Since we started organizing our 2021 trip, we were really curious to explore the Aeolian Islands. Many sailing friends, as well as sailing blogs, had fed that curiosity. It is now our time to taste first-hand the most iconic Sicilian archipelago and see if it is really meant to be one of the best sailing destinations in the Med.
Land of Volcanoes
There are seven significant islands: Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, and Panarea. The present shape of the Aeolian Islands is the result of volcanic activity over a period of 260,000 years (the African continental shelf is in constant movement towards Europe, generating magma, which rises to the surface to form the volcanoes).
There are two active volcanoes – Stromboli and Vulcano. The volcanic activity has also left the islands with very fertile soil that is conducive to the growth of natural flora. The first evidence of Sicilian migration dates 4000–2500 BC, then during the bronze age (1600 – 1250 BC) the Aeolians prospered thanks to maritime commerce.
The islands were later occupied by the Ausonians led by Liparus. who was succeeded by Aeolus whose house, according to the Odyssey by Homer, gave hospitality to Odysseus.
Then many other civilizations dominated the Islands: Greeks, Carthaginians, Roman Empire, Visigoths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Ottoman…the various dominations brought destruction but also a unique heritage of cultures whose presence is well preserved and described at the Archeological Museum of Lipari.
Alicudi & Filicudi
But let’s rewind quickly: on June 4th at 6 am we started the engine, raised the anchor, and left Cefalù behind. We wanted to get to Alicuidi by lunchtime and then continue to Filicudi, where we should have found some safer and better-protected place to drop the anchor.
Alicudi is an island formed by a simple volcano called Filo dell’Arpa. It is the least populated island of all mainly due to its rugged coast. Roads are unpaved meaning that there are basically no cars nor motorbikes around. We have been told that people use donkeys as their main means of transport…but honestly speaking we saw no donkey around.
In Alicudi we stopped for a couple of hours, had a cold beer, and a locally made focaccia, then we paddled back to the boat. Meanwhile, the wind picked up which allowed us to sail to the nearby island of Filicudi.
Filicudi is a small island of nearly 7 km2 (Alicudi is just 5 km2) and is formed by several villages, such as Pecorini Mare and Valdichiesa. I had a swim around the volcanic finger-like rock called La Canna, while Amaia went for a row to the Bue Marino cave, near Punta Perciato. After spending the night anchored in front of the small village of Pecorini, the day after we sailed to Salina.
Salina is the second-largest island in the archipelago. From a distance, Salina looks entirely green with two rounded high mountains and a smooth coastline. More than 400 different types of plants grow on the island and grapes, olives and capers are cultivated.
After mooring in the port of Santa Marina Salina, we rented a scooter and started exploring this beautiful island.
The first unplanned stop was at Capofaro: a modern estate that attracted our attention. We decided to have a closer look. After a nice welcome, the staff walked us through their green Malvasia vineyards which led to the wine shop (with a view!), where we tasted several types of wines: it was the perfect day to start our unguided tour of the island!
In the afternoon, we went to visit Pollara, a small village well known for the cultivation of capers: some local folks suggested checking the Sapori Eoliani a family-run business that offers unique products made exclusively with capers and vegs from Salina. Pollara is also well-known for being the backdrop of the movie Il Postino (The Postman) written by Massimo Troisi. We were told that every afternoon at 6 pm the movie is projected in the nearby church square – the neighbors must be really happy about such a decision…
During the weekdays spent in Salina, we had to work a bit. The good thing is that we found out that from 7 pm till 8 am, it is allowed to moor stern-to in the old port, so we took advantage and spent quite a few nights in Santa Marina Salina, discovering the nice town and its gastronomic offering.
Salina really surprised us and I would strongly recommend anybody to spend at least two or three days discovering this small gem.
It is the largest and most inhabited island in the archipelago. It has several different villages and some breathtaking bays. As we did in Salina, we rented a scooter for a couple of days and explored all its corners.
The main town is Lipari: its truly impressive medieval Castle represents one of the most important centers of the cultural life of the Aeolian Islands and is the repository of a millenary history. Its current appearance derives from the reconstruction, commissioned by the Spaniard Charles V, around 1560.
During the working days, we managed to stay anchored just in front of the Castello. At the weekend, we took a berth for three days at the nearby Pignataro Port. We had the best welcome you could expect at Eolmare, where the staff helped us with all requests we had. If you are going to visit Lipari and are looking for a mooring, don’t think twice and get in touch with them.
We honestly loved the days spent in Lipari and it was great to get to know its people and enjoying the unique culture…we even managed to get our first shot of Covid-19 vaccine!
Vulcano is only 750 meters far from Lipari, the two islands are separated by the Bocche di Vulcano. From Pignataro, it took us less than an hour to get to Vulcanello (formerly separated from Vulcano and today connected by an isthmus).
As soon as we arrived we noticed the submerged hot springs: hot water bubbles that emerge and create a natural jacuzzi right in front of the beach. The smell of sulfur is all around and when the wind blows from land, the rotten eggs smell can be a bit annoying at first, you get used to it after a while, at least we did. In the immediate hinterland area, there are the famous thermal springs, where you can bathe in a mixture of seawater and mud (Pozza dei Fanghi).
Vulcano has contributed the words for volcano in most modern languages. The style of eruption is commonly called a Vulcanian eruption, being the explosive emission of pyroclastic fragments of viscous magmas caused by the high viscosity preventing gases from escaping easily.
And finally, on a sunny and hot day, we waited till 6 pm to avoid the warmest hours, paddled to the nearby beach of Spiaggia Levante, and started our walk to the summit of the crater. After a one-hour walk, we could enjoy an extraordinary view of the archipelago.
Before leaving Vulcano, we spent a full day circumnavigating the island and managed to explore its main beaches and bays. We really hope to be back to Vulcano soon, we wouldn’t mind doing all the things we did and see everything again and again.
Panarea & Stromboli
After more than two weeks jumping from one island to the next one, our days in the Aeolian Islands were coming to an end. But before leaving we wanted to explore Panarea and Stromboli.
Panarea is the smallest of the seven inhabited islands. There are currently about 300-ish residents living on the island year-round; however, the population increases dramatically in summer with the influx of tourists.
It’s been described as the epicenter of the chicest summer scene in the Mediterranean. Honestly speaking, the island offers some amazing bays and its rocks and cliffs are among the most unique we have ever seen, BUT the touristic focus is probably too evident, making the island losing that familiar feeling that we had felt in all the other islands we visited.
For those of you who like some history: there is even archaeological evidence on the island dating back to Mycenaean inhabitants (~ 1200 BC).
From Panarea our next and last stop was Stromboli. Strabo writes that people believed that this is where Aeolus lived. The volcano has erupted many times and is constantly active with minor eruptions, often visible from many points on the island and from the surrounding sea, giving rise to the island’s nickname Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.
Friends recommended not to miss the night-guided excursion to the crater. And so we did: after leaving Bolero secured at a buoy (leaving a boat unattended at the anchor in Stromboli might not be a good idea as the island offers minimal shelter and the rocky bottom doesn’t ensure good holding in case of a wind uptake), we paddled to the beach of Ficogrande and walked to the nearby village.
From there we joined a group guided by Mario, a local guide working for Magmatrek. It took us a few hours to reach the highest point from where we could see and feel the amazing activity of Stromboli: it was indeed the icing on the cake. Stromboli eruption at night is a breathtaking experience, something that I wish anybody can experience at least once in his life!
So, to the original question: Aeolian Islands: is it the best sailing spot in the Med? Well, we’ll need to sail way more and explore the Mediterranean sea further if we really want to be able to answer the question.
We had high expectations and honestly we feel that this archipelago will be difficult to be beaten by other destinations, any time soon. If you have the chance, don’t think twice and book a trip to the Aeolian Islands, (but avoid July and August).