A pretty harbour, decent beaches, plenty of good restaurants and a laid-back, friendly vibe; Lipari ticks pretty much every box of the perfect holiday island. It’s also just about far enough away from Sicily and mainland Italy to avoid being overrun with visitors, except for the short July and August window when what appears to be half of Italy descends on the island. And if its own charms aren’t enough to woo you, Lipari is an ideal base to explore the other Aeolian islands, with Vulcano and Stromboli famous for their volcanic activity.
Most of the action on Lipari is centred on the built up area below and surrounding the medieval hilltop fortress on its east coast. The fortress site itself is worth exploring, with a classic cathedral and three modest museums (two containing archaeological finds from the islands, and one devoted to the nearby volcanoes). English information is sparse, especially in the volcano museum, but unless the weather is bad (it hardly ever is here), then an hour or so is long enough to get an idea of what’s on offer in all of the museums.
The town is a maze of narrow lanes winding around the fortress rock, with only the main road, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, maintaining anything close to a straight line. There is the usual mix of souvenir shops, art galleries and fashion boutiques, and the shade of the tall buildings is very welcome against the blazing sun. The prettiest spot of all is the Marina Corta, the small harbour which serves as a departure point for most of the excursions to the outer islands. It’s easy to while away an hour just sitting by the waterfront, watching the local activity and admiring the surroundings with an ice cream or a drink in hand.
Our usual blind gamble with restaurants for once threw up two resounding successes on Lipari. At La Cambusa, a busy trattoria just below the fortress, I enjoyed a perfectly cooked calamari steak, while thanks mainly to a delicious pistachio and prawn risotto, the trendy Kasbah restaurant was one of our favourite dinner stops in our entire three weeks in southern Italy. For desserts we invariably wound up at Il Gabbiano at the Marina Corta, where the ever-smiling owner Bartolo served up scoop after scoop of homemade, high-quality gelato.
Exploring the rest of Lipari beyond the town is easy, thanks to a very laid-back bus system which, unusually for Italy, works well and is very easy to understand. We took a bus along the winding road to Quattropani in the north-west corner of the island. The views of Vulcano and Etna in the distance were outstanding, and once the driver had confirmed that he would be coming through again in an hour’s time, we walked to the isolated church of Maria della Catena, set against a backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, the late afternoon sun and the outer islands. We had the place to ourselves and, with only the sound of the crickets and the birds to break the silence, it provided a perfect temporary retreat on what is, after all, an island retreat.
We stayed on Lipari at the Hotel Rocce Azzurre, a relaxed family-run hotel in a fabulous setting on the east coast. It’s 5 minutes’ walk from the Marina Corta and has a sunbathing deck with steps leading straight into the shallow water beside the beach.
by Andy Jarosz