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The Aeolian Islands have long been a popular holiday destination for Italians and international tourists alike. A result of volcanism, its dramatic geology, beautiful sceneries was enough to draw visitors by the thousand even without the Sicilian cuisine. With 8 islands in the group and a dazzling array of hotels, resorts and activities to choose from – you can have your hands full deciding your itinerary. But that’s where I come in with my own experience.
Geological history of the Aeolian Islands
I will save the technical details and give you the simplified version of the story: even though it all really started 250 million years ago, involving a sea that no longer exists called the Tethys Ocean and two super continents known as Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south.
Due to plate-tectonics i.e. the movement of the top layer of the earth’s crust, Gondwana land was forced northwards and collided with Laurasia about 260,000 years ago. Part of the chain was Africa, which is forced into the Eurasia plate and under. This generates volcanism under the Mediterranean Sea, a remnant of the Tethys Ocean plate, where subduction is occurring at depth, and generated the Aeolian Island arcs.
The Aeolian Islands
Named after the Roman god of forges, Vulcano is a very green island completed with a volcano crater and hot sulfur springs. The southernmost island of the group, its last eruption was on the 3rd August 1880 and lasted two years. It is worth noting that the town only grew on the island since the last eruption – and the volcano is still active and might one day erupt again.
The most populated and largest Aeolian Island, Lipari is the central hub where most activities occur. It’s definitely the most touristy islands of the bunch, but it also has the best facilities. Settlements were formed on this island as far back as the Neolithic age as a center of trade for obsidian, and there are several archeological sites you can visit during your stay.
The second largest Aeolian Island, it is just northeast of Lipari and home to six volcanoes which are no longer active. The last eruption ended 13,000 years ago, forming the gorgeous Pallara that you can visit on a boat trip. Its name Salina comes from the activities of salt mining in the town of Lingua and there is a bus service connecting the settlements on the island.
Most recognizable by the gorgeous semi-circular pool that’s a protected UNESCO site, Panarea is the second smallest island right after Basiluzzo. It is a popular holiday spot for celebrities and a great spot for scuba diving and enjoy the serenity that only exists on an island of 280 year-round inhabitants. You can swim behind this bay on a boat trip!
With eruptions still occurring almost daily, Stromboli is the northernmost Aeolian Islands. For any thrill seekers or adventurers, excursions to climb the volcano can be done in the evening which allows you to observe the eruptions up close and personal. Don’t worry too much – the craters are still a fair distance away and the basaltic eruptions are mild and nongaseous.
Barely 1km2 in size, Basiluzzo is the smallest of the eight Aeolian Islands and remains uninhabited.
The westernmost island of the group, Alicudi is the most remote and youngest. Originally named Island of Erica, there are only 120 inhabitants on this island.
Just east of Alicudi, the original name of Filicudi has been the Phoenician Island. It was periodically inhabited by the Greeks and Romans, and saw in influx of modern day celebrity inhabitants in the 70s.
Do – Boat trips
Given the secluded nature of the Aeolian Islands and the beautiful Mediterranean weather as well as the geological wonders, there is no better way to explore the beauty of the islands other than to take boat trips.
Most boat trips offered can be separated into four categories:
We only had time to visit the first three – which were an absolute highlight of my epic summer adventure. We also went an extra step and added an evening hike up the Stromboli, which was best described as an experience of a lifetime.
Getting to the Aeolian Islands
Even though you can get a ferry ride to Lipari directly from Palermo or Messina, I would recommend taking advantage of the faster train services and head off to the islands via Milazzo, the closest land point.
Ferry Milazzo Lipari
Ferries to each Aeolian Islands run from this port; however the most frequent would be the one to Lipari, with a stop with Vulcano. It takes from 45 minutes to 3 hours to cross and it’s best to check the schedule prior to the date of your departure.
Ferries also run between the islands themselves, but less frequently – so make sure you check and plan your trip in advance.
Where to stay on Aeolian Islands
It’s very tempting to go for the cheap AirBnB or hostel you find on the internet, and the former is exactly what I did until we were forced to evacuate from the ant-infested room.
We ended up staying in a twin room at the Hotel Residence Mendolita* in Lipari and it was a great choice. Though a little further from the town center (about ten, fifteen minutes’ walk), it’s quiet and the ground floor of the villa our room occupies is nothing short of stunning.
Despite the 50 Euros per person per night fee – I really thought it was worth the dosh, simply because:
- Comfort – if you, like us, visit in the hot summer months – you will be constantly in the heat and if you make the most out of your day you would be exhausted when you are back. Which lead us onto the next two points
- En-suite bathroom – getting in and out of the sea and being in the sun all day, sometimes all you want is to take a shower. Though some hostels are lovely, some aren’t. And having an en-suite bathroom you can rely on can make all the difference.
- Working air conditioning – the AirBnB we stayed in at first didn’t have working air conditioning – and unless you are used to the suffocating heat, you will need it.
- Studio kitchen – you don’t always want to eat out – have a small stove, sink and fridge gives you some option. And cold drinks.
- Breakfast included – need I say more?
- Daily cleaners – you are bound to bring home some sand.