Aeolian Islands

Aeolian, the best unspoiled islands in Italy

It’s no easy feat to reach the Aeolian Islands, a tranquil, unspoiled archipelago north of Sicily beloved by travelers since Homeric times, but once you’ve settled into the gentle rhythms of the place, leaving is no easy feat, either.

Rising out of the cobalt-blue seas off Sicily’s northeastern coast, the Unesco-protected Aeolian Islands (Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi) are a little piece of paradise, a seven-island archipelago offering a wealth of opportunities for relaxation and outdoor fun. Stunning waters provide sport for swimmers, sailors, kayakers and divers, while trekkers can climb hissing volcanoes and gourmets can sip honey-sweet Malvasia wine.

The obvious base is Lipari, the largest and liveliest of the seven islands, but it’s by no means the only option. Salina boasts excellent accommodation and good transport links, while Stromboli and Vulcano entertain nature lovers with awe-inspiring volcanic shenanigans and black-sand beaches. Chic Panarea offers luxurious living at lower prices in low season, while Filicudi and Alicudi have an end-of-the-line appeal that’s irresistible for fans of off-the-beaten-track adventure.

Here they are one by one.

vulcano island aeolian


As you travel north from the Sicilian town of Milazzo into the Tyrrhenian Sea, the first island you reach is Vulcano, with its active, smouldering volcano and sulphurous stench. It’s worth a day trip – and an easy hike – to see the volcano in action and wallow in the warm mud baths, but unless you are happy to sleep wearing a nose clip, it is the least attractive place to spend the night.

lipari island aeolian


Next in the chain is Lipari, the largest and most populous of the seven Aeolian islands, which has a hospital, schools and year-round life. The eponymous main town is busy, in island terms, but worth a visit for the fortified acropolis, and the Aeolian Archaeological Museum (00 39 090 988 0174), beautiful in itself and packed full of interesting bits and pieces: neolithic vases, Roman amphorae, and an extraordinary collection of theatrical masks and statuettes commissioned by Sophocles and Euripides, among others. Lunch or dinner at the justly acclaimed Filippino (00 39 090 981 1002;; about €60 for two), in Piazza Municipio above the town, is worth the climb: the fish is the freshest imaginable. But the joys of Lipari are best appreciated by boat. The island was for centuries the world centre for pumice production, and although the minig (now stopped) has left scars on the hillsides, it has also deposited the finest white pumice dust on the sea bed. The water off Spiaggia Bianca (White Beach) is as clear and as turquoise as in the Bahamas. And Atilla’s pop-up beach restaurant, in a secluded bay on the north side of the island, is both eccentric and accomplised, serving simple, delicious spaghetti with capers and tomato followed by whatever fish Atilla has caught that morning.

stromboli island aeolian


The last island on the eastern side is Stromboli, inspiration for the 1949 Rossellini/Bergman film of the same name, and now holiday home to the designers Dolce and Gabbana. People used to visit Stromboli to see the volcano, but after a mini-eruption in 2007 the summit was closed off and the locals sat tight, waiting for a bigger one. They are still waiting, but life in the two villages goes on as normal. The more remote is Ginostra, which can only by reached by sea. It is a small, whitewashed hamlet on a cliff overlooking a tiny port. There are no cars, only mules, and one great restaurant, L’Incontro (00 39 090 981 2305; about €80 for two). For a little more life, head for La Sirenetta Park Hotel (00 39 090 986025;; doubles from €120) in Stromboli village. A lovely jumble of flat roofs and terraces est on a long, black-sand beach, it has a pool, tennis court, mini-amphitheatre and, best of all, a diving centre.

salina island aeolian


Drama of the cinematic variety put the neighbouring and next-largest island, Salina, on the international map in 1994, when the film Il Postino made the most of its imposing natural beauty. The beach at Pollara, where it was filmed, is stunning, particularly at sunset, and hosts an annual caper festival in the first week of June, with dancing, street games and a smorgasbord of caper-enhanced food. The main port, Santa Marina Salina, is beautiful and unspoilt, with a long, traffic-free main street lined with chic boutiques and food shops, and a terrific restaurant, Porto Bello (00 39 090 984 3125; about €70 for two). It is a four- to five-hour hike from town to the top of Monte Fossa delle Felci, the highest peak, but well worth it. The path winds through lush forest and into the mist, where the temperature drops dramatically; even on a summer day, it feels like walking into a fridge. But by the time you’ve scrambled back down the mountain, you’re hot again, and ready for a granita at Da Alfredo (00 39 090 984 3075), or perhaps a dip in the pool at the stylish, quiet Hotel Signum (00 39 090 984 4222;; doubles from €130) on the outskirts of Malfa, or better enjoy a fresh and delicious Malvasia at Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia, a 27-room resort with a sensational on-site restaurant

panarea island aeolian


Panarea – just north-east of Salina – is a polished gem of an island. It’s picture-perfect, with white villages garlanded in bright bougainvillaea, narrow lanes (there are no cars on the island, only golf carts and Motorino electric bikes), and one of the bet nightclubs in Italy. The Hotel Raya (00 39 090 983 013;; doubles from €180) was built in the 1960s and has only become smarter and more popular since then. The rooms are a little way from the main building, which is just as well because from 1am, in August only, the terrace is transformed into a pulsating, ultra-chic, open-air discotheque. When the sun comes up, and the dancers are asleep, the island calms down: families swim or dive in the clear sea, walk to the Bronze Age huts beyong Cala Junco, and take boat trips to the quiet coves on the uninhabited south and west of the island. The action astarts again at dusk, with drinks at the Bar del Porto or the Bridge Club, which turns off the music at 10pm and metamorphoses into an exceptional sushi restaurant, where two Japanese chefs do justice to freshly caught fish. And then it’s back to the Raya for another night of alfresco dancing.

Alicudi island aeolian


From Filicudi, the boat heads west to Alicudi, the rough-cut diamond of the Aeolian archipelago. Sitting on its own at the end of the chain, it feels like the land that time forgot: small, remote and cone-shaped, with a permanent population of 80, most of whom are apparently related, some of whom have never left the island. The port is tiny – a short stretch of stony beach on which brightly painted fishing boats are pulled up besides thethered mules. As there are no motor vehicles on the island, mules have a hard time of it, lugging groceries, building materials and even people up the stepped paths. There is one hotel, the Ericusa (00 39 090 988 9902;; doubles from €150), and a clutch of small apartments ( Apart from that, there are only simple houses covered with flowers, clinging to the slopes. The climb to the summit is testing but worthwhile. On the way, you pass the now abandoned and very beautiful church of San Bartolomeo – a mere 400 metres above sea level – before heading further up across heath studded with wild herbs and flowers. The view from the top, on a clear day, is breathtaking: the six other islands stretch away into the blue, their peaks crowned with wisps of cloud.

aeolian islands


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