Some places possess an irresistible allure when first seen from an aircraft window. I remember seeing the Lofoten Islands when flying over northern Norway and vowing that I must visit them (I still haven’t made it), and on coming in to land at Ushuaia I couldn’t wait to get out and start exploring the dramatic scenery around the Beagle Channel. And so it is with the Aeolian Islands. On the descent towards Catania airport, and just before Mount Etna wowed the passengers on the left of the plane, these little teardrop islands, two of which are topped by active volcanoes, captivated me and had me impatient to begin my visit to the islands.
The Aeolian Islands are reached by boat (ferry or catamaran) from Milazzo in northern Sicily. It takes a little over an hour to reach Lipari, which is the largest, the most populated and the most visited of the eight islands. We made this our base for our visit, as boats depart frequently from Lipari to the other islands. If you’re inclined to do little more than relax, there are worse places than Lipari on which to chill out for the full duration of your holiday. It has a medieval fortress and a few museums, and it’s easy enough to get around the island on the local buses (the far end of the island is only 20 minutes away); but equally you can soak up the sun and the fabulous views, and focus your exploration on finding the best places to eat or to indulge in an obligatory daily helping of gelato.
The most popular trip to make from Lipari is to the neighbouring island of Vulcano. As the name suggests, the island is home to an active volcano, and one of the main activities for visitors is the hike up to the 400-metre-high peak. It’s steep but not difficult; the heat of the sun and total absence of shade present the main challenges – bring plenty of water. From the top you can look down into the crater and get a close-up view of the steaming vents and sulphurous fumaroles, as well as getting a fabulous view across the Aeolian chain of islands. In fact the only thing stopping you from lingering is likely to be the smell. Talking of volcanic odours, the other popular activity on Vulcano is bathing in the mud pools at the north of the island. It’s very enjoyable but be warned: from first hand experience I can confirm that you’ll carry the smell of rotten eggs with you for almost a week after you’ve left the island, and no amount of washing or disposing of clothes will help you.
The other popular excursion from Lipari is to the island of Stromboli. Boats leave daily and many stop at Panarea, offering a pleasant break and a chance to have a short walk around another island. The highlight of the trip to Stromboli is the chance to sit on your boat at sunset and watch the explosive eruptions which have continued for around 2,000 years. I had waited to see Stromboli’s colourful displays for many years, and unfortunately for us we caught it at a quiet time – instead of spectacular pyrotechnics we saw frequent puffs of black smoke. But I guess that just gives us another reason, if one were needed, to return to these charming holiday islands.
Find out more about Aeolian Island holidays with Sunvil Discovery.
by Andy Jarosz