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Journeying Through the Aeolian Islands

A trip through the arresting natural beauty of the Aeolian Islands, just off the coast of eastern Sicily, takes travelers on an epic journey composed of the purest of pure seas, wild nature and even wilder volcanoes, and all the historical and cultural elements that make a UNESCO World Heritage Site (named in 2000). Let’s begin at the largest island in the Aeolian archipelago, Lipari. Inhabited since Antiquity and characterized by intense volcanic activity, the Aeolians have proven to be repositories of exceptional archaeological finds. The finds are on permanent view in the Archaeological Museum inside the Castle of Lipari, located on an expansive bay on the island’s eastern coast between the its two best mooring spots, Marina Lunga and Marina Corta.
AlicudiThe ancient remnants don’t end there, however: after all, the Greek Acropolis and the Norman Cathedral are not too far away. If it’s nature you’re after, a boat excursion is your calling for deep grottoes, exquisite, fjord-like coves like  Cala Fico, savage boulders and the Vinci, Valle Muria, Punta della Castagna and Capo Rosso Beaches. 

Haven’t had enough? Move on to Panarea, with its isolotti (tiny island satellites) of  Basiluzzo, Spinazzola, Lisca Bianca, Dattilo, Bottaro, Lisca Nera (hosting very few remains), and the Panarelli and Formiche rocks (scogli); together they form a microcosmic archipelago that is quite worthy of a more intimate exploration. A touristic port lies in Panarea’s San Pietro quarter, bearing typical houses and shops. This is the smallest, yet highest-elevation island in the Aeolians (its highest point is Timpone del Corvo, at 1,381 feet), as well as the oldest and most-frequented. Why? One could point out its pristine coasts, underwater eruptive activity, and nightlife, for starters. 

After Panarea, trippers can check out its neighbor, Vulcano, where, according to Greek myth, one would find the smithies of Hephaestus, god of blacksmiths. Perhaps it has something to do with the local volcanic phenomena: think fumaroles, hydrothermal vents both above and underwater, and therapeutic sulphur mud springs. Even more irresistible than Vulcano is Stromboli, home to Europe’s most active volcano that emits spectacular and frequent lavic displays (an ideal observation spot is the Osservatorio della Marina Militare in Punta Labronzo). 
And if you’re in the right place at the right time, you can witness the awesome Sciara del Fuoco, that is, the river of lava running down to the sea. 

Not to be left out are some of the seaside borgoes or Medieval villages, particularly San Vincenzo (where the majority of boats dock), featuring quaint white houses; the more isolated Ginostra, clinging to the rock and accessible only via a mule trail; and Strombolicchio, the impressive acropolis-like rock-island, topped by a lighthouse. Strombolicchio is the resulting formation of one of the oldest volcanic eruptions in the Aeolian chain. 
Obviously, the Aeolians are one of those exotic destinations that arouse the senses and the imagination. Thus it is no surprise that the brilliant Italian director Roberto Rossellini was the first important filmmaker to capture the rare scenes of Stromboli in his 1949 film of the same name; in doing so, he brought the island to the height of international fame. Then, the second-largest Aeolian isle, Salina, actually deserves an entire day’s visit; note the immense disparity in its topology and its beautiful fern forest (la Fossa delle Felci) sitting high on a precipice, astounding for its staggering drop to the beaches below (speaking of beaches, Pollara is one of the most beautiful). 

Also here is the fantastic house that served as the main setting in Michael Radford’s film Il Postino or "The Postman," starring beloved late Italian actor Massimo Troisi. (Tired from all the trekking and sightseeing? Take a break and taste the out-of-this world granita, the singular and authentic Italian ice.) Finally, the last part of the itinerary is a stop at the smallest and perhaps the most picturesque of the isles, Alicudi and Filicudi. The furthest east of them all, they are distinguished by their craters and extinct volcanoes, fabulously untamed environments, and lush submarine life. Be sure to see the Grotta del Bue when on Filicudi, the Faraglione La Canna sea stack and the Scoglio della Fortuna (Rock of Fortune) – all strangely spectacular forms you might not get the chance to see again for a while. Alicudi, rather, is silent, peaceful, and more or less untouched (no cars are allowed here); thus you can expect to enjoy the incredible Mediterranean landscapes in complete relaxation.

Not to Miss Events
On Lipari: the “International Folklore Festival,” with artists from all over the world; the traditional Feast of St. Christopher in the coastal zone of  Canneto; and the Feast of St. Bartholomew (the Patron Saint celebration, in August), is the most important in the entire island chain, with processions, market stands and fireworks. 
On Salina: “Caper Sagra” the first Sunday in June; and the evocative boat parade, honoring San Gaetano amidst folksongs and light shows, in Leni on August 7th.  
On Stromboli: the Feast of St. Vincent in Scari, every July. 
On Filicudi: “Filicudi tra miti e leggende” or Filicudi of Myths and Legends takes place in August, with a party of decorated boats headed for the Bue Marino Grotto  – followed by improvised banquets and numerous musical performances.

Useful Information

You Might Also Be Interested to Know…

  • Travelers can get to the Aeolian Islands all year-round, either by hydrofoil or ferry, from ports in Sicily, Calabria, and Campania. And of course, boats connect the islands one to the other. Once on the islands, it is best to get around on bike or scooter (rentable just about everywhere). Unless it is the Natural Park of Stromboli, no area is protected by any particular law; nonetheless the charm of the archipelago can only be maintained if tourists hold the utmost respect  for its marine and natural populations. 
  • Curious about the cuisine? The high point of any recipe is usually fish and seafood: grilled fish, spaghetti alla strombolana with capers, pasta with sea urchins, Aeolian caponata, and tortino alla spatola (a succulent paddlefish dish). One absolutely cannot go without tasting the area's famous orange, lemon and swordfish salad, and just as tasty are the Mulincianeddi chini, eggplant cakes with capers, tomatoes, and peperoncino, and the frittelle with ricotta made right on Vulcano. As for wine, perfect for pairing is the sweet and excellent Malvasia di Lipari.