Within tantalizing reach of the western coast of Sicily, the Egadi Islands are a laid-back archipelago with striking natural beauty and plenty of manmade charms. Sailing toward the sun-beaten, windswept Egadi from nearby Trapani or Marsala, the islands -- Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo -- can appear somewhat harsh, but as you pull closer to shore, you'll find crystalline water in the most gorgeous shades of emerald and turquoise, real towns with real character, and surprisingly dramatic landscapes.

The islands are popular summertime retreats for swimming and scuba diving, but the rest of the year their 4,600 inhabitants are left to live from the fruits of the sea, as they have done for centuries. Home to the largest tuna fishery in Sicily, the islands are famous for the annual mattanza, an age-old method of culling tuna by forcing them to swim into a long corridor of nets known as camera della morte, or chamber of death.

Unlike the Aeolian islands, that other Sicilian archipelago with which they're often compared, the Egadi are new to the tourist scene and still have the feel of authentic, working islands that just also happen to welcome visitors warmly. Life goes on in the picturesque fishing villages of Favignana, Levanzo, and Marettimo (each island has one, eponymous town) as it has for generations, with residents following daily rhythms and making a living off the sea. While the Egadi are within day-trip distance of both Trapani and Marsala, a few days' stay is recommended, as each island has its own unique offerings, whether manmade or natural.

Strategies for Seeing the Islands

Unlike the Aeolian Islands, the Egadi are relatively close to, and easy to reach from, the Sicilian "mainland." They're also a lot cheaper than the Aeolians (except in Aug, when hotel prices here are just as criminally expensive). With the most developed tourist infrastructure and best swimming in the Egadi, Favignana is the most common base for a trip to these islands, but you can also stay on small, quiet Levanzo for more solitude. Magnificent Marettimo, by comparison, is positively remote, though there are a few overnight accommodations and tourist services here, too.

Boat service between the Egadi is regular and reliable, so it's perfectly convenient to base yourself on Favignana, as many vacationers do, and make daytime forays to Levanzo and Marettimo. Favignana and Levanzo are only 10 minutes apart by hydrofoil (30 min. by ferry), while the trip from Levanzo to Marettimo is a bit longer (35 min. by hydrofoil, 1 hr. by ferry). If, however, you're looking for a destination where you can unplug completely, surrounded by stupendous nature and an authentic community, book a stay on Marettimo and forget the other two islands.

With frequent connections from "mainland" Sicily (Trapani and Marsala), it's also realistic, if you're staying anywhere in western Sicily, to make a day trip of one or two of the Egadi. No airports or heliports are in the Egadi; most visitors to these islands fly to Palermo or Trapani.