Vulcano Island is the most southern of the Aeolian archipelago and is best known for its stinky hot mud baths, a black sand beach and the opportunity to climb to the summit of its active volcano.
Vulcano is the first of the Aeolian islands we saw as we came across the sea from Milazzo as it is just 25 kms from the northern coast of Sicily, and my most enduring memory of it will probably be an olfactory one, as it is definitely the ‘stinky’ island. This is caused by the volcanic island’s many fumaroles – vents which omit steam, sulphur and carbon dioxide at high temperature from the crater or cracks in the ground.
The volcano, from which the island gets its name, is still active 90,000 years after it was first created, and a walk to the rim of its crater is not to be missed.
From Porto di Levante (where the ferry or hydrofoil comes in) you walk south along Via Piano and then, about ten minutes out of town, you will see the first of the al cratere signs which point to the marked path which winds its way up to the crater. We took a slightly more roundabout approach, but came back to Porto di Levante the direct way.
Initially, the climb is a gentle stroll through scrubby vegetation and rocks, with hairpin bends bringing you up the side of the volcano’s cone.
Then the path starts to get a bit more rugged and steeper.
Until, eventually, you are scrambling up over a lunar landscape.
Then the path flattens out again to circumnavigate the crater. With a view of the sea and Aeolian Islands on one side, and a steaming, hissing, sulphurous pit on the other, the walk is certainly spectacular as well as being an assault on the senses.
You can stand right on the rim of the huge crater and watch as vapors are emitted. Be aware that the gases can be toxic, and definitely smell unpleasant. We didn’t stay there long.
Walking up the path was hot, humid work mid-afternoon in June. In even hotter months, I’d recommend doing it early in the morning, or later in the afternoon. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water and wear sturdy shoes. This path is no place for high heels, flip flops or thongs.
As we turned to walk back down, it started to rain. Hot, humid, soaking rain which made the steep descent just that little bit treacherous as we tried to shield cameras and phones from the water with our clothing while sliding on wet volcanic scree.
The refreshment van at the start of the path was a welcome sight at the end of our descent. And within minutes, the sun was back out, we heated up and we dried out.
So, then it was onward to the infamous stinky mud baths, Terme or Fangi di Vulcano. From the port, you head east towards the tall faraglione (stack). Just behind it, the baths are a large pool of hot, sulfurous mud that is said to have health benefits for bathers. We had been warned that the mud can discolour (and certainly dis-odour) swimwear, so we went equipped with some old togs that were thrown into a rubbish bin after our encounter with the stinky mud.
We were also aware that the mud baths are mildly radioactive, and the recommendation is that you don’t stay in them for more than 10 to 15 minutes (and that kids under 15 don’t go in them at all). So, we handed our phones and cameras etc to The Impossible Princess while the adults took our quick mud wallow.
To be honest, the experience was a little underwhelming. Even the smell wasn’t as bad as we had been led to believe. The smell of the fumeroles on the crater rim was much more pungent than the mud.
The experience was like submerging in a warmish, muddy pond with a slimy base. There were lots of people who were quite clearly lapping up the experience. We just weren’t among them. However, at 2 Euro entry, it’s good, cheap (if not clean) fun and certainly creates a story to take home.
Or you can use the showers at the mud baths. (Tokens to operate the showers are purchased at the entrance.)
After our mud bathing experience, we took a wander through the town, and in a nearby street, I found the thermal pool centre below (L’Oasi della Salute), which looked like a much more appealing and clean way to enjoy the volcanic heat! (Oh, well…I’ll know for next time.)
And even though that mud bath was not quite as stinky as I had feared, my skin had a definite aroma of sulphur for about three days, despite several shower scrubs and swims in the sea.
Tips for the crater climb:
- Start the climb to the crater early to avoid the heat (or go later in the afternoon).
- Allow about two to three hours to walk to the lower crater rim and back. If you want to walk right around the crater rim, add on about another hour.
- Wear sturdy shoes, a hat, sunscreen and carry a water bottle.
- Look out for the refreshment van at the start of the trail!
Tips for the mud baths and hot beach:
- Read all the warning signage so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into and all the dos and don’ts
- Bring old swimwear that you will throw out afterwards, and hire a towel at the mud baths. No-one wants stinky swimmers and towels back in their accomodation.
- Wear beach shoes for the sharp rocks and the scalding fumeroles
- Don’t plan a romantic date for about the next three days, as your skin will smell of rotten eggs for at least that long.
Would you climb or sink? Or both?
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