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Insider Guide To Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. Beautiful and little-known.

21/12/2023 by .
Sicily's Aeolian Islands

 Rupert Parker Takes To The Waves To Explore Sicily’s Aeolian Islands.

The Aeolian Sea offers enchanting scenery, often only accessible by boat, and the seven volcanic Aeolian Islands, off the north coast of Sicily, are not as well-known as they should be. I’m here as a result of a tip off from the Mirabilia Network which promotes lesser known Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Named after Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds, the islands’ rugged beauty consists of dramatic rock formations rising up from crystal clear waters.

They were formed half a million years ago when two tectonic plates collided, thrusting molten magma to the surface. There are still active volcanoes today – Stromboli has continuous explosions sending cascades of lava bombs to illuminate the night sky. Vulcano, last erupted in 1888, but smoke and steam continuously rise from the edges of the crater.

Sicily's Aeolian Islands

Salina and Crater

Access is only by boat, as there’s no airport, either from Naples or from Milazzo on the north coast of Sicily. In the summer the islands are packed by Italian tourists but spring and autumn are delightfully quiet. The weather is still warm enough for swimming yet not too hot for hiking around the volcanoes.

Lipari is the largest island and the main landing point for the ferries from the mainland and the other islands. The main town is a charming, bustling place with its narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed buildings and restaurants. Towering above the sea is the Castello di Lipari, its formidable walls and imposing towers offer panoramic views of the town and surrounding islands.

Inside is the Archaeological Museum which houses an incredible collection of artefacts that illuminate the island’s past. Ancient pottery, tools, and artwork provide a glimpse into the lives of Lipari’s inhabitants throughout different eras. The prized Venus of Lipari, a captivating Greek marble statue from the 4th century BC, is the crown jewel of this collection.

Sicily's Aeolian Islands

30 minutes by boat from Lipari, Salina is considered the greenest of the Aeolian Islands, and is a major producer of Malavasia wine, grown on its terraced hillsides. You’ll land at Santa Marina Salina, the island’s principal town with its waterfront promenade, lined with colourful fishing boats. Many don’t get much farther than this, visiting one of the many restaurants for fresh seafood and a glass of Malvasia.

Yet the smaller villages of Malfa, Pollara, and Leni each possess unique charms and should not be missed. Malfa is famous for its botanical gardens, terraced vineyards, and stunning views of the sea and neighbouring islands. In the North West is Pollara, the location for the movie “Il Postino”, and still fairly isolated, sprawling on a plateau above the sea.

Piaggia delle Sabbie Nere Vulcano

Twenty minutes from Lipari, in the other direction, Vulcano, no surprise, is an island named for its volcanic activities. You smell sulphur in the air as you step off the boat with steam and gases escaping from Gran Cratere, the massive volcanic crater above. Challenging hiking trails lead to the rim for breath-taking panoramic views of the island and its neighbouring companions

Don’t miss the therapeutic mud baths, where visitors can slather themselves in mineral-rich mud and then wash off in the hot springs nearby The island has a selection of black sand beaches, with Piaggia delle Sabbie Nere the favourite for families because of its shallow water. The coastline offers several opportunities for snorkelling and diving, with underwater caves and vibrant marine life waiting to be discovered.

Panarea San Pietro

On the way to Stromboli, an hour and a half from Lipari, Panarea is the smallest and most exclusive of the Aeolian Islands. The port, San Pietro, is a picture-postcard collection of whitewashed buildings adorned with colourful bougainvillea and fragrant jasmine. The narrow streets are lined with luxury boutiques and high-end restaurants.

The coastline is dotted with small hidden coves, best accessed by small boat from San Pietro. Panarea’s unique attraction is the prehistoric village of Punta Milazzese, in the rugged North West. These ruins date back to the Bronze Age and the stone structures provide a fascinating glimpse into the island’s history

An hour from Panarea is Stromboli, home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes. As you approach, if there’s no cloud, you’ll catch sight of the volcanic cone of Sciara del Fuoco, spewing plumes of smoke. Testament to frequent eruptions is the extensive blackened lava flow that plunges down the mountain into the crystal-clear Mediterranean.

Panarea Coves

Lipari Buffet e1703149463639

Guides are available for those who wish to explore the volcano’s trails. As you climb upwards, the terrain transitions from lush vegetation to barren volcanic rock. Nearing the summit, you feel the earth rumbling beneath your feet, a sign that the volcano is still active. For the more timid, watch the glowing lava bombs shooting into sky from the safety of your boat.

It’s easy to spend a week here, exploring the islands, basing yourself in Lipari. Ferry connections are frequent but occasional storms sometimes cause the boats not to run. As you’d expect, fresh fish is a staple of most menus, easily washed down with local Malavasia wine. Aeolian capers are justly famous, and appear in most sauces and salads. It’s tricky to get here from the UK, but well worth the effort.


Tell Me More About this Insider Guide To Lipari And The Aeolian Islands


The Mirabilia Network has information about Siciliy’s Aeolian Islands and other lesser known UNESCO sites in Italy.

EasyJet has direct flights to Catania from London Gatwick. From there it’s a two hour taxi ride to Milazzo, the port for Lipari. Ferry transfer is around an hour.

The Gatwick Express is the fastest way to the airport from central London.

Residence La Giara makes for a tranquil base near the harbour in Lipari.

Restaurante da Filippino is good for fish.

E Pulera serves typical Aeolian cuisine.


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