WHAT TO SEE IN AEOLIAN ISLANDS
FILICUDI AND ALICUDI
Few people visit these islands as they are so remote. Filicudi is the less remote of the two islands and is better served by hotels and restaurants. In fact it is blessed with one of the most dramatically located hotels in the Aeolians: the 10-room Hotel La Canna, (see Where to Stay). There are other reasons to visit Filicudi: the water is magnificently clear, you can take a boat out or scuba dive, and you are unlikely to be bothered by anyone else on any of the beaches.
Lipari is often dismissed as nothing more than the transport hub of the Aeolians, but there are reasons to stop here, particularly since Lipari town has what most of the other islands lack: a tangible sense of history. It also has some good restaurants. And, because it is the transport hub, it is easy to visit for the day, taking in the museum, a long lunch and an afternoon dip.
Thank Paolo Tilche and Myriam Beltrami for making Panarea the party island. Tilche was a painter from Alexandria; Beltrami came from Como. Looking for a hideaway to restore, in 1958 they moved into a house in Iditello, near the port of San Pietro. Friends started coming to visit them when the first hydrofoil service was launched and before long it was suggested they open a hotel to accommodate their many guests. The Hotel Raya was thus born. Panarea is now a wonderful mix of rocky hills, green slopes, and the pure architectural lines of rectangular buildings fronted by thick columns and generous arches. There isn’t really a beach here worthy of the name, most are shallow, rocky strands. But Panarea does have a variety of inlets around the main island, and many jutting rocks offshore, Basiluzzo, Dattilo, Lisca Bianca and others, that provide perfect temporary anchorage while you swim in some wonderfully clear water and the steward prepares a long, slow lunch. Resourceful islanders rent small boats with enough muscle to get you out into the big blue; mini-markets and traiteurs provide lunch and the afternoon heat combined with lapping of the water provides the perfect soporific. You are unlikely to be alone, and if you head to one of the island’s bigger inlets you will almost certainly be joined by day-trippers from other islands. But then no one goes to Panarea for solitude: even out at sea, people want to see and be seen. The onshore show picks up at dusk, when the Italians embark on the passeggiata. There are no cars to bother them, the lanes are too narrow; instead electric carts and Vespas provide the fastest way around. The shopping is inconsequential compared to that on Ibiza or the Thai islands, but you will find evening-wear, bikinis and the like to hand.
Perfect if you are looking for a hideaway, Salina is a place where little happens, except in 1994, when Michael Radford went there to shoot Il Postino. But even its subsequent fame has failed to change it. In spite of being one of the greenest of the islands, good for growing capers and sweet grapes, Salina’s population dipped in the mid-20th century as islanders emigrated to the USA or Australia. Some of them return on the summer to rent houses or work the bars and restaurants, giving the island a distinctly tight-knit feel. There is a museum in Lingua, a good church in the main port of Santa Marina and some spectacular rocks at Pollara, but the real attraction of Salina is its lack of obvious distractions. The stone beaches are simple, clean and rarely crowded. Several restaurants serve good, fresh, simple food, and you won’t have to book. The sea views over to Lipari or Stromboli are invariably beautiful. Cool down with one of the world’s greatest granitas at Da Alfredo’s in Lingua, watch swordfish being carved up in Santa Marina’s fishmonger, swim under the overhanging rocks at Pollara and then head to Malfa to chill out with a sunset glass of Prosecco on the terrace of the Hotel Santa Isabel (see Where to Stay).
If you arrive on Stromboli by boat, don’t bother looking for anchorage: the volcanic core glowering above you shelves down to the depths. In antiquity this was supposed to be the home of Aeolus, god of the winds, who gave his name to the islands. After big explosions and the collapse of the economy, many islanders emigrated. Those who stayed were reduced to the sort of abject poverty that attracted Rossellini in the 1950s. More recently, it has become the island of choice for a select crowd that includes the designers Dolce and Gabbana. The main attraction remains the volcano, and it used to be possible to climb to the summit and look down at the massive jets of lava shooting like gigantic fireworks from the core. But since the volcano blew its top you are not allowed to climb high enough to see much of interest. There are evening excursions on board one of several boats from where you can see the show. Stromboli has two landings. Ginostra has the better harbour but is on the ‘far’ side of the island and can only be reached by boat. With less than 30 inhabitants and no electricity, staying here provides a good opportunity to consider the meaning of the word ‘remote’. Scari, on the north-east coast, is more connected, linked by road to the island’s main village of San Vincenzo, a sleepy place of whitewashed houses, narrow lanes and bougainvillaea. Another road leads along the north coast to the small settlements, best beaches and good restaurants and shops at Ficogrande and Piscità.
Vulcano is fast becoming the most visited of the Aeolians. Not even the smell deters visitors from climbing the volcano; since Stromboli blew its top, this is the best volcano-viewing in the Aeolians. According to legend, the Greek god Vulcan had his workshop here, although volcanic activity ceased long ago. It’s a leisurely, two-hour walk from the port to the top of the volcanic cone, best attempted early or late as there is no shade along the way. At the top you can peer down into the plugged core of the volcano and across the blue to Lìpari and Filicudi. At the other, northern end of the island, a winding road leads down to Gelso, a handful of houses and a magnificent trattoria by a black-sand beach. The beach is an excellent place to work up an appetite before a long lunch of spaghetti with nero di sepia (cuttlefish ink) and fresh fish at the Trattoria Maniaci Pino. The only way to enjoy the best swimming, see the waterside caves and avoid the crowds on Vulcano is to rent a boat. Vulcano’s other great attraction, the baths, is only a short stroll from the ferry landing. Said to be effective against skin and back problems, the open-air pool of ‘slightly radioactive’ volcanic mud makes for one of the great spectacles on the islands, as people caked from head to toe in mud make the short walk from the pool to rinse themselves in the sea.