Lay of the Land
These seven Unseco-protected islands, rising from the vivid blues of the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, are each completely different in character and style. But all share an uncontested place as one of the Mediterranean’s best summer destinations.
Lipari: The largest of the Aeolian islands, Lipari has an acclaimed Archeological Museum. Many boats pass via Lipari en route to some of the smaller islands, so lovers of antiquities should take a few hours to explore the trove before journeying onward.
Salina: The second-largest island is known for its verdant landscapes (much more so than the other islands with their sparse vegetation). Boats arrive in the sleepy town of Santa Marina, which has some cute shops and restaurants. There are four other villages, including Malfa (home of the hotel Signum), Pollara (where Il Postino was filmed and a preferred spot for sunset viewing), and seaside Lingua (a good place for a seaside lunch.) Arguably the Aeolian Island’s most luxurious resort is also located on Salina: the romantic Capofaro, which lies in a working vineyard.
Panarea: The Aeolian’s (in)famous jetset and party destination is actually a sleepy, car-free island in the off-season, including the spring and fall, both glorious times to visit. Boats arrive in the harbor of San Pietro, home of the legendary Hotel Raya, which seems to take up half the island with its restaurants, shops, nightclub and rooms scattered in different buildings.
Stromboli: The Aeolians most striking island is surely the smoldering (literally) Stromboli, a massive volcano whose tip rises out of the sea like a child’s perfect drawing. Long gone are the days captured by Roberto Rossellini and his then-muse Ingrid Bergman in the 1950 film Stromboli. Stromboli has become a mainstream destination, as evidenced by several B&Bs and many restaurants lining its northeastern flank.
The other islands of Vulcano, Alicudi and Filicudi are less visited (those not enamored by the idea of being immersed in a scent of sulphur all day should avoid Vulcano). Filicudi offers some spectacular hiking, as well as the lovely seaside albergo La Sirena, where you can have a romantic meal.
The best way to arrive is, certo, on your own yacht. Moored off the shores of these spectacular islands, you can take advantage of the island’s dining and nightlife scenes but can escape when the crowds become too intense.
But if you’re planning to stay on land (the best hotels are on Salina and Panarea), then the best way to arrive is via thraghetto (ferry). There are two companies that operate out of a variety of Sicilian ports, including Palermo, Milazzo and Messina, but the one with the most ferries is Ustica Lines (www.usticalines.it/en).
Good to Know: Beaches
Like with many other Mediterranean destinations, there are barely any sand beaches in the Aeolians. Rather, there are small coves, most of them with pebbles, and even the sandy patches have the coarse, dark-brown-to-black sand found in volcanic places.
Who Should Go
The Aeolians are breathtaking in their natural beauty and offer a lot to do, from hiking and volcano climbing to snorkeling, fishing and diving. They are, however, better geared towards adults or families with older children. Those with teenagers in tow will be happiest on car-free Panarea, where everything is reachable on foot.
On Salina, to get around you will need a moto-scooter, which can be a bit daunting at first on the roads that snake up and down the mountain-side. Overall, the islands are a supremely romantic destination, and best geared towards active couples who like to explore. Salina’s Capofaro, which has a glorious pool, is more of a flop-and-drop resort, but it’s not seaside, so anyone who wants to swim in the Tyrrhenian Sea has to take a drive.