Sicily by boat: How I lived out my White Lotus dream in Italy

Salvatore – or Toto – doffs his blue bucket hat as he welcomes me on board the Lagoon 42 catamaran at the marina in Portorosa, on the north coast of Sicily.

From watching season after season of Below Deck during the pandemic, I know better than to wear shoes on a boat.

But he assures me all is fine unless I am planning to wear stilettoes. At 6ft 1, I will never be caught in heels even though I do feel inspired by the opulence of Italian fashion.

Dressed in red shorts and a white T-shirt, and with an all-year-around tan, Toto is the epitome of a seasoned skipper and is pleased when I demonstrate an interest in sailing.

As he moves around the deck, untying ropes in preparation to leave dock, I notice the name of the white boat: Lotus.

What a coincidence, I think to myself, as what gave me the idea to travel to Sicily this summer is the second season of the HBO series White Lotus.

There is no denying the appeal of all the filming locations – and some need little introduction – particularly the San Domenico Palace in Taormina.

It is also because of the show that interest in Italy and its turquoise beaches saw web searches rise by more than 50% since the finale in December.

Great for the country’s tourism – but bad for the pocket – as it is becoming more and more expensive to book accommodation in the region.

This is why I am travelling with SamBoat – a company often referred to as Uber of the sea. Operating in 76 countries, it is the fastest-growing global platform for boat rental.

But this boat set-up is a great alternative to an Airbnb or self-catering apartment – as it’s safe to say that one of the perks of exploring Italy in this fashion is having the inside knowledge of local skippers at your disposal.

With a crisp bottle of the local Birra Messina already in hand, I explore my humble abode while Toto loads bags of groceries on board.

There’s plenty of space too, with four en-suite rooms – each furnished with a double bed, a wardrobe and a fan to cool me down in the night.

There is also a kitchen fitted with a sink, hob and a fridge, and two alcohol fridges that are now stocked with Prosecco, white wine, beer and orange juice.

Mimosa for breakfast it is then.

Without much prompting, I put my new bathing suit on and head to the deck to sunbathe as we set sail to Lipari.

It is the largest of the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily.

For lunch, I snack on some Caprese salad, fresh bread and olives, and pour myself a glass of Bayamore Bianco di Bianchi.

Most of the afternoon I spend jumping off the deck of the boat while surrounded by smouldering craters and rocky coastlines.

Toto passes me another beer as I swim in the clear sea. I keep my gaze at the far away coast – it feels like time has stopped.

Before visiting Sicily, I had never heard of Lipari and if it was not for all his inside knowledge, I would have probably overlooked it.

After docking at Pignatoro port, I dress for the evening and jump on the free shuttle taxi to Marina Corta.

Above the harbour area of the town is the fortified citadel and castle built by the Spaniards in the 16th century.

From personal experience, I recommend climbing the stairs before getting dinner and dessert, but make sure not to skip it – the nighttime view of the sea is one to remember.

After curiously studying restaurants, sports bars and cafes on the main street, I sit down at Barr Gabbiano for dinner.

The waiters bring me caponata, a Mediterranean dish made of eggplant, onions, celery, tomatoes, olives and capers, chickpea fritters called panelle and pasta.

For dessert, I stop at Pasticceria Subba, which has been operating since the 1930s.

There are long lines of authentic cannoli made with ricotta, orange zest, and mini chocolate chips, sponge cake infused with lemon, but I have my heart set on cold pistachio granita.

I cannot leave without picking up pastries for breakfast – large cannoli, rum baba and a croissant filled with cream – before heading back to the boat.

In the morning, I walk to a shack right next to the marina where I buy espressos to wash down the rum baba.

Toto is already up, preparing the boat to leave Pignatoro for a big day of hopping islands.

Named after the Roman god of fire, Vulcano has its own identity, impressing with its dramatic craters.

The last reported eruption happened in the 1880s, so it is not a pressing concern for visitors.

I spend the day navigating between swimming in the clear blue water, reading on the deck and napping in the sun – sort of dreading the judgement I will get from my dermatologist about the tan from this trip.

In the evening, Toto drives the boat to Portorosa from where I take a 15-minute stroll to the nearby town of Tonnarella.

I sip on an Aperol Spritz at Arthe Café, while fending off pesky mosquitos, before taking a walk on the beach, where children and adults are folding umbrellas and packing up to leave.

For dinner, I sit at La Risacca where I tuck into a Pizza Trinacria that is topped with mozzarella, red onions, mushrooms and pistachio cream.

I reckon this is how Julia Roberts’ character in Eat, Pray and Love felt eating pizza for the first time in Italy.

In the morning, I shove the still damp bathing suit in my suitcase before waving goodbye to the ‘Lotus’ as it is the final day of my trip.

It is about an hour’s drive to Taormina from Portorosa, at least the way Italian taxi drivers do it.

On arrival at the hilltop town, I meet with my guide, Salvina, at Porta Messina, the entrance to the centre, which leads to Corso Umberto, the main street to the historical area.

Salvina is local to the area, and offers private tours of Taormina. She shows me the Teatro Antico di Taormina, the old Greek theatre, and tells me about the history and culture of the region.

As we pause next to a few red and yellow Vespas parked in the shade by a Greek-Roman wall that has stood for centuries, an elderly woman cleaning her balcony above us greets us in Italian.

Salvina tells me Taormina was once the capital of Sicily. All buildings are colourful and decorated with marble, most with windows in Gothic Catalan style.

The tour lasts about two hours and a half, and after visiting the old theatre and a church, she takes us to a few must-see food spots.

The owners are more than happy to offer samples of delicious almond and apple biscuits, almond and pistachio spreads, and bitter blood orange liqueur.

Salvina then waves goodbye and before I know it, I find myself in a jewellery store where an Italian woman is helping me try on chunky golden earrings in the shape of hearts.

Now that I have a souvenir to remember Sicily I am content with leaving for the airport, which is only a 30-min drive.

After all, I know I will be back soon. Though I only had two nights on the ‘Lotus’, I am now relaxed, sun-kissed and can confirm that my first sailing experience was a massive success.

Getting there:

The coast of the Lagoon 42 catamaran ‘Lotus’ starts from £340 a day with SamBoat, with an additional £150 a day for a skipper. Though this can depend on the time of year, this would be the lead in rate.

Guests also have to pay for fuel. For the three days, the boat needed to be loaded once, which cost around £220.

Flights from London Gatwick to Catania start at around £150 round trip.

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