In 2000. UNESCO declared the Aeolian Islands as a World Heritage Site of Humanity. Among them, there are two islands with active volcanoes – Stromboli and Vulcano – and some others have various phenomena of secondary volcanic activity.
What to see
The Lipari Islands are located in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. If your trip starts from the island of Vulcano, be sure to climb up to the crater of its extinct volcano for a mind-blowing view of the island itself and the other six islands in the archipelago. In good weather, the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily near Messina is also perfectly visible.
Another island, Panarea, is famous for its many underwater fumaroles. The Lipari Islands are of volcanic origin, so there is nothing surprising about that. You can observe volcanic gases bursting to the surface from a fairly close distance.
Fumaroles are found in all volcanic areas, and the Aeolian Islands have many of them as well.
On the island of Stromboli, mountain guides will help you get to the top of the volcano of the same name (if, of course, it is not too active). You will have an unforgettable experience and memories to last a lifetime.
The Aeolian Islands have many healing springs; they are natural open-air spas with healing sulphurous water. No club cards or schedules, you can enjoy as much as you like.
There are 5 small islets near the island of Panarea: Basiluzzo, Dattilo, Lisca Nera, Bottaro and Lisca Bianca. You can get to know them better by taking a boat trip.
Isle of Lipari
Lipari, which the ancient Greeks called Meligounis, covers 37 square kilometers. It is the largest island of the Lipari archipelago, populated by 9,000 inhabitants. Its five towns (Akvakalda, Canneto, Pianoconte and Kuattropani) are connected by a picturesque road that runs along the coast.
Monte Chirica is the highest mountain on the island: from a height of 602 meters you can admire the whole archipelago.
The main attractions of Lipari, in addition to the wonderful and comfortable beaches, are the Archaeological Museum, the streams of frozen obsidian and the caves in the pumice rocks, where this valuable mineral is mined.
It’s also where the famous Malvasia wine is made. On Lipari, volcanic activity is limited to fumaroles and thermal springs, mainly located on the west coast. Do not forget to visit Lipari Castle with its ancient Benedictine cloister, built during the Norman period, and the 13th century cathedral. In Marina Court, there is a 13th-century church, an acropolis and ruins of ancient Greek tombstones. Do not ignore the Archaeological Museum of Lipari and its Baroque churches. All along the coast between Canneto and Acquacalda there are magnificent beaches of white pumice, and the color of the water varies from tourmaline to dark blue. In ancient times, obsidian was mined here, which played an important role in the economy of the islanders.
The island of Vulcano was so dubbed by the ancient Romans, although the Greeks called it the skeleton of Hephaestus, Termesa, home of the god Aeolus. It remained uninhabited because of periodic eruptions from the Great Crater. The volcano has now subsided, its activity is reflected only in the fumaroles that can be seen everywhere, but most of all near the crater of Fossa and on the isthmus between Farallone and Vulcanello. The last big eruption occurred in 1888, after which the locals were forced to stop the extraction of alum and sulphur, trades that had been practiced on the island since time immemorial.
The area near the port and the isthmus of Vulcanello, although densely built up, remains one of the most picturesque and unusual in the whole Mediterranean. The Isthmus has a firth that attracts many species of birds, including lapwing, snipe and wader. The estuary is covered with thickets of reeds, and its shores – sand dunes, on which grows santolina, bluegill, pancratium. Remarkably, they grow only in this place of the entire archipelago.
Vulcanello became a peninsula relatively recently, the result of three successive eruptions. The last one happened in the 16th century. Another interesting place on the island is called Piano, where at an altitude of 350-400 meters above sea level grows endemic Aeolian butterwort, which blooms with beautiful yellow inflorescences.
Somewhere on the island grows a wild gourd whose fruits are like small watermelons, no more than twelve centimeters in length. This rare species was brought to the Mediterranean from southern Africa. On the western shore of the island for centuries, the petrel, or great petrel, and the much rarer lesser petrel have been nesting.
Panarea is the smallest island of the archipelago. Only 3.4 km in area, the maximum height above sea level is 421 m in Punta del Corvo. Nevertheless, the island is quite diverse, especially in terms of vegetation. That is why naturalists often come here. One version of the appearance of Panarea is that it is a large crater of a collapsed volcano and the islets Basiluzzo and Lisca Bianca are parts of its edge.
Stromboli is a unique island with active volcanic activity. The island has been known since the time of the first sailors who plied the Tyrrhenian Sea, who could not fail to notice the dark cone that glowed at night during the eruptions. If you caught a volcanic eruption during a trip to the Liparian Islands, you won’t forget it either.
It is the northernmost island of the archipelago with an area of 12.6 km and an altitude difference of 924 m above sea level. The highest point is at Cerro dei Vancori. The inhabitants of the island, of which there are about five hundred, live mainly through tourism. Because of the high gradient, only a small part of the island is accessible to visitors. The few plains are planted with grapes, from which the famous Malvasia is made. Beyond the village of Ficogrande there are stone oaks, a small island of forest that survived massive logging in the past. Here, in Fikogrande, there is a magnificent black beach. The opposite part of the island with the old town of Ginostra (southwest shore) is also picturesque. It owes its name to the local species of broom, which grows abundantly in those areas. To get to this town is possible only by sea. The coastal path in the rocks, which could be used to get there, was called “bad road” in the old days. Nowadays it is absolutely impossible to walk along it: in some places it was cut by landslides.
Recent studies have established the age of the lava that makes up Mount Dzucco Grande to be more than a million years old. Thus, Philicudi is the oldest island of the archipelago. Aristotle believed that the name comes from the Greek “Phoinikodes”, “many palm trees”. Modern scholars believe that the toponym comes from the word “felche,” or “fern,” which grows on the island’s uplands. Local agriculture is centuries old, as evidenced by the abandoned terraces all over the island, mainly in the area between Monte Palmieri, Riberosse and Valle Chiesa, besides the south and west coast. At the sea cave “Bue Marino” (“seal cave”) there is a colony of pale swifts and numerous pairs of doves nest in the crevices of the rocks. Among others, two endemic varieties of orchid grow here: the orchid yellow and l’Orchis mario L. The magnificent orchis bee orchid is also common.
The cave is not called a seal for nothing, because Philicudi was once the fiefdom of the white-bellied seal, or the Mediterranean monk seal. Unfortunately, their population has not survived to this day. A colony of the magnificent Eleanor’s falcon nests on the northern coast.
Alicudi, although it looks very ancient, is actually the youngest island of the archipelago. Some scientists believe that it is no older than 90,000 years. Now it is inhabited by no more than a hundred people and there are no paved roads. But at the end of the nineteenth century, there were many more inhabitants. Almost the entire east coast has been converted into terraces, evidence of former agriculture. And the west coast, harsh and wild, has remained unpopulated, which, however, is not surprising: the slopes are too great for economic activity.
The island with the high volcano in the west rises out of the water to 860 meters (Mount Monte dei Porri). To the east are two more volcanic formations, slightly lower, 850 and 962 meters (Monte Rivi and Monte Fossa delle Felci, respectively). In the center of the island, the terrain drops to 285 meters (this is the fertile saddle of Valdichiesa, where the vineyards of the Malvasia producers are spread). The ancient Greeks, who were the first to colonize the island, called it “Didyma”, meaning “twin”, because they saw two identical mountains as they sailed up to it. The island appeared during the Anthropogenic period and the last eruption took place about 13,000 years ago. At present, the only manifestations of volcanism are marine fumaroles.
There is a salt lake in Salina, located at Cape Punta Lingua. Salt was once mined there, hence the name of the island. In the lake itself, you can see the ruins of an ancient Roman wall. The area of the lake is about a hectare and a half, and the depth does not exceed three meters. The marsh adjacent to the lake plays an important role for many migratory birds resting there during their migration to Africa and back.
Malvasia is a typical DOC Pasito, a sweet wine without added sugar, produced on Lipari and the other islands of the archipelago. It has a delicate raisin flavor and, like good poetry, never gets boring.
“At pani kunzatu” on the island of Salina
There are several cafes in the lakeside fishing village square, south of Santa Maria Salina, where you can try “u pani cunzatu” with pesto of capers, almonds, grilled eggplant, capers, tomatoes, mint and a whole mountain of grated baked ricotta.
Silkberry granita with whipped cream
As you know, granita is a semi-frozen dessert, traditional in Sicily. It consists of water, sugar and fruit juice. Silkworms grow in the yards of many homes in the Liparian Islands. Nets are stretched beneath them, on which the ripe berries fall.
How to get there
From Milazzo – Daily flights (Siremar – Ustica Lines). From Messina to Reggio Calabria: several daily flights in summer (Ustica Lines) and one in winter. From Naples, two departures a day in summer (Ustica Lines – S.N.A.V.). From Palermo, two departures per day in the summer (Ustica Lines). From Cefalù, two departures a day in the summer (Ustica Lines).
From Milazzo – several flights a day (Siremar – N.G.I.) from Naples – two departures a week in winter and six flights a week in summer (Siremar – S.N.A.V.).
By plane (with connection)
Land in Naples, then take a bus to the port of Reggio Calabria. The buses are docked with the arrival of each flight. When landing in Catania, take a bus to the port of Milazzo (runs from April 1 to September 30). From the airport to the train station of Messina there are several buses a day (GiuntaBus – S.A.I.S.). If you have landed in Palermo, you must go to the city center where the buses leave from the train station once per hour (S.A.I.S.).
If you are coming from the northern Italian side, you should take the Siremar ferry from Naples. In Sicily, the ferries depart from Milazzo (Siremar and N.G.I.).
The many faces of Sicily. Part III. The Aeolian Islands
While vacationing in Taormina, we couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous Ionian Sea, and of course we wanted even more sea walks and scenery. Guidebooks are usually pretty stingy about how beautiful the Liparian Islands are. However, when we looked into one of Taormina’s tourist offices, the pictures of the islands we saw there left no doubt: we must go!
The Aeolian Islands (which in ancient times were called the Aeolian Islands, in honor of the Greek mythological character Aeolus – lord of the winds – a figure certainly important to any seafarer) are an archipelago of islands of volcanic origin near the northeastern coast of Sicily. By the way, even today in many sources you can find the name “Aeolian Islands”.
The Aeolian Islands on the map
Different sources indicate a different number of islands of this archipelago – 7 or 8. I managed to find their complete list:
- Stromboli and Strombolicchio;
In the end, there are 8 islands, but the last one – Basiluzzo – is so small (with an area of only 0.3 km²), and in addition – uninhabited (although it is the largest of the uninhabited islands and reefs of the Liparian Archipelago), that apparently not every author is ready to consider it an island.
We had the difficult task of deciding on an itinerary. After all, during the day trip groups do not visit all the islands of the archipelago, but only a couple of islands. The choice was not an easy one. As a result, we decided that we did not want to go to the largest island of the archipelago – Lipari, with its many attractions, a beautiful white beach, cafes and bars.
Nor did we go to the nearest island to Sicily, Vulcano, where you can safely and easily go up to the crater of a sleeping volcano or take sulfur mud baths without going far from the ferry pier. (A couple of minutes’ walk to the right from the pier, at the base of a high cliff, the Laghetto di Fanghi mud pool welcomes visitors from 06:30 to 20:30. The mud is said to have healing properties, especially for rheumatism sufferers. You just need to take care of your eyes and do not stay in this smelly liquid for more than 20 minutes. After that, the mud can be washed away in the lake, located very close to the pool. But the smell of sulfur will stay with you for a few more hours).
We chose a route that includes two islands – small and very picturesque Panarea (Panarea) and rugged volcano island Stromboli.
Ferries and hydrofoils go to the largest and most suitable island of the archipelago from the port of Milazzo all year round, but in the summer you can get to different islands from Messina and Cefalù. The island of Lipari is connected by ferry service to all the other islands of the archipelago. This information is for those who decide to get to the Lipari Islands on their own, without resorting to the help of travel agencies.
But this time we chose a “relaxed” option. Tourist bus took us to the pier in Milazzo.
And we headed to the island of Panarea.
We arrived quite quickly.
The island of Panarea
Panarea is the smallest, after Basiluzzo, of the group of Liparian islands, but very picturesque. Despite its area of only 3.4 km 2, the island has recently become popular with Italian celebrities.
The views from here are just crazy beautiful! If I were a painter I would not have been able to resist painting this panorama!
We walked from the port to the local church of St. Peter,
enjoyed a peek inside,
took a break in the shady courtyard…
We walked even further, to the nearest beach. The beach, however, did not please us with its view: it was too stony…
But what an abundance of flowers and bushes along the road! Not all of them give desired shade, but all of them are beautiful without exception!
A couple more finds on the way:
This kind of walk is able to please the eye, but HOW hot it is! Surprisingly, but on this tiny island, blown through, it seems, all the winds, we had the feeling that we were walking on a red-hot frying pan! And this – even taking into account the fact that we had already managed to adapt to Sicily and quite normally felt there, in 40-degree heat …
Fortunately, we had not much time to get acquainted with Panarea during the tour, so we hurried back to the ferry under the air conditioning.
Soon the ferry set sail for the island of Stromboli. All the way to Stromboli it was impossible to look away from the windows: so beautiful were the panoramas…
Some unusually picturesque rocks…
Luxury yachts hiding in those rocks…
Caves with azure water…
And, of course, the sea of unreal beauty and blue…
It was real magic, and looking at all this beauty, we completely lost track of time.
We woke up on the approach to Stromboli,
and we saw the pier and the nearby village of San Vincenzo.
The island of Stromboli
The entire island of Stromboli is almost a single active volcano. Of course, there’s lodging here as well – three whole villages, actually. And among the few local houses, they say, there is a villa of “sweethearts” Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Although, according to other rumors, still, not on Stromboli, but on Panarea…
Of all the Sicilian islands, Stromboli is the most remote from Sicily. There are boat trips from Lipari to Stromboli, a journey of about 2 hours. This remoteness and the volcanic activity, which often forces the locals to evacuate, has led to the fact that there are not many inhabitants on the island. The village of Ginostra is on the southwest shore and the ferry pier is in the village of Scari.
We walked around the island, admiring the green slopes of the volcano.
By the way, in the afternoon from the village of Piscita you can climb to a height of about 90 meters to the top and look into the boiling gray crater.
Everywhere in Stromboli there are signs with information about where to run if the sirens go off warning of the eruption.
We had a coffee on the promenade and looked at the beach with black volcanic sand, very close to the ferry pier.
We were very impressed by everything we saw. It even became a pity that we only had a couple of hours here. And we were definitely not the only ones who were so excited by the scenery: there were a lot of yachts around the island, including super-yachts.
Sunset was approaching, and it was time to go back on board, where a dinner was laid out for us, because ahead of us was the “highlight of the program. In the meantime the ship had sailed away. And we did not want to spend the time for the banquet, while there were such stunning views over the board. After a quick snack, we went on deck to enjoy the views of Stromboli, which had already started to emit puffs of dark smoke, from the other side.
When the volcano spews lava, it flows down the Slope of Fire (Sciara del Fuoco). Reaching the water, the lava cools with a loud hiss. And it’s been like that for more than 2,000 years…
Real magic – I think this island can be looked at endlessly, it literally hypnotizes with its view!
And here is Strombolicchio, not an island, but a sea rock of volcanic origin, 2 km north-east of Stromboli Island.
Strombolicchio is geologically the remnant of an ancient volcano that gave rise to the island of Stromboli. Its volcanic activity began about 200 thousand years ago. Subsequently Strombolicchio became inactive, and the volcanism shifted by 3 km to the south-west, forming within tens of thousands of years the island of Stromboli. But even today Strombolicchio (in Sicilian it means “little Stromboli”) is connected to Stromboli by an underwater platform.
At the top of this picturesque rock is a lighthouse. To get to it you have to overcome about 200 steps of stone stairs, because the height of Strombolicchio is 49 meters above sea level.
And it was here, in this beautiful place, that we watched the sunset in the open sea for the first time in our lives. I must admit that I love sea sunsets and I usually watch them from the shore, but here is a completely different impression. Also very beautiful, in a very special way!
As it got dark, our ferry went around the island to get the best view of the volcano. The main intrigue of the evening was whether there would be an eruption that evening, or, by the law of meanness, on the occasion of our visit to him, the volcano is willing to sleep… Until the last moment, the intrigue persisted. On approach to the point where our ferry was anchored, we observed only occasional puffs of black smoke, rushing out of the main crater and occasionally – from the side. And no red-hot lava…
When it was finally dark, the ferry finally took up position against the northwest shore of the island to allow us to enjoy the spectacle called the “fountain of fire” in near total darkness. And – oh, the miracle – that’s when the eruption began. Not a strong one, but the fiery bursts of molten lava near the main crater were clearly visible. I even managed to “catch” them with a weak camera.
The sight is truly fascinating, and I will remember this evening forever, I think! But what was our surprise when at the top of the volcano, just to the left of the bright red lava flows, we noticed … flashes! We could see them clearly and in great numbers.
At first we thought that it was some kind of kamikaze-people who either do not know the sense of danger, or just bored with life… But it turns out that on the height of 290 m above sea level there is an observation deck to observe the volcano. There is even a cafe. True, the site is closed on days of high activity of the volcano. But even then you will not be disappointed, because the lava emissions on such days become visible from farther away – and from the place where the road remains open.
This viewpoint is easy to reach in comfortable shoes by road from the church of San Vincenzo. This path takes about 2 hours and does not require any special preparation or equipment. During daylight hours, stunning views of the volcano slopes and the surrounding island will be waiting for you all along the way. Experienced travelers strongly recommend stocking up on drinking water and a flashlight if you’re going up there or down from there already in darkness (open 24 hours a day).
Stromboli was the first volcano I ever saw so close up. It was as a result of this trip that I fell in love with volcanoes. Whoever has seen at least once will understand: there is something magical and exciting in the streams of lava flowing into the sea, fiery red, shining brightly against the dark night sky. And in the fact that this picture – at every second – is different, yet it has changed little over the millennia…
And, of course, having been to Sicily, we couldn’t help but get to know Her Majesty Etta. We will tell you about our trip to Etna in one of the next parts.
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