I first found out about the Aeolian Islands fifteen years ago. It was a typical wet, cold and grey winter’s day in London when I read an article about the seven Islands off the northern coast of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The photographs of dramatic volcanic cliffs plunging into the sea, sleepy villages and colourful fishing boats in turquoise clear waters captured my attention, and I began dreaming of the Sicilian sun and sea. It was not so challenging for me, an Australian, to conjure up feelings of hot summers by the sea, as I spent most of my childhood experiencing just that. The island that particularly caught my eye was Salina, the greenest of all the islands and the backdrop of the well-known film Il Postino.
I must have been desperate for a holiday, as I called my friend immediately after reading about the islands and said, “I know where I’m going for the summer holidays. Do you want to come to Salina?”
It was decided we would go in June. I soon discovered that we would need to take every form of transport to arrive in Salina: train, plane, bus, boat and car–not exactly carbon-friendly. Despite the 13-hour day of travel, I felt a sense of calmness upon arrival that one hankers for after living too long in a big city. I don’t know if it was the volcanic energy, the sea air, the vivid colours, the heavenly flavoursome food, or just the remoteness of being on an island (or most likely, a combination of all of these things), but Salina made me feel calm, free and joyful. Little did I realise this would be the first of many magical journeys to Salina and a place to call home.
Fast forward two years and Salina was still very much imprinted in my consciousness. I was keen to explore more of the Aeolian Islands and to my surprise, a chance encounter with an Australian man at a friend’s wedding in Sydney, Australia was the catalyst for that return. That mystery man I danced with was living in Sydney and I was still living in London, so if we were to see one another again, one of us would need to orchestrate a meet up.
Three months later, mystery man Paul suggested we meet up on the Aeolian Islands. I was surprised that he even knew about the Aeolian Islands: most Europeans haven’t even heard of the Aeolian islands, let alone Australians. I jumped at the chance to revisit the islands, despite some trepidation about being stuck on a remote island in Sicily with someone I hardly knew. But we both decided to dive in and embrace this crazy idea of meeting up again, even though we’d only met once before. With backgrounds in opera and film, along with a shared passion for old movies, we got creative about our rendezvous plan. Our first idea was to meet on top of Stromboli, an active volcano, as in the movie Stromboli, directed by Roberto Rossellini and starring Ingrid Bergman. We soon discovered, after talking to a few mountain guides, that it would be a challenge for us to make it to the top without bumping into one another, as well as feeling very hot, sweaty and unattractive by the time we got there. (The Stromboli guide was impressed by our romantic and audacious “first date” plan, however.)
As I already knew a little bit about the island, we chose Salina instead and based our first date on the movie Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn (me) and Gregory Peck (Paul). We renamed our crazy adventure the “Aeolian Holiday”. I left Paul in charge of the Aeolian Holiday script.
Paul arrived in Salina a day earlier than me. When I arrived at the port, I quickly changed into my Audrey Hepburn costume (picture long flowing dress, large hat and oversized sunglasses), swiftly taking the aliscafo (hydrofoil) with my suitcase to Salina. The locals were perplexed and bemused by my presence on the boat: I shared my edited version of the story in my stilted Italian to the captain, who was swept away by the romance of it all and asked me to come to the bridge to share the story with the rest of his crew.
At this stage, I felt like I was in a mixture of an opera and a romantic comedy, not knowing how the script would end. Paul texted me “go with the script”, but I wasn’t sure which script we were going with: Stromboli, Il Postino or Roman Holiday? Or a mixture of all three? But I felt assured by the captain and crew’s passionate enthusiasm and encouragement, as if they were part of the cast in our Aeolian Holiday.
Once I arrived at Santa Marina port in Salina, the sun was beginning to set and there was no Paul in sight: I began to panic. Out of nowhere, two local, straggly teenage boys came towards me holding a board with the film poster from Roman Holiday that was replaced with the title “Aeolian Holiday”. They were very animated and shouted, “Vieni qui Caterina!” (“Come here Kathryn!”), as if they already knew me. They took my luggage and guided me to a small boat moored around the corner. I jumped aboard with a toothless, rugged skipper, who motored me around the island towards the port of Malfa. At this stage, Paul was still texting “go with the script” and I was moved to tears, prompted by underlying nervousness and intense energy of my surroundings–a spectacular sunset, lush green mountains and black volcanic rocks protruding out of a turquoise blue sea.
Once I arrived at Malfa port, I was ushered to Punta Scario Hotel, where I was guided towards Room 6, located on the cliff, overlooking the sea. I was literally pushed by the hotel staff through the door and greeted by Paul, dressed in a black suit and holding a movie camera.
We had a fabulous “first date” and first kiss on the island of Salina. Two years later, we were married in Malfa’s square by the local mayor and all the locals attended, feeling they were part of that original Aeolian Holiday script.
Our passionate love affair with Salina continues to this day. We have returned to the island many times and have explored the other six, though Salina is the one that will always have our hearts and the one we decided to buy a house on. Renovating the Aeolian house, which was once a rudere (ruin) was a labour of love; we completed it around the same time I gave birth to my daughter Isabella.
So it seems our Aeolian Holiday script continues and the colourful cast keeps growing!
I could never have imagined that my initial curiosity in these remote Aeolian islands would have been the catalyst for such an epic journey between London, Sydney and Salina and from which love, romance, adventure, passion and creativity would flourish. Salina, known as the “heart” of the seven islands, captured ours.