Far away, in the middle of the deep, blue sea lie the seven Aeolian Islands. Half way between Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna, this volcanic archipelago just north of Sicily is characterized by craters, private coves, and dramatic sunsets. The Aeolians are the ultimate luxury destination for anyone seeking sun, adventure, and a little dolce vita. So naturally, these tiny islands have always been on my list, and were our first stop on our latest Italian adventure.
After a very long day of travel, we arrived in southern Italy and boarded a helicopter for our transport to the island of Salina, our base for the next four days. Our short flight took us across the Straight of Messina, over the northeast corner of Sicily, and out across the Tyrrhenian Sea. Not only was traveling by helicopter a quick and easy way to be poolside and shedding jet lag in a matter of minutes, but it gave us the awesome perspective of seeing the islands from the air.
Soaring over Vulcano and Lipari, we marveled at the dramatic landscape that is distinctive of this special place. While the islands are close geographically, they are very different from one another.
Farthest west, Filicudi is small, narrow, and steep, drawing walkers and naturalists to its paths, and divers to its shores. It's closest island neighbor, Alicudi, is even smaller, more remote, has no motor vehicles, and few residents. To the east, Salina, verdant and green, is known for its crops of capers, malvasia grapes, and slower pace of agricultural life. Vulcano, a barren island, is characterized by hot springs, mud baths, black sand beaches, and of course, its volcano. Lipari, the commercial center of the islands, is dotted with remnants of its 6,000 years of being inhabited. From abandoned tuna factories to pumice and obsidian mines, the past is very present on Lipari, which still manages an active trade business. To the north, cone shaped Stromboli is an active volcano that, despite its most recent eruption in 2007, manages to maintain a small population, and includes as its residents, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabana. Lastly, picturesque Panarea, with its beautiful white washed homes, is known for attracting the jet set, who come from all over in the summer months to eat at its excellent restaurants, lounge poolside, and "see and be seen" at the Hotel Raya.
Sadly, our time would only allow us to see Salina and Lipari, assuring an eventual return trip.
Waking up at Capofaro is like waking up in a dream. Perched on a cliff with views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the islands of Panarea and Stromboli in the distance, Capofaro is the best luxury hotel on Salina. Nestled within a vineyard, and spread over many acres between the villages of Malfa and Santa Marina, Capofaro is striking and serene. Simple, white washed rooms are scattered throughout the property and appointed to maximize privacy and absorb the view. The friendly and knowledgeable hotel staff are happy to help set you up with a seaside sun bed at the beach club down the road, or arrange for a tour of the islands aboard the hotel's private boat, m/v Don Felipe. Salina is also an excellent island for hiking and exploring on foot. If you aren't out adventuring during the day, feel free to laze away in the sun at the beautifully appointed pool surrounded by soft teak and comfortable day beds. As the sun fades and color begins to streak the sky, hang around the pool for an apertivo - you have never seen capers like the ones they grow and serve on Salina. The restaurant and bar at Capofaro serve wonderful, local cuisine with a focus on whatever is fresh from the sea. Breakfast, included in the room rate, is an amazing assortment of fruit, pastries, cheese and charcuterie. Capofaro knows how to treat its guests; you won't ever want to leave.
Da Alfredo: Sicily is known for its granita, and Da Alfredo is among the best. Located just off the water in the tiny town of Lingua, Da Alfredo is the perfect spot for a slow afternoon. Enjoy one of their delicious Pane Cunzato, an incredible spectacle that is part pizza, part salad, and completely delicious. Follow it up with a granita, in any number of amazing flavors such as refreshing strawberry or lemon, or creamy pistachio. I would eat here every day if I could.
Hotel Signum: The restaurant at the Hotel Signum in the nearby town of Malfa iis the most refined dining experience on Salina. Everything is fresh and thoughtfully prepared by the expertly trained father - daughter team in the kitchen. Dine on the beautiful terrace or inside in the cozy dining room. A visit to Salina is not complete without experiencing a meal at this lovely restaurant.
'Nni Lausta: Just up from the main piazza in Santa Marina, 'Nni Lausta is a great local restaurant serving the catch of the day and traditional southern Italian food. Be sure to eat outside on the veranda on the top floor.
ON THE SIDE
Explore: Rent a scooter or car and drive around the island. Visit the various villages and experience what life is like on Salina.
Swim: A trip to Salina is not complete without at least one visit to Pollara. Pollara is a village of about 70 residents built above the half sunken crater of a volcano. The sheer cliff of the crater plunges to the sea below and is ringed by a beautiful black pebble beach. Swimming at Pollara is a must. To reach the sea, follow the narrow road until it ends, park, and hike down the path to the water. The path doesn't take you to the beach, but to the remnants of a fishing village built into the hillside. It's here, on this rocky, precarious spot, that you can plunge into the warm Tyrrhenian Sea and swim to the rocky beach at the base of the towering caldera. And if the swim isn't the best thing you have experienced in awhile, stick around for sunset, west-facing Pollara captures the dipping sun better than any other place on the island.
Day Trip: Lipari is not the most picturesque of the islands, being as it is the commercial center of the Aeolians, but if you have the time, it is definitely worth taking a day trip for lunch and a stroll through the town. Ferries leave throughout the day from the dock in Santa Marina.
Have lunch at Filippino, a restaurant that has been around for over 100 years. It is a grand restaurant that attracts locals and foreigners alike. The food is spectacular. Should you visit, be sure to order the Tuna Ceviche with pear, and take home a bottle of their house olive oil.
If you have your walking shoes on and are up for a little exploring, take a taxi to the town of Canneto. Have the taxi drop you at the north end of the beach and head out on foot. Follow the stairs and the narrow path towards Spiaggia Bianche (White Beach). The path winds along the cliff and eventually ends at a road that takes you down to the beach. Adjacent to a destroyed tuna factory (they are everywhere in this part of the Mediterranean), Spiaggia Bianche is a good place to have a dip in the sea, and laze under an umbrella with a bottle of white wine. While the beach isn't exactly impressive, the hike to get there does give you an opportunity to walk off your long lunch and cool off in the sea.
Car/Scooter Rental: In Santa Marina, Bongiorno Antonio rents vehicles by the hour. They are hesitant to rent scooters to Americans (apparently we don't have a good track record with two wheelers), so if you decide to rent a car for the day, you are looking at about $70.
Ferries: The Aeolian Islands are reached by fast hydrofoil from the port in Milazzo on Liberty Lines.
Helicopter: The best way to reach the Aeolian Islands is by helicopter from any number of departure points in southern Italy and Sicily. A short flight to the islands aboard Air Panarea gives you geographic perspective of the islands and incredible views of their topography.
Sailing: Though I haven't done it, I can imagine that the best way to see the Aeolian Islands and experience the true dolce vita is from a sailboat. The Sailing Collective is an American outfit offering luxury sailing journeys in locations all around the world. Currently, they organize charters and group sailing trips in the Aeolian Islands and other parts of Italy.
When to go: Summer in the Aeolian Islands is very busy with Italian tourists. Too avoid crowds and ensure a quiet stay, I would suggest traveling in late spring or early fall. When we traveled in September, Salina was pleasantly quiet.
Whats to Come:
Favignana ★ 011.16
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