San Vito lo Capo – an idyllic place combining sandy beaches, fresh breeze and shallow sea waters with fantastic nearby Underwater World of caves and rock formations.....
Although the roots of San Vito lo Capo (St. Vito Cape) can be traced back to the beginnings of the first millennium, the real “life” was brought there in 18 century when a small fishing village was established around the existing complex of fortress-&-sanctuary.
Its name honors memory of San Vito – a 3rd century Christian saint who according to tradition rather than historical facts, landed here as a child in company of his tutor Modesto and nurse Crescenzia. In fact, each year in the week ending on June 15, the city holds celebrations of St. Vito which culminate with the landing of young Vito on the beach followed by the procession to the church.
For centuries, the life in San Vito lo Capo has been marked by hardship of fishermen’s work and pilgrims visiting the sanctuary of St. Vito. “Things” drastically changed in the last few decennia. Thanks to its location along sandy beaches, San Vito lo Capo lost its image of small, forgotten place, becoming a well-known tourist center.
Map of San Vito lo Capo's area
San Vito lo Capo - view on the bay
Palms on the beach
Located at the tip of a little peninsula stretching out into the sea just some 20 miles (30 km) north of Trapani, San Vito lo Capo became a dream place for those choosing Sicily as a summer’s sunbathing and swimming destination. The little bay where the wide stretches of sandy beaches seamlessly blend with crystalline waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea seems to be a heaven. Limestone peaks of Mt. Cofano towering the bay on the eastern side of the bay provide an extra protection from strong winds leaving the beach open only to gentle touches of fresh breeze…. Thanks to shallow waters it is a favorite place for family vacations with children.
Natural umbrella next to the beach
From many points of view it is an idyllic place. On the land side, San Vito lo Capo is surrounded by nature of nearby Zingaro Nature Reserve (Riserva Naturalle dello Zingaro) and Mt. Cofano Nature Reserve (Riserva Naturalle Monte Cofano). The sea-side charms with golden beaches gently washed by lazy, pleasingly warm waters painted with strokes of different shades of blue.
But even that is not all – the area with its steep, rocky cliffs falling into the sea and numerous caves is a paradise for rock-climbers. Most of climbing “opportunities” along the 2,5 miles (4 km) stretch of coastal cliffs are accessible only from the water what probably makes it even more attractive. According to climbers, the cliff not to miss is Calamancina. It has few sectors offering all levels of adrenaline – some popular for beginners and some for highly skilled climbers.
For hikers nearby nature reserves offer several trekking paths with access to pre-historic caves.
Understandably, the large coastal area along the Zingaro Nature Reserve with its underwater wonders offers excellent opportunities for scuba diving. As the bonus on top of fantastic underwater rock formations there is a good chance to spot old shipwrecks and red corals.
The best of San Vito lo Capo!
Even this little cat enjoys the place :-)
Needless to say that during touristic season (April to October) the otherwise seemingly sleepy town transforms into a vibrant resort packed with tourists. While almost five miles long beaches can “swallow” the crowds, the city itself centered in the area of piazza Santuario and Via Savoia visibly overflows that time… Restaurants, bars, pizzerias, cafeterias and little taverns will satisfy most gourmand tourists. Some may enjoy street food, others visits to workshops of local artisans.
Street in San Vito lo Capo
Couscouseria - Not surprisingly, this traditional dish from Maghreb is very popular in Sicily. It's not only due to the geographical closeness of the Northern Africa, but also centuries of rules of Moors (Arabs)
But there is one “unifying” event that everybody enjoys, it’s a six day lasting Cous-Cous Fest usually held in the last week of September. Organized since 1998, now with the participation of chefs from the Mediterranean countries it got international dimensions. But the real winners of these festivities accompanied with numerous open-air concerts are tourist. They have chance to get a taste of traditional North-African Arabic cuisine spiced with Sicilian ingredients and generously sprinkled with habitual Mediterranean love for good food! Although in essence dedicated to all forms and flavors of cous-cous-based meals, it is the festival of food, vine and cultural events.
During the low season (winter) the town shrinks to its original size of few thousand inhabitants. While most of big restaurants will be closed, visitors can truly enjoy the warmness of little places and certainly “more attention” (the latter has some limitations – because in low season the Tourist Office is closed )
But the mostly empty streets greatly help to emphasize the beauty of what San Vito lo Cape and closest area are famous for – The Mother Nature. Biking, hiking, walking, horseback riding but also sailing, canoeing and windsurfing can be still (actually better than ever) enjoyed given more close-up and personal contacts with nature freed from hordes of tourists. Some may find interest in fishing excursions (although this is rather one-sided pleasure, I’m sure fish has totally different opinion, unfortunately no one asks them questions)
Summarizing - Fantastic scenery, mostly blue sky, enjoyable sun and mild Mediterranean winter’s climate extends the paradise-like ambiance well beyond the boundaries of the hot season.
San Vito lo Capo landmarks:
San Vito's Chapel
Fragment of the Chapel
Entrance to the oldest part of the church - crypt
Church’s unusually raw rectangular form points to its defensive functions, protecting the Sanctuary from attacks by pirates. The massive structure erected probably in 15th century, encompasses much smaller pre-existing Sanctuary of St. Vito, of which not much survived to our times. In the past, the complex also housed rooms for pilgrims, small workshops and stables for horses. Today, the most impressive part of the complex is the Presbyterian area housing the Chapel of San Vito. White marble live-size statues of saints enriched with decorations in the style of early Sicilian baroque are work of Orazzio Ferraro from 1824-1628. The central statue representing church’s patron San Vito is a fine work of Gagini’s school from 1587. Engraved in the base are episodes from the life of San Vito related to his stay in the area.
In front of the chapel in an underground crypt there are “traces” of the oldest part of the Sanctuary.
(note - this picture does not have its HR version)
Visible from the beach Lighthouse is another landmark of San Vito lo Capo. The truth is that bay’s safe shallow waters abruptly end at the open sea. The peaceful “heaven“ transforms into dramatic confrontation of rocky cliffs with water. But a major part of the “battlefield” is hidden in the underwater world. Countless ancient shipwrecks that found their last harbor in this corner of Sicily are tragic proof of how narrow is the line between “Idyllic Beauty” and Hell.
The first primitive lighthouse was built here in early 1800’s at the order of Bourbons. With time the lighthouse underwent several significant modifications of which the most important was replacing oil and subsequent kerosene lamps by modern electric ones. Today, the light from the top of 38 meters tall tower (43 meters about the sea level) has a reach in excess of 18.2 nautical miles. With the following modernizations the hardship of lighthouse keepers was continuously lessening. Today, stories of lighthouse keepers are only distant memories “colored” by our attempts to resurrect the beauty of the past, despite the hard facts that marked their solitary lives…… . But certainly stunning views from the top of the tower on surrounding coastline, highlighted by sunny, blue sky can leave us for long minutes frozen in amazement….
Chapel of St. Crescenzia
Chapel of St. Crescenzia
This little quadrangular arched structure crowned by a cupola represents the 15th century Sicilian architecture characterized by visible Islamic and Norman influence. The chapel, located few miles inland from San Vito lo Capo was dedicated to Santa Crescenzia – the wet-nurse of young child later known as St. Vito. The legend has it that after the landing in the bay of today’s San Vito lo Capo, St. Crescenzia and young Vito tried to convert to Christianity inhabitants of the nearby village “Conturrana”. Unsuccessful in their mission and threatened by villagers, they had to run for their lives. It all ended in disaster when “God’s hand” punished villagers by burying the whole village under the enormous landslide.
The chapel was built by inhabitants of Erice on the spot where according to the legend, Santa Crescenzia and St. Vito stood watching in disbelief the epic tragedy. The area on the opposite side of the road is still called “Contrada Avalanche”. To be truthful, the lost village of Conturrana was mentioned in few ancient Roman texts, confirming known facts that many legends and myths are “born” in order to beautify or justify incomprehensible naturally occurring events. That is why, many of them may have some “seeds of truth” …..
Scenic coastline near San Vito lo Capo
Leaving San Vito lo Capo let's take with us memories of crystal-clear sea waters .....
... memories of sandy beach (here with Three Sisters)....
... and memories of surrounding rocks (part of the coastal Nature Park Zingaro)
If you want to explore the area, see: --> Zingaro Nature Park
If you prefer the Middle-Age ambiance, visit: --> Erice Stone Village
or more Sicilian history in urban environment:
Do not miss: --> Salt Pans of Mozia
Whenever you turn, you will find that Sicily is an open book where you can read pages written over millennia of history by numerous Mediterranean civilizations.