Our acquaintance with Sicily started in Catania. At first glance, the City captivates with its cosy streets and endless songs of swallows, smiles of local residents and ancient architecture. It is imperative to devote two to three days to this city, soaking up its long-lived soul, before setting off to meet the infamous Mount Etna, which majestically watches over the inhabitants, occasionally flaring up and flashing its fiery glow upon the streets below.
We did not hesitate in agreeing to the proposal from our Airbnb host, Santo, to spend one day with him at the foot of Mount Etna. Before our departure, we breakfasted in the city’s main square, marveling over the ‘real’ Italian cappuccino that we guzzled down alongside a variety of freshly baked Sicilian pastries. If not to champion this breakfast of joys, we ate it whilst observing the sea horizon from one side and the snowcap of the volcano from another.
Persuaded by an encouraging Santo, we abandoned our original plan of staying at the base of the volcano and climbed to the top – a feat that takes just under two hours but is well and beyond worth the trek. With Santo as our tour guide, we were led to views that took our breath away and where we were able to appreciate at full the colossal scale and force of nature of the volcano.
Tip: if you plan to go up to these phenomenal craters, be sure to use the services of private guides so as to avoid the crowds and fully enjoy the beauty and grandeur of this place.
It was here that our journey from mainland Sicily to the volcanic islands began. We arrived at this idyllic port the day before setting sail to meet with the crew and check into the boat. After purchasing here all the necessary equipment for the week ahead at sea we were ready to go.
Our first stop-off on our tour of the Aeolian islands was Lipari; the largest of the seven islands and famed for its covering of the light and white Pumice stone, the remnants of the last volcanic activity. Be sure to stroll along the main street of the town, which leads to the ancient fortress. Climbing the island’s many stairs, travellers can overlook the city and neighbouring islands.
(Faro Di Strombolicchio)
After spending the night in the port of Lipari, we sailed to the Island of Stromboli. However, before reaching our destination we were greeted by the basaltic rock of Strombolicchio, a remnant of the original volcano that created the Island of Stromboli. The rock is located 2km to the northeast of the island and is known to the Strombolian locals as the father of the island. In 1926 a lighthouse was built on its summit, powered by solar energy, and fully automated; it can be reached by a concrete stairway of 200 steps.
This fabulous island is an active volcano that never sleeps, continuously breathing and spewing out its gases and lava. We arrived here with a mission to climb to the top. Many of our team did not have the special shoes or sticks for hiking, however we did not need to fret as there were rental points on every corner. Our guide gave us all the necessary helmets and we set off to conquer the mountains. A three-hour climb along a winding path led us at sunset to the craters of Stromboli Volcano. Against the backdrop of an orange sunset, the wind carried black dust and an unbearable smell of gas. Our throats tickled, tears flowed from our eyes but our hearts trembled with every thunderous roar and flash of glowing red lava. This was the most beautiful experience; one of the wonders of the world!
A few tips for climbing the Volcano:
⁃ Be sure to bring a flashlight with you because the descent will take place after sunset.
⁃ A mask or bandana will save you from volcanic dust.
⁃ A sandwich or a piece of chocolate will give you strength for a steep descent.
⁃ Bring a bottle of water or 3!
⁃ Pack a light jacket or sweater as it can get a little chilly on the descent.
⁃ A second pair of socks help to block volcanic dust clogging up your shoes.
⁃ Hiking sticks are a great support!
A magical place that is perfect for regaining strength after the hike of Stromboli. The island is large and has numerous places of interest to visit. Near our marina was a rental point for a variety of vehicles.
Tip from us: take a classic car- it is more comfortable and safer for travel over long distances along winding roads.
We managed to visit Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia, a hotel resort that boasts a beautiful vineyard, growing their own special variety of the Malvasia grape. It is considered the most noble fruit of the Aeolian Islands. The low acidity and aroma of local herbs make the grape variety unique. We also got to visit Pollara, where the locals still remember the making of the film Il Postino and sell all kinds of related souvenir products. A must-see spot is the black sand beach at Malfa.
There is no berth for sailing boats in Panarea, the smallest of the Aeolian islands, so we anchored in the bay opposite the town. Cars are banned on the island and have been replaced instead by electric golf carts, that if never experienced before can give quite a shock as they swerve up and down and around every bend of the island’s narrow cobbled streets. Panarea attracts a glamorous crowd and numerous trendy bars line the port, allowing vacationers to sip their cocktails whilst watching the erupting Stromboli from afar.
This island got its name from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire (including volcanic lava), and is hence seen as the ‘father’ of all Earth’s volcanoes. At an impressive 400 meters height and with three volcanic centres, the island has remained dormant since its last eruption in 1888, but will undoubtedly give any traveller to the island a lingering, uneasy feeling of the vast natural energy that lies within. The surface is covered in rusty spots of iron oxides and the various craters and the many fumerolles expel sulphur smelling gases. Incredibly we still had the energy after the Stromboli climb to make our way up to the ‘Gran Cratere’, a 175m deep funnel-shaped crater that lies at the summit of the island. The views from atop are not ones to miss, offering a spectacular bird’s-eye vision of the six other islands, which stretch one after the other like glistening beads amid the blue of the sea.
Tip: It is better to reach the summit before sunset and wear closed shoes.