Clustered in the blue-green Mediterranean Sea, just an hour’s boat ride north of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie) are one of Europe’s most visually stunning and historically intriguing archipelagos. Each of the seven volcanic islands has its own distinct character and unique soul:
Lipari is the largest island of the archipelago. Here the Archaeological Museum is one of the must-see places – it is tucked inside Lipari Castle, which stands out on the island’s eastern bay in between its best docks, Marina Lunga and Marina Corta.
There is also a marvellous Greek acropolis and a Norman cathedral. And one of the most exciting activities is to circle the island’s coasts by boat, admiring its splendid inlets (Fico is particularly pretty) and the beaches of Vinci, Valle Muria, Punta della Castagna and Capo Rosso.
According to Greek mythology, Vulcano was the location of the blacksmiths of Hephaestus, the god of fire, metal work and the fine arts.
It is possible to observe numerous volcanic phenomenons here, from smoke clouds, vapour spouts (at both the volcano’s mouth and under the sea) and sulphuric mud holes known for their therapeutic properties.
Panarea is the smallest and the oldest of the Aeolians, attracting boatloads of tourists for its clean water, underwater volcanic vents and its nightlife.
Together with the tiny islands of Basiluzzo, Spinazzola, Lisca Bianca, Dattilo, Bottaro, Lisca Nera (of which little still remains) and the boulders of Panarelli and Formiche, Panarea forms its own minuscule archipelago. The touristic port is at the San Pietro crossroads, where visitors can take in characteristic homes, bottegas and shops.
Stromboli is the most active volcano in Europe, and it boasts frequent, spectacular eruptions that can be best seen from the Italian Navy Observatory at Punta Labronzo.
Lucky visitors might just get to see the Sciara del Fuoco, the lava flow running down into the sea.
Other places to visit include San Vincenzo, the medieval borgo surrounded by very particular white house-boats; the isolated fishing village of Ginostra that clings to Stromboli’s rocky side, accessible only via animal trails; and the Strombolicchio, a giant boulder – of course, born from an eruption – which is topped by a large lighthouse.
Gorgeous green Salina is the Aeolians’ lushest island, with its forest-clad pair of perfect volcanic cones presiding over a patchwork of fields, vineyards and picturesque seaside villages. It is also the home of a beautiful wooded area of ferns (la Fossa delle Felci), located on jagged cliffs above the island’s gorgeous beaches (Pollara being one of the most notable).
Don’t miss a visit to the house where the beloved “Il Postino” (starring Massimo Troisi) was filmed, and be sure to taste the renowned granita, a local crushed-ice treat.
Countless cultures have sailed Aeolian waters, as evidenced by the graveyard of ancient ships littering the Capo Graziano shoals off Filicudi.
In 2008, Filicudi’s collection of shipwrecks was protected as an underwater archaeological park, allowing divers to enter this world of ancient Greek anchors, lost cargoes and vessels buried in sand.
Remarkable on Filicudi are the enormous boulder La Canna, the Scoglio della Fortuna and the Grotta del Bue.
With only 105 residents and a traditional seafaring lifestyle, remote, slow-paced Alicudi conjures up visions of the Mediterranean before mass tourism. The island’s quintessential adventure is the trek to Filo dell’Arpa, the long-dormant cone that towers above Alicudi’s lone fishing village.
Walkers share the trail with mules hauling goods for local residents, following sinuous staircases past multi-hued stucco houses and terraces planted with cactus and citrus, enjoying ever-more-dazzling Mediterranean vistas with each step. Up top, the trail emerges into a lonely, uninhabited landscape of high pastures surrounding the extinct crater, with goats clinging to the dramatic cliffs off Alicudi’s western edge. From here, even Lipari – less than two hours away by boat – feels like a world apart.
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