Visiting the Aeolian Islands
The beautiful Aeolian Islands lie just an hour off the northeast coast of Sicily. The eight beautiful islands cover an area of 620 sq mi and have been on my bucket list for years. Why? Because the name Stromboli stuck with me. It was either the 1950’s film, “Stromboli, Terra di Dio,” with Ingrid Bergman, or the Philly sandwich my college roommate used to crave from back home, the Stromboli. Mind you, I have been pronouncing Stromboli wrong, forever. In American English, we pronounce the sandwich, “strom BOW li. ” The island is pronounced, “STROM bow li.
The Aeolian Islands are Unesco-protected and see a whopping 200,000 visitors a year. There are two very cool active volcanoes: Stromboli and Volcano. The other main islands include Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Lipari, Panarea, and Basiluzzo. The Aeolians are a stunning group of islands well-worthy of exploring. There are a variety of ways to visit Italy’s Aeolian Islands, and a lot depends on your starting point and how much time you have.
For a quick visit to the Aeolian Islands from mainland Sicily take a day trip
Take a ferry from Palermo to visit the Aeolian Islands
Ferry From Naples or Tropea, Calabria to the Aeolian Islands
Ferries companies to the Aeolian Islands from Milazzo, Sicily
The city of Milazzo is the closest town to the Aeolian Islands from mainland Sicily. A one-way ferry ticket from Milazzo to Lipari is $24, and the best transport, by far, is Liberty Lines. They operate hydrofoils that are quick, clean, efficient, and fun to be on! The crew is well organized and you’ll quickly be on your way. When I travel, I like to get out early and beat the rush. My boat was at 8:30, although I arrived at the port in time for the 8am departure. You can change your tickets to an earlier or later departure time, but you have to pay a supplement to do so. The time tables for most of the islands are quite frequent. Boats leave every 30 to 60 minutes and you arrive in 65 minutes.
To properly visit the Aeolian Islands, base yourself on Lipari Island
I wanted more time on the Aeolian islands, and to base myself there. As I mentioned, the closest departure port on Sicily’s mainland is Milazzo, and Lipari Island is the best base for discovering the Aeolians because it’s the largest island, and smack-dab in the middle of the archipelago. The main departure point to Lipari from mainland Sicily is Milazzo. But don’t do what I did!
I had been visiting Catania and decided to take the train up to Milazzo and stay the night. I wanted to take my time getting there and figure out how the ferries work. That was a waste! The city of Milazzo was heavily bombed in WWII, and other than the promenade, not a lot has been developed SINCE WWII. Venture one street off the promenade and the buildings are very dilapidated. The area feels dodgy, restaurants and hotels are overpriced, and I knew I wouldn’t venture far. It’s also an unattractive petrol port city, which also explains why it was bombed in the war. I would not stay here again. When I told people I was staying in Milazzo, they asked, ‘Why?’ ….Now I know.
If you arrive into Milazzo via train, arrive EARLY in the day, take the bus DIRECTLY to the port, and take the first boat OUT. Milazzo’s train station is a few MILES out of town. You don’t walk it, you have to take a bus or taxi. The inconvenient bus comes once an hour for about $1.50 and a taxi is quoted at $15. It’s pure highway robbery for a 10-minute ride. If you have a long wait for the bus, ask a few others at the station if they want to split a taxi with you. Everyone is going to the same place – to the port of Milazzo to get the hell out!!
Accommodation in Lipari, on the Aeolian Island
You arrive in the port of charming Lipari Town where you find numerous hotels and holiday apartments within walking distance. Since I wanted to be on the beach, I chose the second largest town, Canetto. It’s a 10-minute ride from the port, and there are cheap city buses to take you there for $1.50. In Canetto, you’ll find a lovely stretch of clean beach in a quiet part of the island. If I want a beach, I NEVER stay in a port town. The waters are just not that clean.
I booked a place that offered free transfer, free internet and free breakfast. Everything I needed. When I arrived in port, a man was holding a sign with the name of the apartment complex and within 5 minutes I was on my way.
Visit Lipari Town
There is plenty to see and do in Lipari Town for a day. There are several restaurants and bars along the port area and they have a lovely old town with quaint boutiques and souvenir shops. It’s great for a wander around, then head up to the massive castle and the Lipari Cathedral for a look around, and to see the island and Mediterranean from above.
Take a boat tour around the Island of Lipari
Then, divide your visits of the Aeolian Islands into separate day trips
Visit the Aeolian Islands of Alicudi and Filicudi for peace and quiet
Visiting the therapeutic, volcanic Island of Volcano, and Salina
For adventure, visit Stromboli Island, and along the way, stop in Panarea
Visiting Stromboli Island
Stromboli, Terra di Dio Film museum
Further along the same road you come across the house that Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman stayed in while filming, ‘Stromboli, Terra di Dio.‘ This caused quite a scandal as they were both married to other people at the time. It’s now a museum where you can see the interior as it was, and paraphernalia from the film.
Stromboli has had some major eruptions in the past 10 years and visiting parts of the island are dictated by eruptions and weather. You can trek the crater only with professional guides and full protective gear is necessary, but you can find everything you need on the island.
Seeing Stromboli’s volcano via boat
The other way to see the activity of Stromboli’s volcano is by boat. When you sail around to the other side of the island, you begin to feel the heat. All of a sudden, everyone was looking around to see whether everyone else was feeling the heat. It was like you opened the oven door, and we were quite a distance away. There were other boats in the water that were closer to the Sciara del Fuoco, as it is called, than we were, and we questioned how they could handle the intense heat.
It was amazing and scary at the same time. The whole side of the island was a steaming, slanted, black land mass. It is most spectacular at night when you can see the eruptions in their full glory. Most of the boat tours will go out around dusk, linger around in the water for a bit before heading back to Lipari around 10:30pm.