Since it is the top of an extinct volcano, Ustica doesn't have sandy beaches. But as you traverse the island, you'll find jumping-off points for swimming. The biggest attraction is the grotto-lined coastline and, because distances are short, hiking is a viable option.
Wildflowers cover the island except in late July and August, when the blistering sun burns them away. You'll also see island-grown produce, such as lentils, figs, capers, grapes, prickly pears, wheat, and almonds.
Of all the caves or grottoes on the island, the most celebrated and fascinating is the Grotta Azzurra, the first cave south of Ustica village as you head down the coast by boat. It's named for the more fabled cave in Capri, but both grottoes share an incredible iridescent glow from light reflections from the sea.
Almost as stunning is the next sea cave directly to the south, Grotta Pastizza. This is a stalactite cave behind a great pyramidal rock. Directly down the coast, another grotto, Grotta della Barche, is also intriguing. Barche means "boats," and Ustica fishermen anchor in this safe haven during storms.
Attractions near the Port
It's fun just to stroll around the village, taking in views of the bay, Baia Santa Maria. The little town is made more festive by a series of murals that decorate the facades of the buildings.
Directly south of the village stands Torre Santa Maria, housing the Museo Archeologico (Archaeological Museum) (no phone). It's open daily from 9am to noon and 5 to 7pm; admission is 3€. Its most fascinating exhibits are fragments and artifacts recovered from the ancient city of Osteodes, now submerged beneath the sea. Many of the artifacts, such as crusty anchors, were recovered from ships wrecked off the coast. You'll see amphorae, Bronze Age objects from the prehistoric village of Faraglioni, and contents of tombs from the Hellenistic and Roman eras.
To the east of the tower are the ruins of a Bronze Age settlement, Villaggio Preistorico, at Faraglioni. Excavations began in 1989 on what was a large prehistoric village dating from the 14th century to the 13th century B.C. The foundations of some 300 stone-built houses were discovered, and the defensive walls of the settlement are among the strongest fortifications of any period known in Italy. It is believed that these early settlers came over from the Aeolian Islands. Admission is free; the site is always open.
If you walk north of Ustica village, you'll come to the remains of the Rocca della Falconiera, at 157m (515 ft.). Figure on a 20-minute walk. (Along the way you'll see many cisterns, as water remains a precious commodity on Ustica, even though a desalination plant has been installed.) The defensive tower was constructed by the Bourbons to protect the island from raids by pirates. This site was first settled back in the 3rd century B.C. by the Romans. If you look toward the sea you'll see the lighthouse, Punta dell'Uomo Morto (Dead Man's Point) on a cliff, where a cave contains vestiges of centuries-old tombs.
From the fort you can take in a view of Guardia dei Turchi, at 244m (801 ft.). This is the highest point on the island. That object you see in the distance, evoking a mammoth golf ball, is in fact a meteorological radar system installed by the Italian government.
The view from the fortress ruins stretches from the harbor to the core of the island, with the mountains of Monte Costa del Fallo and Monte Guardia dei Turchi clearly outlined.
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