It is I, Nico, giving you another comprehensive guide to wonderful Sicily. Today, I am giving you all you need to know about San Vito Lo Capo to experience it as the locals do and not just another ogling tourist might.
Buongiorno to all, your semi-official tour guide and host Nico here to share more about Italy’s most treasured island. By reading on you will gain all of the knowledge you need to visit San Vito Lo Capo, which is one of the most popular attractions of Sicily in the warmer months.
I understand that the forthcoming guide is a little wordy and long, but all of the information is designed to improve your visit. So, if you don’t want to grumble like an old greybeard, just take the few minutes out of your life to read this through to the end. It is well worth your time.
Without further ado, let’s look at what you need to know about San Vito Lo Capo.
What To Do In San Vito
The information in this section is designed to show you what the locals do, and in this regard, you should adhere to the old adage :
When in Rome — do as the Romans do
1. Swim In The San Vito Sea
Make sure you pack a snorkel and your flippers, because one of the hottest things to do in San Vito is laying out in the sun and swimming. Perhaps that is why I refer to the locals of this large community “Arripudduti”, a Sicilian word for wrinkly people.
Now the locals here are quite fond of the suntan lotion, and you will be able to see this through the reflective gleam that can act as a burning glass to emulate Archimedes.
Hairless bodies are a common sight, as this aids in completing the all over tan look. Do not be surprised to see a few strange postures to tan in areas that are not essential.
Even with the Arripudditi, San Vito beaches are well worth your time. Here are some of the best options:
San Vito Beach
You will find that this gorgeous stretch of white sand beach at the foot of Monte Monaco is part of what has made San Vito Lo Capo so famous in Italy and beyond.
The locals here have deemed their beach the most beautiful in all of Sicily, and has won the coveted Blue Flag award on several occasions.
While residents here believe their beach to be the best, so do the locals surrounding Favignana, Lampedusa, Noto, Taormina, Scopello. To be fair they’ve all got their own reasons to consider their beaches the most beautiful, and they could also be right, so who really knows until you see them all.
The competition is thick throughout the island for the best sandy beaches, and San Vito certainly has a legitimate claim to stand on the podium.
If you are wondering what the heck a Blue Flag award even is, I can explain it. The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) recognizes certain coastal resorts meeting quality standards of the bathing water and general services offered to tourists and patrons. Special consideration is made both to the cleanliness of the beaches themselves and the tourist landing points. When you see the Blue Flag, it’s a very good sign.
You will certainly enjoy the crystal-clear waters to be found off the beach here, and rivals the best of the pictures you might come across on the internet for luxurious beach destinations.
You might find that some days seaweed can make the waters a little murky. This is especially the case in August when the beaches are the most crowded, and it seems like Mother Nature uses the seaweed as a defense mechanism. Mondello Beach in Palermo is similar in this way, lending some creedence to the possibility that Mother Nature doesn’t care much for hordes of people.
This long stretch of beach spreads out over nearly 3 km (1.8 miles).
A lot of this space is occupied with private beach areas offering food, sunbeds, umbrellas and beverages of all types. You can eat so much food that your belly converts into a small table to hold your beers or glasses of authentic Sicilian wine. Believe me, I’ve seen it.
You will find that choosing among the private beaches isn’t as difficult as it might seem, nearly every option offers the same experience for roughly the same price. If you are debating between the free and private beach experience, allow Nico to set you straight: private beaches all the way. I highly advise against the free beach areas.
The free beach areas are invaded by hordes of people with all manner of annoying toys and gadgets to ruin your day at the beach. Balls, water guns, paddles are just a small piece of the annoying puzzle you would have to endure. Children are walking around with water guns twice as big as they are. Perhaps if these same valiant armed children were available in WWII at the Battle of Gondar, we might have faired much better in the war. Tis a shame.
Worse still is that, even with the plentiful array of cans and dumpsters available, these Hordes of Huns roaming the free beach just throw their garbage on the sand. It is hard to stomach at times.
Whether you are headed to a private beach or a free option in the months of July and August, good luck. Often it is so crowded that you do not have the space to put down a single beach towel. If you are planning to go in these months, ensure that you are on the beach no later than 9 in the morning, because as I always say “the early bird who hesitates gets wormed.”
Tonnara del Secco
In a short trip by car – and yes, you should have a rented car for your trip – take a trip to Tonnara del Secco. This is an important stop for anyone interested in the history of San Vito.
Years ago, nets were dropped into the water here to catch large tuna as they ran the waters in the spring to reproduce. Old timers like myself can remembers tonnara owners sitting with guests on the terrance of the palace nearby to view the crews slaughtering tuna. While no fishing nets have been cast in the water since 1969, this area is still brimming with history and charm.
Speaking to any old fisherman in this area can give you a unique story about the mattanza. One of the locals here, my friend Pietro, did a lot of the mattanza and has explained on many occasions how the process worked. Here is how he describes it to me:
“Our work as tonnaroti (tuna fishermen) began in April when a series of fishing nets (4-5 km) immersed in the sea and formed different ‘rooms’. Tunas would enter the first room and proceeded until they reached the last room: the death room. In May, many barges would participate in the massacre of the tuna. This process required encircling the nets of the last room where the tuna would be and pulling little by little on the boat’s external flaps until the tuna emerged. Using harpoons, fishermen would pull these tuna onto the boats. This harpooning would turn the sea red for a time.”
This stretch of coast is where fishermen would bring their hauls of tuna back for processing. Even though the area dates back to the early 1400s, little remains of the ancient Tonnara del Secco. The charm of the area, however, is still a draw and a must see area of San Vito Lo Capo.
You should not think for a second that you can dive into the waters here like Bear Grylls and pull out a wild mattanza to cook and enjoy. Instead, take a look at the old ruins and swim peacefully in the clear waters that are far less crowded than San Vito beach.
The area is located roughly 3 km from San Vito Lo Capo to the west of the Gulf of Castellammare. This enchanting location is a popular spot for Italian filmmakers and television series, including the popular “Inspector Montalbano” which is based on the best selling mysteries penned by Andrea Camilleri.
Bue Marino’s Cove
You might not find that this spot has all of the same stories as some of the others on this list, but its beauty will certainly make you believe in a higher power or strengthen whatever your resolve about the God you believe in.
I am not exaggerating the beauty of this cove by any stretch of the imagination, and it has been named “The Most Beautiful In Italy” back in 2015 in a competition sponsored by the Legambiente (Italian Environmental Association). It is only minutes from San Vito Lo Capo and is ripe with alluring scents, vegetation, panoramic breathtaking views, and a mild annual climate that make it a good stop no matter when you are visiting the area.
A cobbled coast brims with the beauty that well deserved its first place prize in 2015, and can invoke you to drop your jaw as the sun sets red across this amazing stretch of water and beach.
I should be clear though, this is just a small bay on the coastline and not Etnaland in Catania (a very big Acquapark) where staff cater to you as you lie on the seabed of the pool. You might not have the easiest time even reaching the bay, you have to have food and water with you, and beach towels are out because the cobbled coast is a little jagged to lay down on.
Right next to here you will find the beach of Isuildda, which is another charming place you can swim and browse caves. Snorkelers can appreciate the authentic marine park and spend their entire day in the sun, sand and sea.
Baia Santa Margherita
Yet another amazing beach option for you is located at the gates of San Vito Lo Capo in between Castelluzzo and Macari (two hamlets of the village).
As alluring as the beach itself is, the landscape around the coastline is equally impressive. The hills of the Valle degli Ulivi behind you and Cala Mancina cliffs and profile of Monte Cofano can leave you breathless.
This is a unique alternative to the San Vito beach in the months of August when maximum attendance soars. This is an unmissable stop for those that want to take in Sicily’s natural beauty.
You will find a small bar on this beach offering umbrellas and sunbeds to rent, which is a great way to take in the sand and sun.
Locals consider this beach to be on par with San Vito with less of the crowds to contend with. Nestled in between the Monte Cofano Nature Reserve and Zingaro Nature Reserve, the Macari Beach is only a few kilometers aware from San Vito.
This enchanting experience begins with the long stretch of coastline accentuated by rocky inlets and cliffs with a beautiful natural hue to the water ranging from a deep blue to a turquoise. Peering out into the horizon, you can see the Egadi islands and every evening you can experience exciting and memorable sunsets.
While you might not find many beaches that can rival its beauty through certain times of the year, it is amazingly uncrowded (and that’s a guarded secret…so don’t tell everyone). This is probably because many are attracted to the renowned San Vito Lo Capo beach. This beach sits about 4 km from town and preserves an almost wild feel of natural beauty. In some places it might appear more like African Savannah than Northern European cliffs.
The only draw back with this natural experience is that you will not get the service you experience on San Vito beach, with plentiful stops for drinks and food. But to the locals, this aspect is revered and appreciated.
2. Visit The San Vito Sanctuary
You and your traveling companions might not be kindred spirits with the arripudduti as I call them, and actually prefer to learn a little of the history surrounding San Vito Lo Capo instead of lying around in the sun.
Your first stop on this expedition should be the San Vito sanctuary. You will find this at the heart of San Vito Lo Capo in a beautiful square. The ancient facility for Christian worship stands majestically here in the middle of the city, as it has since its first celebration back in the fifth century.
The Fortress was constructed around the Sanctuary (dedicated to the martyr San Vito after the fall of Constantinople in 1453) in order to protect faithful inside from frequent pirate raids of the time.
You will find a modest museum inside showcasing sacred items which testify to the devotion the faithful here had for Saint Vito.
The location of the San Vito Lo Capo village at the tip of Sicily in the middle of Mediterranean aided in bolstering population as storms and pirate raids would ground ships or force them ashore at this port and they would attribute their survival to Saint Vito, and devoted their lives in servitude.
Pilgrimages to Saint Vito were also popular through all of Western Sicily because this Saint could free you from “Scanto” (a Sicilian word meaning fear).
You might notice from looking at the structure that it has many different architectural influences. A rare harmonious look at a collaboration of civil, religious and military applications can be seen by visiting the Sanctuary and Fortress. Even isolated elements like the rose window, the loopholes, balconies and watchtower all coexist together in a cohesive and fluid way.
When you enter the Sanctuary itself, the beauty of this ancient altar is hard for your eyes to miss. It is easily the most significant architectural element of the entire church. You can admire the detailed marble statue of the Saint child, existing here since the end of the 1500s created by sculptor Gagini. The altar itself was restored sometime around 1780 using the regions rich marble veins.
3. Visiting The Faro (Lighthouse)
This magnificent lighthouse might have been constructed to help Bourbons to navigate the coastline more easily when it was first illuminated in 1859, but today it adds a charming element to the bay.
It serves as one of the symbols unique to San Vito Lo Capo, along with the aforementioned Sanctuary and San Vito Beach. Its impressive beam can reach out to 20 nautical miles, and for this reason, continues to be a safety oriented structure important to the whole of Sicily.
A red light warns ships of the rocky shoal extending from the coastline a few miles to the north. In the past, it has prevented countless ship wrecks through this dangerous area. Civilizations traveling to the coast before the lighthouse (Romans, Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans and more) were not so fortunate navigating the shoal.
While the history of the lighthouse is certainly impressive, it is also a local spot to cast a spell on a young unsuspecting girl to kiss her for the first time. I’ve witnessed many a hopeful young man brings his dream girl out to the Faro and get his coveted first kiss under the spell of the enchanting light. If you are a young man with a young lady in your life who does not necessarily share your same feelings, now you know how to turn that situation around.
If you walk to the top of the Faro (43 meters above sea level), you can get emotionally swept away by the beautiful night and the single stretch of pure light sending a message out to the open, vast sea.
4. Try Couscous and Caldo Freddo
Whether it is time for lunch or dinner, the locals know it means one thing: couscous. If you do not know what it is, it is high time you found an escape from the rock you’ve been living under.
The dish itself traces lineage to Northern Africa and Western Sicily alike, and it is made from durum wheat ground into small grains and steamed.
Traditionally it is steamed in an earthenware pot and seasoned with fish soup broth. In recent years, various versions of couscous have appeared, some offering meat and the like. No matter what style you choose, it is authentic if it is handmade with genuine, fresh ingredients.
Years ago, women used to gather together for several days to prepare large quantities. The ground wheat was dried in the sun and could last for several months. The creation of couscous today is more appliances and machines, as this popular dish is a global delight.
Those who plan to travel to San Vito in late September (21-30) this year can experience the annual Cous Cous Fest, an international food festival with the honoree being the harrowed wheat dish.
Each and every year, chefs from around the world compete here to offer their own varieties of the popular dish to the throes of hungry attendees.
While you have an entrance fee of 10€, you can experience food from every stall in the centre of San Vito. Ten full days of events, cultural meetings, and cooking shows. The evenings are full of music and entertainment on the beach of in Piazza Santuario with various renowned artists.
You might not want to experience the noise and crowds of the Couscous event, but still want to know where to get the best of this cuisine while you are here. Here are some good choices to get you started:
- Profumi di Cous Cous
- Ristorante Rais
- San Vito a tavola
While a little less internationally renowned, the Caldo Freddo is worth a try as well. Caldo Freddo (the Cold Heat in English) is a product of Trapani artisanal gelato. In 1950 it was a regular staple in San Vito Lo Capo, and began to spread to other areas throughout the district: Trapani Erice, Paceco and Valderice for instance.
In an earthenware bowl, a soft biscuilt (or sponge cake) is soaked in rum. Lots of ice cream (most commonly hazelnut, chocolate, coffee or pistachio flavored) gets added in and topped with white cream. This entire concoction is then covered with a hearty serving of hot melted dark chocolate. Given the mixture of the heat and cold, the name caldo freddo is very fitting.
Based on where locals deem the best in the village, here are the top spots to grab caldo freddo:
- La Sirenetta
- Gelateria Cavalluccio Marino
- Brivido Goloso
The locals would suggest a strong espresso to “kill the sugar” you consumed after you eat a caldo freddo.
5. Visit The Riserva Dello Zingaro Nearby
Part of the long stretch of coast from San Vito Lo Capo to Castellammare del Golfo, you can find the the Zingaro Nature Reserve. Here you will find roughly 7 km of nature that is untouched by human construction and development. You can reach the reserve in just 15 minutes from San Vito in a car.
If you consider yourself a nature buff, this is a great way to experience the harmony of nature in a truly immersive way. Centuries ago the Greeks and Latins referred to this area as “Cetaria” which meant fish farm due to the abundance of tuna found in the water here.
It is not easy to describe the beauty you would experience here.
Small bays with white pebble beaches, green and blue hues in the inviting waters, sharp rocks sectioning off areas of beaches naturally, Mediterranean vegetation, and a handful of older farmhouses that speckle the horizon along the rocks are a few of the sighs you can expect to see. The vegetation is a sea of color, especially in the springtime.
The olive trees, almond trees, carob trees and more all mix into large expanses. Orchids grow heavily through dwarf palms, ash and oak trees, offering a unique and memorable image you will always treasure.
The dwarf palm is the undisputed symbol of this nature reserve. Its leaves helped peasants to create helpful tools and objects used every day, many of which are on display in the small museum you can find on the premises.
You can only experience the reserve by walking it, so prepare yourself for a lot of trekking. There are over 40 species of birds that consider this reserve their home, and those willing to walk the full length of the reserve will have a truly unforgettable experience in seeing many of these varieties intertwined with gorgeous landscapes.
You can still admire the beauty of the reserve, even if you cannot walk it on foot. You can always charter a boat or get on an excursion that sets out daily from San Vito Lo Capo to see it from the water.
Getting From Palermo To San Vito Lo Capo
Getting between Palermo and San Vito Lo Capo, you have three primary options:
- The Russo Company offers a coach departing from Piazza Cairoli (Central Train Station). You kind of have to entrust your experience to the Gods here, though, as departure times seem like they are drawn from a raffle hat. In fact, I just called the company for more information because their online profile was missing routes and timing. I was assured every day there is one bus departing at 2:30 pm to San Vito. The return bus to Palermo is at 6 am the next morning. In the summer months, another bus or two could be added for the influx in passengers, if you intend on spending a night or two in San Vito, this might be a suitable solution, even if you have to turn to Zues for credible coach departure times.
- You can take a pilgrimage of sorts that takes you through Trapani by way of the Segasta Company sponsored bus from Politeama Square and then coming back to San Vito from Trapani. You have to pass San Vito to get to Trapani, so it is quite frustrating that there is no stop along the way, but this is a choice you can make.
- Lastly, you can rent a car. This is the one that I most recommend because its fairly inexpensive, it gives you more freedom, and you aren’t waiting around on a schedule of departure and arrival times. You can enjoy other stops I also recommend this way along the trip between Palermo and San Vito, such as Scopello for a “Pani Cunzato” and Sorgente Bar for a “Cassatella”. This choice also helps you navigate around all the sights of San Vito as well.
If you have opted to rent a vehicle, you can take the A29 Palermo – Mazara del Vallo Highway, exit Castellammare del Golfo and then simply follow the signage towards San Vito. All in all, the trip takes around an hour.
Where You Can Stay in San Vito Lo Capo
I would recommend accommodation in the heart of San Vito or near the white sand beach. There are lots of great options from high class hotels to B&Bs to a few campsites.
Booking in advance is highly recommended. Here are three places that I have personally been and enjoyed my time staying there:
You an also take a look by clicking the link below to check out some of the best available deals for San Vito and surrounding areas.
There are going to be times throughout the year where options are limited if you do not book well in advance. Especially around the summer months and the Couscous Festival. Plan out well ahead of time to ensure you get the place you want.
Where You Should Eat In San Vito
While I might have already divulged the best spots for couscous and caldo freddo to be found, there are many more delightful delicacies to enjoy here in Sicily.
The plethora of culture brim through this port town and left behind unique fragrance, spices, foods and more to paint a picture of cuisine you cannot find in any other corner of the planet.
Romans, Greeks, Normans, Arabs, Spaniards and the French all competed for who would rule this island over centuries upon centuries. In this time, Sicilians allowed new culinary habits, foods, spices and crops into their homes and developed a style unique to their own tastes.
It is a wide array of options from the simple and delectable dishes to the complex and elaborate creations that define Sicilian cuisine.
You will find that you are given a lot of choices when it comes to restaurants in the San Vito village and surrounding areas. These don’t even take into account the friggitorie (fritter shops) and gastronomy shops where you can get a wide array of take out dishes. Also, don’t overlook the street vendors offering great cuisine you can get on the go.
For some good local options to check out, look to these stops:
- Buena Vida Siciliana
- Km Restaurant
- La Zagara
You can find the heart of all this goodness is ingenuity and locally sourced ingredients.
You likely will not have the opportunity to experience all the cuisine that the village has to offer, but hopefully through this guide you can get in some of the most famous dishes and delicacies of the area.
While I hope to provide all of the information that you might need to make the most of your trip to San Vito Lo Capo, you might still have questions or concerns as your own trip nears. Feel free to drop a comment below and Tano can help you through any problem you might have.