By Maxine Albert
‘Swept away by the God of the Winds into the
Aeolian Islands’ – I mused on the ferry as I felt the cool sea breeze and warm glow of the Sicilian sun. I was bound for the Aeolian archipelago, off the coast of northern Sicily. Legend has it that they were named after Aeolus, lord of the winds, who had his kingdom there. Actively volcanic, jutting out of the Tyrrhenian Sea – these pearls of the Mediterranean are a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Rustic and wild they proffer sandy beaches, coves, grottos, sulphur springs, mountains and lush vegetation. Each of the seven small islands has its own distinct charm and beauty. I recommend seeing as many as you can, if only for a short day trip by boat. There’s something quite primal and mystical about living with the sea on volcanic terrain in a constant state of evolution.
Lipari, the largest, has the thermal waters of San Calogero, known for their curative qualities to improve circulation and heal body ailments. The Hotel Carasco www.carasco.it, with an excellent restaurant, well appointed rooms and a balcony overlooking the bay, offers a true island experience. Every night, I sat outside and took in the scenic coastline with lights speckled against a starry sky. Falling asleep with the fresh salt air and the sound of waves was the sweetest lullaby. After my daily dip in the pool I took the path of cascading stone steps to soak in the crystal blue sea. Sun bathing in chaise lounges atop rocks jutting out of the water makes for a perfect afternoon. The scent of broom, heather, oleander, rosemary and myrtle perfume the air on a nature walk. An evening stroll in the center of town takes you through streets lined with outdoor cafes and shops selling ceramics, local wares, jewelry and olive oil. One night I saw a lively band with dancers play Latin music as everyone joined in. Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum with its amazing collection of pottery and theatrical masks from the cult of Dionysius.
It’s a short but scenic boat ride to Vulcano where sulphur springs , mud baths, beaches and volcano hikes attract large numbers of tourists. The island has some world class resorts such as Hotel Eros www.eroshotel.it where I enjoyed a lunch of the freshest swordfish, and a swim in their pool. A dessert of gelati and homemade fig cookies at Hotel Conti www.contivulcano.it was followed by a dip in the sea—then on to the 5 star Therasia Resort www.therasiaresort.it to refresh with prosecco and float in their reflecting pool. Note: when traveling around the islands, have a bathing suit with you at all times.
Salina, the lushest island – known for its sweet Malvasia dessert wine, capers, friendly people and gorgeous landscape was my next destination via ferry. Two extinct volcanoes formed this idyllic land which so enchanted Massimo Troisi that he filmed the popular 1994 movie “Il Postino” here. The friendly people are so welcoming it feels like family.
The lovely Hotel L’Ariana www.hotelariana.it balcony overlooks the sea with a cool breeze and nightly serenade of waves splashing against the rocks. Patrizzia, the owner, makes sure her guests have a good time and encouraged me to go out dancing. She even got up early one morning to drive me to the marina, telling stories about her family’s history on the island while pointing out the euphorbias, mastic, chestnut and strawberry trees. Embark on a boating excursion since the best way to experience the Aeolians is from the sea. I swam, snorkeled and saw the magnificent rocky coastline and unspoiled beauty of nature - www.salinarelaxboats.com
Minutes away from the port in Malfa, the Hotel Signun www.hotelsignum.it features an outdoor spa built like the ancient Roman thermal baths. Underground sauna, hot and cold immersion pools, massage and volcanic mud treatments let you relax and rejuvenate. For lunch I had regional cuisine at Portobello in the seaside town of Santa Marina. Deliciously prepared newborn fish grilled with fennel and capers, and spaghetti al fuoco was served with local marchetta wine and malvasia on a terrace overlooking the sea. Close by the restaurant, a major attraction is Alfredo’s, famed for its yummy granitas with flavors like fig, pistachio and prickly pear. Speaking of appetites, the men of Salina are extremely good looking and like foreign women. They are polite and hospitable.
Also, they dance well - you can have fun here. But be forewarned: The caper, a staple of the islands’ agriculture and served at every meal, is an aphrodisiac. Many women come for vacation and end up falling in love and marrying Aeolian men. My next port of call was the chic and fashionable Panarea. Drink an aperitivo on the terrace of Hotel Lisca Bianca www.liscabianca.it and glimpse yachts bringing in the fabulous. Madonna, Dolce & Gabbana and Sean Connery have homes here. Stunning clothing, sandals and island wares can be found in boutiques like Raya, Scarfi and Bouganville.
The award for most dramatic island goes to Stromboli. Travelers come from afar to hike its spectacular volcano and explore its rugged beauty. Savor a granita and chat with locals who gather at sunset at Bar Ingrid on the central piazza. The cafe is named after Ingrid Bergman who carried on her torrid affair with Roberto Rossellini on the island. La Sirenetta Park Hotel, www.lasirinetta.it, where I dined, offers upscale accommodations and superb local cuisine in a romantic setting next to a black sand beach. When darkness falls the main event is “volcano watching”. Unless you’re an ardent trekker the best viewing is from a boat - www.aliantetour.com.
Witnessing the hot red fire and billowy smoke of creation with each seismic eruption was hypnotic. Every twenty minutes a deep rumble signals a shower of crimson sparks lighting the sky. Spellbound by a level of passion my body had not known, I fell hopelessly in love with The Volcano. The islands taught me how to enjoy life – The Aeolian Way! I smile more often and know in my heart that I will return for another date with The Volcano.
The islands can be reached: All year round - by ferry from Milazzo – (45 minutes by road from Palermo )
June through September – by hydrofoil from Palermo
Eurofly www.eurofly.com nonstop from JFK to Palermo
For information about travel to Italy contact: Italian Tourist Board www.italiantourism.com, Regione Sicilia or Federal Alberghi Isole Eolie.