Imagine waking up in the morning and starting the day with a reinvigorating swim instead of an espresso. Holding only a pair of goggles you hop down to the pebble beach and dive into translucent waters, swarming with friendly baby barracudas and groupers.
You can do it at the (only) chic eco-resort in Marettimo, the wildest and most pristine island of Sicily’s Egadi archipelago.
One of Italy’s best-kept secrets, it’s tiny and off-beat, far from the madding crowd. Forget cars, roads, hotels and disco pubs. There are just a few bars and restaurants. Silence is a luxury here, and having the privilege of staying at the Marettimo Residence makes your holiday even more... detox. Constantly over-booked during summer, its green philosophy lures nature-lovers.
Behind the hotel's green philosophy
The eco-resort offers a no-frills, unplugged yet extraordinary sojourn inside an exotic park with a wooden restaurant-bar and a panoramic gazebo for cocktails and special events. It’s built like a fishermen village, located close to the picturesque little harbour. The cluster of low-cut white studios with blue windows and sea-front terraces perfectly blend in with the natural surroundings. The deluxe suites come with lounge chairs and thatched patios. Figs grow over porches, easy to grab and savour. To kill time there is also a pool and a relaxing garden with king-size jacuzzis, stuck between palm trees and hibiscus flowers.
Renewable energy rules. Solar panels and photovoltaic systems are used for electricity and water heating. Shower use is limited. "First come, first served. If you get back late in the evening tough luck, your neighbours will have used all the running water, so no shower. But hey, you can always plunge back into the cobalt sea for a quick bath", jokes owner Fausto Gobbo, who picks up guests on an electric golf cart. He’s also proud that clean water is recycled to irrigate the plants and flowers.
Forget lavish modern comforts. Marettimo Residence is all about what we really, really need. Simple things here are a real luxury. For starters, there is no AC. The cool sea breeze at night, topped with a huge ceiling fan over the bed, keeps even mosquitos at bay. The external lightbulbs are down to a minimum, so best move around at sunset with a torchlight. There are biological soap and shampoo refills, while bed sheets and towels are not changed every day.
Heaven for trekking amateurs and wildlife lovers
"This is part of our environmental-friendly philosophy: our guests like to be active players so they can sharpen their eco-conscious attitude and healthy lifestyle. That's why we also decided to ban TVs from all rooms, people need a break from all that noise", says Fausto. Don't freak out if you come across a few wild animals. "This is a natural zoo: deers, mouflons and wild boars live right close to the resort. I often see a Bambi in the morning standing in my front porch".
Paths lead to a series of connected, solitary inlets dotted with altars and chapels built by ancient Greek conquerors. The best way to discover Marettimo is by foot and the resort is a great starting point. But the isle is not just heaven for trekking amateurs, sea lovers will love it too.
The scenery is breathtaking. Fausto organizes guided scuba diving adventures and boat tours with local fishermen who love spinning mythological tales. Marettimo’s shore is lined with mesmerizing labyrinths of huge purple and pink sea-grottos home to monk seals. The Camel’s Grotto has walls and ceiling resembling the animal’s rough skin. Dinghies zig-zag between tall mountain peaks that jut out of the emerald-green water. Yes, hard to believe yet the reddish-grey rock of the cliffs is the same exact one as that of the Dolomites mountains in the Alps. The scent of thyme in the air is almost intoxicating.
Marettimo’s ancient Greek name is Hiera, aka “sacred island”. There's a mystical pull. It is one of those places that invite to forget about oneself and the outside world, drowning in sweet oblivion. There’s only one quaint village frozen in time of barely 100 people, lined with white-washed dwellings. An abandoned spooky fortress rising atop a precipice offers spectacular views. Its bleeding sunsets are a romantic lure, despite the dark past. Village gossip has it that a cruel Saracen pirate lived in the castle with two sisters he had kidnapped, who become both his lovers, but then one-day jealousy between the women turned the threesome into a bloody massacre.
Islanders are imbued with a primitive fear of the sea gods. At the end of the day, all these tales make you hungry and the food is a plus point at Marettimo Residence. Each morning Fausto runs to the harbour to grab the succulent fresh catch for his guests. "The most wanted are the 'minnole', delicious little fishes. Customers regularly quarrel to buy the most because the best way to savour these is cutting the belly open and sprinkling the eggs on homemade busiane short pasta. It's a sublime dish."
Writer: Silvia Marchetti