Visit the Aeolian Islands in Sicily
The beautiful Aeolian Islands lie just an hour off the northeast coast of Sicily. They are often referred to as the Eolian Islands, 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 of Sicily 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 Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, and a lot depends on where you position yourself and how much time you have.
For a quick visit to the Aeolian Islands, Sicily take a day trip
If you are visiting Taormina or Cefalu, there are several tour companies offering day trips to the Sicilian Aeolian islands. The round trip price is around $70, and takes the entire day. It can be a bit of a schlog! The ferries to the Aeolian Islands leave early in the morning, return late at night and include 2-3 islands. The commentary will most-likely be in multiple languages as well. This does not give much time to explore any of the islands, considering the time it takes by ferry to get there, but it’s a great introduction to the Aeolian Islands.
Take a ferry from Palermo to visit the Aeolian Islands
If you are visiting Palermo, you can reach the Eolian island of Alicudi in nearly 2 hours for about $55 one way, and the island of Lipari in 4 hours for about $70. Both Ferries Direct and Liberty Lines are great websites for information about travel days, times, costs and to book tickets ahead of time.
Ferry From Naples to the Aeolian Islands Sicily if you are visiting Sorrento
If you are visiting Sorrento, first check out Universe Viajero’s article on what to see and do. It’s one of my favorite towns on the Amalfi Coast. From there, go back up to Naples to catch the boat to the Eolian Island of Lipari on the SNAV, Alilauro and the Siremar lines, but it will take longer. I’d take this route if you are looking for an overnight experience or a long, day experience on a ferry to the Aeolian Islands. Times range from 6.5 hrs to nearly 14 hrs to arrive in Lipari from Naples. Mind you, I’ve met some interesting people sitting on a ferry deck in the Mediterranean for hours, so if you have the time and inclination, try it!
Ferry From Tropea, Calabria to the Eolian Islands
From beautiful Tropea on the Calabrian coast, you can take a 12-hour mini cruise and visit Lipari , Volcano and Stromboli Islands for about $55. It’s a long day, but you’ll be happy you did.
Ferries companies to the Eolian 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.
Since I wanted to spend a week there, I booked an apartment. I love living like a local, making coffee when I want and whipping up a fresh meal with ingredients I find at the local market. This time I stayed at La Villetta Residence, which I highly recommend. I had a super 1-bed apartment with a massive terrace.
The breakfast is excellent, and there’s a pool and jacuzzi if you are tired of the beach. My only gripe was the internet. It’s a shame, because although I stayed 5 nights, I would have stayed another week. The staff are like family, very accommodating, and the apartments are really well-kitted out. I seriously could have stayed for months! I loved the place!!! Prices range from $60-110 a night.
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
There’s plenty to see around Lipari from the water, so take a day trip by boat. In Lipari Town and Canetto, you will find several kiosks and shops selling excursions around the island, and to other islands. There is a lot of competition with one another for similar routes, so compare prices. I decided to take a ‘Round the Lipari Island Boat Tour’ to orient myself. It’s a great way to see the entire of Lipari Island. The tour is from about 9-5, for only about $25 and you stop at White Beach to swim, Acquacalda for lunch, the abandoned pumice factory, and a few other stops for swimming and snorkelling. There were only about 15 people on our boat.
Then, divide your visits of the Aeolian Islands into separate day trips
From the same port areas of Lipari and Canetto you can do a day trip to visit the other islands. Lipari is in the middle of them all, so you can go in one direction and see Alicudi and Filicudi one day; Vulcano and Salina another, and Panarea and Stromboli on yet another.
Visit the Aeolian Islands of Alicudi and Filicudi for peace and quiet
The islands of Alicudi and Filicudi are quite quiet and isolated. They are also the most remote. These extinct volcanos are only 9 miles apart and if you are looking for peace and quiet, these are the islands to visit. Alicudi only recently received electricity and you’ll share the island with peasants who enjoy tending to their caper and olive groves. Transport is still by donkey! You also need to go on days when the winds are calm, as landing on these islands can be a challenge. Trips cost around $45 for a day visit.
Filicudi is a bit larger with around 350 inhabitants and there are some nice bars and restaurants serving fresh seafood. This is more of a romantic’s paradise. To best see these islands, stay a night on Filicudi. They are a distance from Lipari and you may feel rushed with the ferry itinerary.
Visiting the therapeutic, volcanic Island of Volcano, and Salina
The gently-fuming, volcanic island, Volcano, is a real stinker! Literally! It’s only 12 miles from the port of Milazzo and what hits you is it’s beauty and putrid smell! The sulphur stench here is quite strong and oozes out of the cracks in the ground. But don’t worry. Volcano last erupted in 1888. If you are looking to laze around in therapeutic mud baths and hot, bubbly, sulphur steams, this will be right up your alley!
The island of Salina is a very green gem with a nature preserve dedicated to preserving two volcanos covered by heavy brush: Fossa del Felci and Monte Pirri. It’s also the place where segments of the movie, “Il Postino,” starring Neapolitan actor, Massimo Troisi, were filmed. This island is big on capers and if you are there in June, you will happen upon the Caper Festival. They also produce a lot of salt! Just think of the word, saline.
For adventure, visit Stromboli Island, and along the way, stop in Panarea
From Lipari, Panarea island is the first stop on this day trip. Panarea is quite small with nearly 300 residents and is the second smallest of the eight Aeolian islands. In 2011, W magazine described it as, “the epicenter of the chicest summer scene in the Mediterranean.” Quite a notably feat! It’s frequented by a variety of celebrities who more than likely landed there via helicopter on Air Panarea for romantic escapes and yachting excursions. It’s small, quiet, chic, with a few boutique shops and is full of low-key charm. Think Capri, but a little further out and less crowded.
Visiting Stromboli Island
Stromboli Island is for the thrill-seeker. It’s the most dramatic of the Aeolian islands because of it’s well-known volcano that’s been active for 100,000 years. When you near Stromboli via boat, you cannot imagine that there is an active volcano just on the other side of the island. As I landed at the port of Stromboli, I wondered how the 500 or so inhabitants of the island felt knowing their entire existence could be blown away in an instance. I guess since Stromboli lets off steam all the time, the chances of a huge eruption are low, but nothing like living on the edge…literally.
You arrive in the port town where you’ll find shops and restaurants and a quaint lane leading up to Stromboli village. There you’ll find the cathedral in the square along with some bars, restaurants and a few fruit and vegetable sellers.
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. Other boats in the water 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.
In all, it was a fantastic tour for a mere $40 and was the highlight of visiting the Aeolians. I went with a group out of Lipari on the Regina dei Mari tour boat. Really quality and professional operators. Highly recommended.
Visiting the Aeolian Islands, Sicily
The Aeolian Islands are some of the most amazing islands you’ll see in the Mediterranean, and Italy has to be one of my favorite countries. Take some time to get to know the islands and appreciate them for what they have to offer.
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