Butterfly-shaped Favignana is the hub and beating heart of the Egadi. It's the largest of the group and has the most services and consequently receives the most visitor traffic. Whereas the other Egadi are more specialized in their attractions, Favignana's appeal is broad: There are easily accessible azure coves, a pretty town with a lively scene, plenty of places to stay and eat, strong cultural traditions, and the archipelago's most frequent connections to mainland Sicily. Favignana is your best bet for a well-rounded Egadi vacation, and it also makes a handy base for day forays to Levanzo and Marettimo.
Favignana's 33km (21-mile) perimeter is an unfinished jigsaw puzzle of alluring coves with sparkling, multitoned water. It's also the flattest of the Egadi, and nearly all its coastline is accessible by land. Bus service is scant here, so you'll want to rent a bike or scooter to sample the various grottoes and inlets. Cala Rossa, with turquoise water set against the dramatic mini-Manhattan of an old tufa quarry, is Favignana's iconic place for a swim. Inland, the island's topography has a less overt "wow factor" than Levanzo's or Marettimo's, but the low macchia scrub that covers much of Favignana is an explosion of heady herbal aromas and, in spring, a riot of wildflowers in bloom. Figs, capers, and pomegranates flourish alongside palms and agave plants -- just as you would expect on an island between Sicily and North Africa.
Tourism now makes up a good chunk of Favignana's economy, but it wasn't always this way. The Favignanese for centuries made their living off tuna fishing and tufa quarrying (a porous blond stone called pietra di Favignana, used throughout Sicily). Favignana was first settled by the Phoenicians (then called Aegusa, "butterfly," for its shape) and considered a strategic island by the Arabs and Normans. The late 19th century was Favignana's fishing heyday, when the powerful Marsala wine baron family, the Florio, built a tuna processing plant and residence here, since closed and requalified for other uses. In the modern era, traditional tuna fishing off Favignana has been greatly reduced by large-scale commercial fishing operations elsewhere in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and the quarries of Favignana's native stone are defunct. Their evocative skeletons remain all over the island, however, and some have even been converted into snazzy "quarry hotels."
Favignana may have gotten a recent dose of chic with those quarry hotels and a few stylish new "residence" accommodations, but this everyman's resort seems to be teetering on the brink of midrange overdevelopment. Yet if the general atmosphere on Favignana lacks sophistication, the food has it in spades. Even simple restaurants turn out amazing dishes, firmly rooted in the bounty of the waters offshore. The classic souvenir of Favignana is a specialty tuna item, whether bresaola di tonno (essentially prosciutto in fish form), ventresca (the mother lode of tuna cuts, from the belly), or, for the more adventurous, a delicacy known as lattume (pickled tuna gonads).
Tip: Avoid Favignana in August, when the heat, tourist masses, and high prices diminish the island's magic. Do, however come in late May or June, when the weather is divine, the flowers are blooming, and you're likely to catch some of the fervor that accompanies the mattanza season.