbour where you can book excursions to the sister islands.

Although the houses have an African feel the same cannot be said for the cuisine which is traditionally Sicilian and like all inhabited islands there’s always a great selection of fresh fish dishes available.


This 13 km long island has had quite a bit of bad press lately due to the arrival of many people from Africa arriving seeking refuge, but don’t let this cloud your judgement if you are considering visiting this beautiful island.

Rabbit Islet, Ph. Wikimedia Commons

The island’s sole town has around 4000 inhabitants and is the focal point for visitors as it’s where the majority of holiday homes are and where excursions can be booked. Compared with many other Mediterranean resorts Lampedusa may at first appear basic, but on reflection this is its charm. Worthy of a stroll is the old port which is now a protected area of importance before enjoying the simple pleasures the island has to offer.

The landscape is criss-crossed with paths that lead to hidden bays and sandy beaches and many visitors enjoy taking a boat out to circumnavigate the island offering a wealth of photographic opportunities particularly to the north where the cliffs fall steeply into the sea. This northern area is best visited by boat to enjoy the spectacle of the Sacramento cliff as you sail through the Baia della Madonnina, named after the rock formation that resembles the Virgin Mary.

Lampedusa is a rocky island with a semi-barren interior populated by myrtle, thorny bushes and thistles and among this landscape you’ll find the dammusi; small domed houses built from stone with thick walls that can be almost two metres in diameter. It’s here in the central part of the island that you’ll most likely spot one of the native iridescent coloured beetles belonging to the julodis genus.

Situated on the southern side of the island, Tabaccara bay has a stunning beach and despite being accessible only by sea it is the islands most popular and the best place to access the equally popular Island of Rabbits.

Another of the island’s gems reached by either land or sea is Grotta del Teschio (Skull Grotto), which conceals a 15m long stretch of sandy beach, well worth a visit and after why not enjoy some local cuisine? A favourite with tourists is the Arab influenced fish dishes served with couscous and aubergine rolls or the Lampedusa lentil soup.

Lampedusa is busiest during August but most other times of the year has a lower than average amount of tourists compared to other island resorts making it perfect for a quiet holiday in unique surroundings, miles away from the mainland.