Just a few kilometres up the coast from Italy’s southernmost point, in the deep south-east of Sicily, is one of Sicily’s prettiest seaside villages: Marzamemi.
It was the Arabs of the 10th century who put Marzamemi on the map. They not only gave the village its poetic name, Marsà al-hamam (translating as something like Turtle Dove Bay) but also built the original tonnara (tuna processing plant), which was to become one of the most important on the island.
Although the tonnara itself is no longer in function, Marzamemi continues its artisanal fishing and processing activities, producing all manner of delicacies, including canned tuna, dried tuna roe (bottarga), smoked swordfish, marinated anchovies, seafood pasta condiments, tuna salamis and much more besides!
The old centre of the village, most of which dates back to the arrival of the Principe di Villadorata in the mid-18th century, is situated on a little promontory and organised around the extremely picturesque Piazza Regina Margherita.
On the south side is the little fishing harbour with its bobbing fleet of colourful wooden boats, on the others a series of charming buildings, including the Church of San Francesco di Paola, the tonnara, the prince’s aristocratic palazzo and a row of fishermen’s houses, whose sky blue doors and potted red geraniums lend a chromatic vivacity to the whole picture. Narrow streets lead off the main square, offering glimpses of the turquoise sea to the east and north.
Marzamemi is worth visiting at any time of year, but it really comes into its own in the high summer months. In July it often hosts an International Film Festival during which films are projected directly on the walls of the buildings surrounding the piazza.
This wonderfully balmy nocturnal al fresco atmosphere continues all through August as visitors and locals mingle in the open-air bars, sipping on sundowners and cooling down after a day’s sunbathing and swimming at the nearby sandy beach of Porto Palo di Capo Passero.
Then it’s off to one of the excellent seafront fish restaurants, such as La Cialoma. As night falls, the piazza is taken over by live bands and DJs who provide entertainment for anyone in a dancing mood…