Ferry to Sicily
If you are visiting Malta for the first time, there will no doubt be more than enough in Malta and Gozo to keep you occupied. However, if you are on a longer visit, or have already explored much of what Malta has to offer, then a sightseeing excursion to Sicily using the Virtu Ferries catamaran service from Valletta is certainly an experience I would recommend.
Catamaran from Valletta to Sicily
Virtu Ferries is a Maltese company which has been operating the high-speed ferry service between Malta and Sicily since 1988. The ferry terminal is located in Marsa, close to the Hatab bus stop on local route 130.
The very impressive catamaran used on the route from Valletta to Pozzallo or Catania is called Jean de la Vallette, pictured here at Pozzallo. Built in 2010 and 107 metres long, it can carry 800 passengers and over 150 vehicles and is one of the largest catamarans in the world.
Most sailings are to Pozzallo, in the very south of Sicily, with coach connections to Catania on selected sailings. In Summer there are direct sailings to Catania. Full details of the schedule and fares are on the Virtu Ferries website. The vessel travels at 39 knots and the scheduled sailing time to Pozzallo is 1 hour 45 minutes, or three hours to Catania. Transfers can be arranged from your hotel to the ferry terminal, especially as certain sailings leave rather early (0630 for example).
The most popular seats are inside by the windows, as you can imagine. There is a small outside deck, at the back, but ironically since it is frequented largely by smokers the air can be worse outside than in. Also, once underway, the view is largely obscured by the top of the stern doors, along with other equipment. It's not cold on the outside deck, though, due to warm air from the engine room being expelled through grills.
Mount Etna Excursion
Virtu Ferries offer excursions using their catamaran shown above, combined with a coach tour within Sicily. As you might expect, a popular tour is that to Mount Etna. For example, the Taormina and Mt Etna excursion runs three times per week May to September, typically leaving the ferry terminal in Marsa at 0630 and arriving back at 2315. A tour guide accompanies the coach. For a small extra charge you get the essential transfer from your hotel and back. Check their website for other excursions including those that operate in winter.
My own particular experience was with an excursion entitled Mt Etna and Modica which I did in 2014 and thoroughly enjoyed. Admittedly it wasn't cheap, but I had no regrets. On my trip the transfer from my hotel in Bugibba was at 0500 for the 0630 ferry. Having disembarked from the impressive 800-passenger catamaran at Pozzallo, we boarded the waiting tour coach. En route there was a stop at the village of Nicolosi to sample local wines, and a further photo stop nearer to the volcano. We duly reached Refugio Sapienze in the foothills of Mt Etna, close to the Sylvestri Craters.
At Refugio Sapienze I could have explored the Sylvestri Craters or visited the restaurants and gift shops, but I decided to take the Etna cable car (at additional cost) which starts at 1927 metres, right by the coach park, and reaches an altitude of 2500 metres. Of course there was not time to reach the active craters at 3320 metres, which requires booking onto special all-terrain vehicles.
On the way back a visit was made to the ancient city of Modica before boarding the catamaran in Pozzallo at 1930 for the two hour crossing. In my case I was back in the hotel in Bugibba by 2245 after a very interesting day. It was a long day, but I didn't find it as tiring as I had expected.