Named after Aeolus, God of the winds according to Greek Mithology, the Aeolian archipelago is a group of extremely varied islands, each one keeping its own identity, part of the Unesco World Heritage since 2000.
Rising out of the cobalt-blue seas off Sicily’s northeastern coast, these islands share a volcanic origin that left a legacy in terms of black-sand beaches, smouldering craters and splintered, rocky coastlines. Currently, there are still two active volcanoes, Stromboli and Vulcano, and volcanic activity of some kind, whether steaming fumaroles or thermal waters waiting to be tapped, on most of the other islands.
Here a wide range of touristic activities is possible: stunning waters provide sport for swimmers, sailors and divers but also, bubbling mud baths. Besides, trekkers can climb hissing volcanoes and gourmets can discover local dishes, taste typical products (Aeolian caper is worldwide famous) or just sip honey-sweet Malvasia wine.
The largest of the Aeolian Islands, Lipari is also the only one with a sizeable town. Here pumice quarries have taken huge bites out of the mountains and gave the waters an intense turquoise color. Among the town’s main attractions are the fortified acropolis, the Archeological Museum, several flower-hung alleys and the pretty harbour of Marina Corta. Lipari’s coast is pretty wild, rocky and undeveloped, with splintered rocks offshore and extraordinary views, such as the gorgeous and romantic belvedere of Quattrocchi (literally meaning 4 eyes since it takes two persons to fully enjoy this view). When it comes to beaches, try not to miss scenic Valle Muria beach, in front of Faraglioni while, if you look for blue waters and some fun, then White beach is the place to hit.
A constantly smouldering volcano, this Island gives tourists the chance to wallow in warm mud baths and swim above bubbling mid-sea fumaroles. The Fanghi di Vulcano (mud baths) and offshore fumaroles are a couple of minutes walk from the port. Alternatively, you could head to the rather more genteel Oasi della Salute spa, which has three thermal hydromassage pools and a beauty centre.
Twin-peaked Salina is the greenest of the islands, famous for its starring role in the 1994 film Il Postino. Santa Marina Salina, the main port, is notable for its long, traffic-free main street, where chic boutiques and down-to-earth food shops occupy the ground floors of the substantial 19th-century houses built by those who made their fortune selling sweet Malvasia. However, you are more likely to want to spend your time in Lingua lying on the stony beach or lingering over a granita. If you can, try to be at Pollara, the setting for Il Postino, at sunset.
The international jet-set playground of Panarea is the most fashionable of the islands, where the rich and famous sail on their multi-million-euro yachts. Be sure to take the 40-minute walk to the magnificent bay of Calajunco, at the foot of a promontory topped by the foundations of Bronze Age huts. A boat trip out to the offshore islets is another must. The formation and colours of the rock on each are unique. Below tiny Basiluzzo, when the sea is calm and clear, you can see the remains of a Roman port; nearby Lisca Bianca has submarine fumaroles bubbling at the surface of the sea, little sandy beaches and cliffs that have been stained yellow.
These days, it’s the volcano that attracts most of Stromboli’s visitors; all you need to reach the top is trekking boots, a torch, a warm jacket, some water and a guided walk, which takes two hours and is timed so that you arrive on the summit at sunset. Alternatelively, watching the eruption at night while sitting on a boat is also a lifetime experience.
The best beaches on Stromboli are the little coves of black sand tucked into lava crags along the coast at Piscità, from which there are fine views of the islet of Strombolicchio.
With a seabed that’s home to scores of ancient shipwrecks, Filicudi offers some interesting diving. If you don’t dive, take a boat trip around the island to see the hidden sea grotto, scene of a candlelit festival every year on 15 September. Walk up to the clifftop belvedere to watch the sun set over the rock known as La Canna.
Alicudi is an uncompromising cone rising from the sea, there are just 80 year-round inhabitants and donkeys are the only form of land transport.
There are frequent car ferries and much quicker hydrofoils from Milazzo and Messina on Sicily and from Reggio di Calabria on the mainland, to and between the islands. Most stop first at Lipari, and then proceed to the other islands. Ferries are frequent in summer, with fewer during spring, autumn and winter and a reduced service year-round on Sundays. For timetables see SIREMAR or Liberty Lines and NGI. A few car ferries a week also continue on to Naples (see SNAV). Most international travellers, then, will arrive at the airport of either Palermo or Catania airport in Sicily, or Reggio di Calabria, across the straits of Messina on the mainland.