Lipari, Italy: where to go, when to go and what to see


An island and a city, the Apostle Bartholomew and the Citroen Mehari

Routes / Sicily 15 Lipari – The Island and the City, the Apostle Bartholomew and the Citroen Mehari

As I wrote in the first chapter of this itinerary, the largest of the Lipari Islands, Lipari (emphasis added), was our base to explore the other islands of the archipelago and now it is time to write a chapter about it.

But before we begin this story, it’s worth making a little disclaimer: the narrative will be completely devoid of chronological line, except, perhaps, for the last day on the island – because we lived on Lipari five full days, during which a dozen times we visited its capital, three times sailed around it by boat, and twice by car.

The Island

As is traditional, I will begin with the history, or rather the name of the island: as in the case of Philicudi, not everything is so unambiguous here. In Neolithic times, Lipari was one of the few Mediterranean centers for the mining and trading of obsidian. Also called “volcanic glass”, this rock was in great demand by European tribes several thousand years ago, as it was the main material for making tools and weapons.

The cathedral and the fortress walls of the 16th century. Lipari. Italy, 2015.

Never a place is empty, so the first people appeared on the island about 5000 BC. According to local legend, the island was named after the leader of one of the migrating tribes, whose name was Liparus. Of course, the ancient Greeks who came to Lipari some forty-five centuries later, changed everything in their own way: they named the whole archipelago after the god of wind Aeolus, and the largest of the islands was associated with the name of his father-in-law Liparus.

West of the island of Lipari. Italy, 2015.Pietra Menalda. South of the island of Lipari. Italy, 2015

Considering that our third excursion was called “Salina and Lipari”, we made one complete circle around the island, and taking into account that there were three excursions, plus we sailed to Vulcano, and we got from Milazzo and back to Sicily by water, it was safe to say that we managed to explore some parts of the coast almost thoroughly.

West coast of the island of Lipari. Italy, 2015Abandoned mines. Porticello. Northeast of the island of Lipari. Italy, 2015

Undoubtedly, the most picturesque and at the same time difficult to reach from the land was the west coast of the island. Here there were sea grottoes, pieces of rock sticking straight out of the sea, and narrow strips of beach that could only be accessed by boat. As if in contrast to the west shore, the east shore was the most developed. On this side of the island were concentrated the main towns, attractions and industrial sites: the port at Lipari, the beach at Canneto and the pumice mines at Acquacalde, the latter however abandoned.

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Along with the fact that Lipari was the largest island of the archipelago, the town of the same name on it was a landmark in its own right. I would even say that it was the only city on all the Lipari islands – all the other settlements were small villages, towns and resort towns.

On the streets of the city. Lipari. Italy, 2015On the streets of the city. Lipari. Italy, 2015

Since Lipari was able to “grow” into a “full-fledged” city during its centuries-long history, one cannot but note that this life was not only fascinating, but also very tragic. Beginning its history back in the Stone Age, it has survived the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Saracens, Normans, but in 1544 was almost completely destroyed by the Ottoman naval commander and pirate, at the same time Hayreddin Barbarossa (Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha).

Amphitheater and the Church of Maria SS delle Grazie. Lipari. Italy, 2015.Archaeological area. Lipari. Italy, 2015.

By the way, he massacred the male half of the population of Lipari and sold the female half into slavery and only thanks to the unspoken alliance between the Turks and the French that was in force at the time, some of the inhabitants were ransomed in Messina and returned to the island.

Twelve years later, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Habsburg ordered the construction of a fortress at Lipari and the repopulation of the island. The fortress walls have survived to this day and have preserved not only the city itself but also the main patron saint of the Lipari Islands, more precisely the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew built in his honor.

The Cathedral of Lipari

The Apostle Bartholomew (Bartholomew) was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ and, according to tradition, he preached in the towns of Asia Minor (the territory of present-day Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia) where he was killed and then buried. At the end of the VI century, during the Persian invasion, the reliquary containing the relics of the apostle was thrown into the sea and it miraculously found its way to Lipari.

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The Cathedral of San Bartolomeo. Lipari. Italy, 2015.

The first Lipari Christians fished out of the sea a sarcophagus and for the storage of the relics of the saint built a church, which stood until 838, when it was destroyed by the Arabs who invaded the island. The relics were transported to Benevento, where they remain to this day, but the fact of their appearance on Lipari is a red thread through the island’s history.

Statue of San Bartolomeo in the cathedral. Lipari. Italy, 2015.Mural on the central nave. San Bartolomeo Cathedral. Lipari. Italy, 2015.

After the Normans’ liberation at the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century, the construction of a new church, which later became the bishop’s residence or, in other words, the cathedral, began. In 1515 the building work was completed, only thirty years later the cathedral was burned to the ground by Barbarossa, and twenty more years later it was rebuilt. In the eighteenth century came a new phase in the reconstruction of the cathedral. In 1728 a silver statue of St. Bartholomew was created, in 1772 the cathedral received two side aisles, and by the end of the century – a new basalt facade and a marble altar.

Bartholomew was often attributed miracles involving the changing mass of various objects and the silver statue of the saint was no exception. There is a legend in Lipari that during World War II, Mussolini, in search of new sources of funding for the fascist regime, ordered the statue to be melted down and sold, but after weighing it, it turned out that it weighs only a few grams – that’s what saved the relic.

Marina Corta and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II

In addition to the Cathedral inside the fortress walls and the archaeological area, Lipari had at least two other areas to note.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Lipari. Italy, 2015On the streets of the city. Lipari. Italy, 2015

The first was the main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, which was halfway across the city in the afternoon and fully pedestrianized at weekends. It concentrated on itself and the adjacent streets countless stores, cafes and restaurants.

Secondly, the Marina Corta port, from which we took three trips to the Leap Islands, and the adjacent neighborhood to the south, which I would call the most picturesque in the city.

Citroën Méhari

This car was created in 1968 by Roland de la Poype, Hero of the Soviet Union and famous French pilot of the Normandy-Neman squadron. Because of its simple design and light weight and, as a consequence, good speed and off-road qualities, it was named after a one-humped camel with similar qualities.

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Citroen Mehari. Lipari, Italy. 2015

Nearly a hundred and fifty thousand examples of the machine have been produced in twenty years, two or three dozen have miraculously ended up on Lipari, and we rented one of these jalopies for a day to ride it all over the island.

Citroen Mehari. Lipari, Italy. 2015Citroen Mehari. Lipari, Italy. 2015

It is hard to say what canons of speed and cross-country ability were half a century ago, but our copy was not able to accelerate up to sixty kilometers per hour (with the declared maximum hundred and twenty-five), and we just did not dare to test it off-road. Nevertheless, discounting our advanced age, we were able to make two complete laps around the island: firstly counterclockwise and then clockwise and after three hours we returned the car to the rental office.

Quattrocchi viewpoint (four eyes). South of the island of Lipari. Italy, 2015.

In the first lap we drove through all the settlements of the island, from Canneto to Pianocorte, admiring the views of the neighboring islands from Quattropani (“four loaves”) and the lookout Quattrocchi (“four eyes”), we reached Lipari and, deciding that we had not yet fully enjoyed the roar of the two-cylinder engine and the smell of exhaust fumes, we turned around and drove back. In the second round we found the Roman baths of San Calogero and screwed up with the excursion to the only winery on the island Tenuta di Castellaro.

Back in Lipari for the second time of the day, we returned the car, had lunch at Il Galeone restaurant and spent the rest of the day by the pool of our Villa Enrica, trying to organize in our heads the impressions of the past week.

Ahead of us was the return to Sicily, a trip across half the island to Palermo by train, a rental car, and a second week of vacation – all of that in the following chapters.

The Liparian Islands in Italy: a trip to the volcanoes that will be remembered forever

Late summer/early fall is a good time to travel to Italy’s islands. We tell you why the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea are particularly attractive to tourists at this time of year.

Every person who discovers a country starts with the obvious. On my first visit to Italy, I was spellbound, circling around the Golden Triangle in Milan, and then, barely missing the trains at Milano Centrale station, I went to Florence – to wander through museums, ancient shops and taverns. The next time was Rome. Recently I saw a panoramic photo montage depicting the eternal city as it was in 300 AD. On the 31-meter-high canvas, the viewer is surrounded by marble palaces with grandiose colonnades – somewhere already in ruins, somewhere still under construction. That’s about how I saw Rome from the city’s main vantage point, the Vittoriano Monument. My trip to Puglia (in Italian “Puglia”) is a completely different story. Southern Italy – serene, provincial in some places, incredible in others. Just look at Alberobello – a town of trulli houses, which can easily pass for a fairy tale set at Cinecitta – the famous Roman film studio.

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And here I am, ready to take a new step away from the classic tourist itineraries. Late summer-early fall is a good time to travel to the islands. I choose the Liparian (also called Aeolian) Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea. By the way, Italian duo Dolce&Gabbana have been dedicating their limited edition summer fragrances to the Aeolian Islands for a couple of years now, which means there is plenty to do and see for your leisure and inspiration.

In September you can take part in the Malvasia grape harvest, which later turns into a sweet wine of the same name. But this entertainment is not for everyone. As you know, it is much more pleasant to watch other people working. Better yet, explore the local cuisine and natural beauties, which are abundant on the Lipari Islands. There are seven islands – Lipari, Vulcano, Stromboli, Salina, Panarea, Filicudi and Alicudi. They are of volcanic origin, and they stand not as God would have it, but in a beautiful volcanic arc. Each in its place and in its image. So it makes no sense to come for a day. You have to see everything. And, preferably, not in a hurry, to look in all the bays and sunbathe on all the beaches. White beaches Lipari and black beaches Stromboli – this picture breaks the pattern of conventional island vacations and will be remembered forever.

Isle of Lipari

The main island of the archipelago, on which is located the main city – its namesake. The place is not as small as it manages to portray compilers of tourist booklets. Lipari has an archaeological museum, expensive, decorated with metropolitan chic hotels, cafes, restaurants and, of course, its patron. In Lipari it is St. Bartholomew. His remains are believed to rest in the town’s cathedral. Every year, August 24, the island (as well as all of Italy) celebrate the Day of St. Bartholomew and organize in his honor a colorful procession, at the head of which moves a massive statue of the saint of pure silver.

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Dolce&Gabbana, the design duo in love with Lipari, dedicated a new limited edition Light Blue fragrance for men called Swimming in Lipari to the island. I think it would be very symbolic to bring such a bottle to my husband exactly from this island!

A must-see and a must-do on Lipari Island:

  1. The trendiest restaurant in town, Kasbah Cafè (Vico Selinunte, 45), is decorated in a minimalist style. The local cuisine can be called “new Aeolian” and the establishment is very successful. For example, Kate Moss has been seen here more than once.
  2. You should drink coffee at the Avant-Garde café on the main street, which is traditionally called Vittorio Emanuele (Vittorio Emanuele 135). The owner of the cafe is called Ernesto. He makes the best ace coffee with cream (“granita con panna”) and bakes the world’s most delicious brioches.
  3. The most beautiful beach on the island is Faralloni. For one euro, any local fisherman will take you there by boat.
  4. In the fishermen’s quarter of Sopra la Terra, look for “La casa immaginaria”. This is the nickname given by the residents to the studio home of American artist Janet Little. She has lived in Lipari for thirty years and creates paintings in the glass-paintings technique.
  5. At sunset, climb up to Kwatropani Church. It’s the highest point on the island and offers a panoramic view of the sea and the archipelago.

Salina Island

Literally, Salina translates as “salt lake. This lake is the main local attraction and an important part of the island’s business. Since time immemorial, capers and the very grapes that go into the production of Malvasia have been grown (and harvested) on Salina. Lovers of everything local – the food, the music, the scenery, the characters – will love it here. There are three whole three authentic villages on the island.

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