The Aeolian islands – named after Aeolus Greek god of the winds – are a volcanic archipelago of seven islands. Steeped in Greek / Roman myth and legends, they have an identity all their own, with historic towns, dramatic landscapes, hidden coves and secluded beaches. Here you’ll find a rich culinary heritage with its own distinctive cuisine and the heavenly sweet dessert wine Malvasia. Despite all of this, the islands are not very well known outside of Italy.
The island of Vulcano (25 km from the Sicilian mainland), is dominated by its active volcano, La Cretere Della Fossa, rising 499m above sea level and is submerged a further kilometre below it. Its last eruption was in 1888 and today the volcano’s main activities take the form of its smoking fumaroles and its beach with bubbling sulphurous warm waters. The island takes its name from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, also the origin of the European word for volcano. Renowned for its natural beauty, black sandy beaches and its famous sulfurous mud pool, which is thought to have therapeutic benefits, perhaps the main highlight of the island is a hike up the volcano during which the amazing panorama becomes more captivating with every turn.
Lipari is the largest and most populated of the islands in the Aeolian archipelago. It is named after Liparus, the father-in-law of Aeolius and its first inhabitants originated from the Middle East, settling in the 4000th millenium BC. The island has several small towns scattered around the coast, with the main town of Lipari the most important. Here rising above the town, and built on rocky promontory, is an ancient fortification which dates back to the island’s first settlers, with neolithic, Greek and Roman excavations. Close by is the archeological museum, considered the best museum in Sicily, with artifacts from the neolithic, bronze, Greek and Roman eras and the most complete collection of miniature Greek theatre masks in the world. Below this, on one side is the bustling port of Marina Lunga and on the other side the pretty little fishing harbour of Marina Courta.
Salina is easily identified by its two mountain peaks, both of which are now extinct volcanoes. It is the third largest and most verdant of all the islands, with more than four hundred species of plants. Salina produces the most wine and capers as well as caper berries which are exported internationally. It hosts its annual caper festival during the first weekend in June, and a food and drink festival at the beginning of October. The island was the setting for romantic comedy movie Il Postino, with its opening scene filmed in the bay of Pollara, one of most beautiful locations in all the islands. Salina is also excellent for trekking including hiking the two peaks of Monte Fossa Del Felice (962 metres) or Monte Dei Porri (866 metres).
Rising nine-hundred metres out of the sea the island of Stromboli is one of two active volcanoes in the archipelago. In fact, the volcano is continually erupting, something that can be seen most spectacularly at night time, as it displays its own natural light show. No surprise then, that the island is known as the ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ and a boat trip after sunset to watch the famous ‘sciare del fuoco’ (stream of fire) is a natural wonder to behold. For the more adventurous, there are hiking opportunities, although it should be noted that climbing the volcano without a guide is not permitted. The island has three villages: San Bartolo and San Vincenzo which lie in the northeast, with the smaller village of Ginostra in the southwest. The latter, a pretty fishing village with white-washed houses, is cut-off from the other two, and only accessible from the sea. Electricity only arrived here in 2004 and as you might expect there are no motor vehicles here, just a few donkeys or mules for helping transport things up the hill from the harbour to the village. The village is surrounded by olive, lemon, caper and prickly pear crops and boasts two restaurants, in addition to its church, post office and grocery store.
At just three kilometres in length and two kilometres wide, Panarea is the second smallest of the islands. It is also the most expensive and fashionable too – a hang-out of the rich and famous, who arrive on their motor yachts or stay at the very chic hotel Raya, particularly during August. The island is immaculately kept, set around narrow, winding streets and filled with white-washed villas, draped with bougainville. It’s almost too perfect! Here you’ll also find beautiful bays with dramatic rock formations, as well as the golden sandy beach of Zimmara. From there, a path carved through a rock face leads to to a Bronze Age village with some twenty-three huts which overlook the beautiful Bay of Calajunca, formed within a crater. Don’t expect too much in the way of transport on Panara: here there are just a few golf carts which serve as the local taxis and police vehicles.
Filicudi and Alicudi
If you really want to be alone and surrounded by natural beauty, then head off the beaten path to the more remote islands of Filicudi and Alicudi. Wild and totally unspoilt, the islands are a nature reserve. Here you will find stony beaches decorated with brightly coloured fishing boats, and the ideal territory for walking trails and trekking. Filicudi offers the opportunity to tackle the peak of Fossa Dei Felci, a seventy-seven metre climb, and there are also rugged pathways overgrown with wild flowers and herbs which lead to more secluded bays, and even a prehistoric village. Small hotels with restaurants and holiday rentals can be arranged for those wishing to stay on the islands, with help from the resident transportation donkeys where required.