Nestled in the corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north-east coast of Sicily, you’ll find the Aeolian Islands. This volcanic archipelago is comprised of eight main islands; Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Basiluzzo. Named for the demigod of the winds- Aeolus, the islands are famous for their volcanic action and thermal ‘healing’ waters, attracting around 200,000 tourists a year.
I first heard about the famous island of Stromboli from a fellow Aussie I met in Naples. She described an island which regularly produced a flow of larva into the sea, creating a spectacular contrast between fire and water and earning the island the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. Not surprisingly, the famous eruptions and flow of lava is best viewed in the evening against a dark sky, with several tour companies offering evening cruises. While I didn’t have a chance to visit Stromboli during my trip to Sicily, I did get to two of the other islands in the archipelago and absolutely loved the experience- I can’t recommend the Aeolian Islands highly enough!
Part of the reason I was unable to get to Stromboli was the lack of information or tour options I was able to find online. The only day trip I could find left from the eastern side of Sicily, at Taormina and involved a 1+ hour coach trip to get to the northern town of Milazzo, followed by a full day of island hopping and then another coach back. It sounded dauntingly exhausting.
So we decided to stay in Milazzo for a few nights, where I managed to find an amazing AirBnB directly across from a beach with the clearest green water I’ve ever seen. As is the case in much of Italy, Milazzo encompasses both fascinating ancient history and stunning scenery. Our apartment was also located beneath a large cliff, on top of which castle ruins perch on a site that was first fortified in 4,000 BC, and has experienced a rich history ever since
It was then our AirBnB hosts that then recommended two local companies (Tarnav and Navisal) that offered a range of trips out to the islands from the Milazzo port. These options were not only so much more diverse than the single option I could find online but also so much more affordable. I definitely recommend staying a few days in Milazzo, as the perfect jumping off point to explore the beautiful and varied Aeolian Islands as well as exploring the town, castle and deliciously clear sea.
The largest and most populated of the Aoelian Islands, Lipari is a wonderful spot to spend the day. There’s a charming port town with a plethora of restaurants and cafes offering cool drinks, Italian lunch fare and of course gelato. The castle ruins perched above the town offer stunning coastal views and there’s also a church and museum to explore. The winding streets provide an immersion in the local culture and there are also many shopping opportunities. If you have more time, the further reaches of the island, including four other villages, can also be explored by foot or bus.
As you might guess from the name, the big attraction on this island is a volcano crater. This volcano is one of four non-submarine active volcanoes in Italy, with bright yellow sulfur gas and powder visible from the top of the crater. It’s around an hour walk from the port, firstly along a quietish road and then up the side of a mountain to the crater. Here you can spend another half hour or so walking around the crater and taking in the scenery. While I met many other people climbing up the mountain, I only came across one other person exploring the crater itself, adding to the eerie vibe of the place. The climb also rewards you with stunning views of the port town, beach and neighbouring islands.
I then rushed back down the hill for a quick dip in the thermal ‘healing’ waters of the beach before getting the boat back to the mainland. The water was warm and a little waxy feeling. A one point my foot moved the sand away and the rock beneath was so very hot- definitely an interesting experience! There’s also a sectioned off mud bath area that costs a few euro to enter and a few more if you want a shower afterwards. The mud is purportedly great for your skin and many people slather it on and bake in the sun.
I hope one day you also get to explore this stunning Archipelago. Next up, Ravello- my favourite town in all of Italy!