The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The seven inhabited islands each have distinctive characteristics. Hopping between them offers you a chance to experience many different aspects of this charming part of the world.
The Aeolian Islands are an group of islands just north of the Sicily island coast created thousands of years ago by volcanic activity. They get their name from Aeolus, the Greek ruler of the winds, who according to legend, had his kingdom in these islands.
A week in the Aeolian Islands is a week of sun and sea, great food, stunning vistas and a laid-back pace which allows you to absorb the unique atmosphere and culture of these islands. It took me a while to get my head around the various islands which make up the Aeolis, so to give you a short-cut, I’ve outlined a quick sketch of each of them below.
Lipari is the biggest of the Aeolian Islands, and often the first stop if you are arriving by ferry or hydrofoil from Milazzo in Sicily. It has a lovely main town (also called Lipari) centred around the Castello (castle) and spreading along the bays of Marina Corta and Marina Lunga where the ferries and other boats come in. There is a wide selection of shops, restaurants, guesthouses and hotels in Lipari, so many travellers choose to make it their base for a stay in the Aeolian Islands. A bus service connects the main town with smaller villages, or you can rent scooters to get around, and regular ferries/hydrofoils link it to the other Aeolian Islands.
The must-see of Lipari is the natural fortress of the Castle Rock, which has served as a defensible settlement location for communities from neolithic times right up to present day. The layers of history are clearly evident above and below the ground (in archaeological dig sites) and since 1954, the site has housed the Eolian Archaeological Museum which contains a comprehensive range of artefacts highlighting the history of the Islands. Other attractions of Lipari include the evening passeggiata along the main street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, spectacular walks, scuba diving and snorkeling, boat tours, sightseeing of pumice quarries and the beaches, in particular, the Spiaggia Bianca (the white beach).
Panarea is the smallest of the seven islands, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style. Panarea is the chic-est of the islands, and a favourite of the international jet-set and Italian fashionistas, with the spectacular terrace bar of the Hotel Raya the place to be seen. A distinctive feature is the white-washed walls of many of the buildings. Transport around this small island is mostly in electric golf-carts, and there are beautiful beaches and stunning walks, including one to the remains of a prehistoric village perched high on a small, rugged promontory overlooking the spectacular crystal clear rocky cove of Cala Junco. If you want to do a bit of high-end shopping, Panarea is the place to do it, with a range of boutiques carrying designer fashions, crafts and homewares.
At the most westerly range of the archipelago, Alicudi is the next smallest island after Panarea, and is also the most remote. There is a small population (about 150) and very little development, with only one hotel, a few houses and very few shops. No cars, no scooters, no golfcarts…just some donkeys which carry goods up the lava stairways from the port to the houses and shops.
Filicudi is east of Alicudi and slightly more developed, but still very remote. It is the larger of these two westerly islands. There are three hotels, and a handful of bed and breakfast or holiday rental style accommodations. The main attraction to Filicudi appears to be its very remoteness and lack of crowds, with pretty rocky outcrops, good scuba diving and snorkeling and interesting walks. (We didn’t visit either Alicudi or Filicudi, although if the weather had permitted, we probably would have gone to Filicudi).
Salina was my favourite of the islands. It has several natural freshwater springs and volcanic soils, so is very verdant. Known as the ‘caper’ island, (due to the crops of capers which grow all over the island), it is also famous for production of a sweet Malvasia wine.
The ferries arrive in Santa Marina Salina, a quiet but pretty town which has a range of interesting shops, accommodation, bars, cafes and restaurants. It has a lovely laid-back feel and the walk between Santa Marina Salina and the nearby village of Lingua (where you’ll find the Aeolian Islands’ best granite at Da Alfredo) hugs the steep coastline, offering fabulous views. There are many hiking trails on Salina, and often visitors seek out the small village and beach at Pollara which was the location for the Italian movie, Il Postino (The Postman).
Stromboli is an active volcano island of the Aeolians, with the flame and glow of the volcano visible at night. Despite it being one of Europe’s most active volcanos, a permanent population has lived on the coastal slopes for at least 3,000 years. In 1949/50, director Roberto Rossellini made the movie Stromboli, Land of God (Stromboli, terra di Dio) with Ingrid Bergman and this film was credited with a renewed interest in Stromboli as a tourist destination. Many people claim that climbing to the Pizzo of the volcano (900m – must be done with a guide) is the absolute highlight of a trip to the Aeolians. We didn’t visit Stromboli this time, but it is top of the list for a repeat visit. And in case you’re wondering, Stromboli experiences small, explosive eruptions every 20-30 minutes, with minor effusive eruptions (lava flows) typically occurring every two to 20 years. The most recent effusive eruptions were December 2002 – July 2003, March 2007, and August -October 2014.
Closest to the ‘mainland’ of Sicily is the island of Vulcano, the original volcano after which all others got their name. Vulcano and Stromboli are the only two remaining active volcanos in the Aeolian archipelago. Your most lasting memory of this island is likely to be an olfactory one, as it is definitely the stinky island – the smell of venting fumeroles (expelling steam, sulphur and carbon dioxide from the island’s many craters and fissures) is all-pervading, and if you venture into the hot mud, the smell lingers on your skin for days.
The main attractions of Vulcano include the hot mud baths (Laghetto di Fanghi) and hot water beach, and the track you can can clamber (Scalata al Cratere) to the edge of the smoking/steaming main crater of the volcano. Vulcano has erupted frequently over the centuries, with the most recent period of explosive eruption in the 1880s and 1890s.
What do you most want know about The Aeolian Islands? Check back over future weeks as I’ll be posting about all the memorable moments these islands hold.
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