The Sicilian fishing village of St. Elia

St. Elia is a small fishing village on the north coast of Sicily, a short drive from my home. Their fishing boats, made entirely of wood, are blue, white and orange. Each village along this coast paints its boats a specific color scheme.

The fishermen sometimes row silently, but sometimes plonk outboard motors on the back of their boats. Many families depend on fishing for their livelihood so you need a license to go out fishing here – hobby fishing is not allowed.

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This gigantic plant is over 30 feet tall and they only live two years. First the leaves at the base grow, then the following year the whole flowering stem shoots up in one springtime. After the seeds are ripe, the stem one day suddenly tips over, scattering the seeds far and wide.

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Oleanderers growing along the St. Elia sea shore.

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The cross is the main landmark in St. Elia, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. It gives the fishermen a point of reference, and lovers a private spot to canoodle at night.

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This is the view of the village taken from the cross.

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In Sicilian fishing villages, the fishermen who fish for a living always have a separate beach for their boats from the rich people who go out in pleasure boats. The pleasure boats are always much more modern and expensive than those owned by the professional fishermen.

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A house in St. Elia.


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St. Elia is a fairly typical Sicilian fishing village yet it has a unique charm. My husband brought me here when plotting to take me out under the stars for our first ever kiss. And he took me here again when he proposed.

I decided to take him here when I had the exciting news that I was pregnant, and he was so overjoyed he almost fell into the sea.

Who knows what our next important event in St. Elia will be?


45 thoughts on “The Sicilian fishing village of St. Elia

    1. It’s not touristy at all, actually. No souvenir shops whatsoever. There are nice bars looking right out over the beach, but I canΓ¬’t think of any restaurants at all. There must be some!!!
      What most people round here do is go to Porticello for lunch, which is just down the road and has a good choice of fabulous fish restaurants all along the sea front, then go to St. Elia for ice-cream afterwards. Porticello is also lovely but also not touristy – they’re both places the locals keep secret!


      1. Hi there,
        My grandmother was born there in 1899 and all my aunts uncles and cousins still live there. My maiden name is Salvato and our family names are Alioto and Balistreri. Do you know any of my family? I’m coming over next year for the first time. I’m so excited.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The Balistreri’s are the biggest clan in St. Elia and some of the surrounding villages. I know plenty of Balistreris which means I almost certainly know some of your family!


  1. I’m amazed at that plant that is so tall and only lives 2 years! Thanks for sharing the views of this amazing place, where you had such incredible important memories from. Lucky he didn’t fall into the sea with the emotion πŸ˜‰


      1. Gosh that’s a lot. One of the things I do each morning (I know, I should have better things to do) is inspect my plants and comment on their growth / death rates. I would be flipping with this plant. xx


  2. That’s a very beautiful little bay and looks very familiar πŸ™‚
    Those who own houses or villas there along the coast are so lucky. Imagine that: doing some work indoors, followed by simply walking out the back of one’s house, down the concrete stairs and jumping into the sea for a refreshing swim. Unreal.

    My girlfriend has a little apartment about 20 minutes driving from there where we live when we visit Sicily, but I hope to be able to buy a proper house in the future and work from home there, but I have a language barrier to overcome and know absolutely nothing about tax laws, pensions, healthcare, and working as a self employed person in Italy/Sicily (and most likely for foreign clients to complicate matters even more), etc. I’ve still got a lot of orientation and learning to do.


    1. Getting a house there would be wonderful!! I sometimes dream of that myself…
      If you’re working for foreign clients, try to find out if you can pay your taxes in their country, or your country of origin, rather than Italy which has probably the highest tax rate in Europe.
      Pensions – that’s a Do-It-Yourself arrangement if you’re sensible, don’t count on anything from the Italian state in future.
      Healthcare – you basically pay for everything privately in Sicily as the public health services are more-or-less bankrupt and only give free healthcare to the very poor. THe hospitals look terrifying but the doctors are almost all good and the important equipment is there.
      There – my ten second guide to living in Sicily!


  3. I recently went out for dinner with a girlfriend whose mother is from a sicilian town near Syracuse. We visited sicily 3 years ago with no relatives, just my own enthralment of the place established through having to read The Leopard in my final year of high school (and yes, the Montalbno link). Your beautiful final photo, those first early moments of sun and the last moments of an evening that are truly magical in Sicily. I could not explain to her vividly how lucky her heritage is. You are very fortunate to have a link to this beautiful place and I enjoy seeing your photos with each blog. Thank you, not even my Sicilian uncle (through marriage) truly appreciates his unique birthplace!


  4. Lovely photos, notes and your own story. Thanks! You must know you tempt all to pull up stakes and move to Sicily, ha-ha! Wonder how long it would take me to learn Italian at my age.


  5. Yes, there is something about Sicilian men who try to speak english that’s pretty special!
    I love St Elia, thanks for taking me there … I think we are both in love with little Sicilian towns don’t you think? I’m in the mountains and you by the sea …


      1. That’s the exact same feeling I get whenever I’m there. The mountains make me feel at home and alive. I enjoy walking up/over them (not just look at them). In Holland, everything’s flat and man-made unfortunately – quite the opposite of what I instinctively prefer. Last April, I walked over the mountains just south of Altavilla Milicia a few times, for example. Monte Catalfano is smaller, but enjoyable too. Strangely (again), every Sicilian person I know there, doesn’t like hiking in the mountains.


  6. This village holds a special place in my heart since my family called it home! I am a 2nd generation Sicilian who grew up in California and traced my family name – Balistrieri – through a family tree and found our origins on the beautiful coast of Sicily in St. Elia. What a spectacular little cove and village to celebrate life and the bounty of the sea. Someday I will make the trip to experience the spoils of my ancestors.


    1. I just stumbled across this blog and loved reading this post! Marc, my family is also from Sant’Elia and is named Balestrieri! They came to San Francisco, CA to settle in North Beach here and continue their fishing businesses. The Aliotos came with them and there was some intermarrying. That was my great grandparents at the turn of the century. I know this comment is a few years after yours but if you see it I would love to chat about our family trees!! FYI I have a lot of Concettas and Franks in my family!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My family’s house is actually the one with the stone with the stairs leading down. Great article! Still have a bunch of relatives there and you have made it sound as wonderful as it is!


  8. It’s nothing like the old folks told me. I have 2 grand mothers maiden named Balistreri. One became Tarantino and one Passantino. It’s beautiful!!!


  9. Hello- amazing blog post. I am also descended from Balistreri’s and have looked and looked for St. Elia on Google Maps. Can you please, please, please point out exactly where it is?
    Thanks so much in advance!


    1. I am so sorry! I was very naughty and anglicised the spelling. If you type exactly this into Google maps, you will find it:
      Sant’Elia Santa Flavia

      And if you do visit Sicily, be sure to visit Aspra just down the coast because half the people there are Balistreris. If you know the names of grandparents or whoever was last in Sicily, I may be able to connect you with relatives!


  10. That is the strange thing- if I paste that in, it seems to take me a bit inland, on Sant’ Elia Street. I think I found it, however- Via dei Cantieri, 90017 Santa Flavia PA, Italy. I think that is the monument you mentioned.


    1. Try looking for Via dei Cantieri and you should find the deep recess into the coastline, and on the promontory at the end, Google maps labels the Madonna as Punta Sant’Elia. But you are right, it is very odd that they don’t label it as a distinct village, because it most definitely is one!!!


      1. Hello, This is an interesting link to information about Sant’Elia. My husband’s grandmother (Rosalia Tarantino) was raised & married in Sant’Elia and then came to the United States in about 1908. We will be in Sant’Elia in early November and feel very excited about seeing they came from and enjoying the views that they looked out on. Thank you for posting this. Nancy


  11. hello . i m from malta and my dear departed husband was a keen fisherman . we always promised to come and visit this charming fishinf place . . so i m trying to come and visit with our daughter . do you think we can make the visit in a day . and how to go around the trip . in malta no one knows so perhaps you can help pls cos i just stummbled on yor page whilst looking for st elia . tks both ways if you can help me of not . regards


    1. Hello!
      I think one day would be too liitle time, to be honest. If you take the ferry from Malta to Sicily you will reach the south coast and need to drive north – it is quite a long drive. If you fly, I think it is also pushing it to get there and back in a day.
      I would make a weekend of it!
      And I hopeyou have a lovely time. πŸ™‚


  12. We would love to plan a trip there because my grandparents were born and raised there. Where would you suggest staying if we want to visit Sant’Elia?


    1. St Elia itself is tiny and I honestly don’t know if there are any places to stay right in the village.
      Have you searched online?
      I would suggest and if you can’t find anything actually in St Elia then I would look a little further afield, either in Palermo or along the coast.


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