Regional Guide - Sicily
Unique beauty, fascinating geophysical characteristics (two of the islands are active volcanoes!), a wealth of history, myriad Greek myths and legends, wonderful sea-swimming, great beaches, stunning views, mountain and coastal walking galore, mouthwatering cuisine and luscious sweet dessert wines.
Despite all this, the Aeolian Islands remain fairly unknown out of Italy and surprisingly unspoiled outside the peak weeks of August. There are seven inhabited islands in this volcanic archipelago, each offering its own distinct atmosphere, sense of hospitality and charm.
Filicudi is the larger of the two minor westerly islands, still unspoilt by tourism and far from being developed. There are three villages, offering a few restaurants and markets, scooter, car and boat rental. There aren't any sandy beaches, but plenty of rocky coastal stretches and pebble beaches with wonderful swimming in crystal clear water.
Alicudi is the second smallest, the wildest and the most remote. There is only one hotel (with the island's only restaurant), a few houses and very few shops.... a paradise for people in search of complete quiet and relaxation.
Salina is the greenest and the most fertile of the Aeolian Islands, famous for its capers and the sweet Malvasia wine. It is neither as developed for tourists as Vulcano or Lipari nor as fashionable (and expensive) as Panarea, but boasts some excellent restaurants, caf?s and shops. Its ancient Greek name, ìDidymeî, means twins and refers to the camel-hump shape of its two long-extinct volcanic cones. There are excellent opportunities for walking.
Then comes Vulcano, the island that gave its name to all volcanoes. Famous for its mud baths (fanghi) and its still smoking main crater. Depending on the wind, you might be immediately hit by the characteristic sulphurous smell coming from the hot springs. Vulcano gets very crowded in July and August, and the quality of the restaurants is not particularly good. But the walk up to the impressive crater and a visit to the small villages of Gelso and Piano (you can rely on the local bus service or rent a scooter) make an interesting and pleasant day trip.
Lipari is the biggest and most populous of the Aeolian Islands. Historically, it has been the most important island over the centuries, since Neolithic times. There is a quite efficient bus service connecting the bigger town of Lipari to the other smaller villages; but the easiest way to get around is by renting a scooter.Apart from a few very beautiful walks, the must see of the island is the Museo Eolianoí (tel. 090 9880594/174; 9:00-13:30 and 15:00- 19:00), an impressive archaeological museum, housed in the buildings around the Duomo, in the upper town of Lipari, still surrounded by old city walls. Also quite impressive are the white shiny pumice quarries directly overlooking the sea, giving the water an amazing turquoise colour.
Dramatic Stromboli, in permanent eruption, maybe the most famous and spectacular of the Aeolian Islands. It is certainly one of the most active volcanoes in Europe and well worth an ascent to the top (when possible!).
Panarea is the smallest and the most fashionable of the 7. It owes its fame to the Hotel Raya, which in the summer attracts the international jet-set. The terrace of the Hotel Raya is the place to be for the aperitif, and its disco keeps the island awake until dawn, but only in August! In low season it's very quiet; there are only a few small electric cars, beautiful walks and unique swimming opportunities in the many surrounding islets.
Gastronomically speaking, Aeolian cuisine focuses on fresh fish, capers, peppers and tomatoes. The local table wines are very drinkable, while the sweet Malvasia delle Lipari, or ìMalmseyî (to Nelsonís sailors) is particularly famous. The Aeolians are easily reached by ferries and hydrofoils from Milazzo (in north east Sicily and whose history is inextricably linked to that of the islands), Palermo, Messina and Naples.