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Aeolian Islands Panarea Cruises

The Aeolian Islands provide an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction and ongoing volcanic phenomena. Studied since at least the 18th century, the islands have illustrated two of the types of eruption (Vulcanian and Strombolian) to vulcanology and so have featured prominently in the education of all geoscientists for over 200 years. The site still continues to enrich the field of vulcanological studies.

The Greeks colonized these islands around 580 BC and named them after the mythical figure Aeolus. According to Homer, this local god-king kept the winds bottled up in a cave. When Odysseus came by on his long trip home, he was given a favorable wind, but he accidentally released it from its bag and so was blown off course. All the world's winds do seem to converge here at times, though in summer it's as likely to be still and hot as wild and tempestuous. The difficulties of life in these islands led most of the inhabitants to emigrate to the US a century ago, so you will find them sparsely populated today. Come to the Aeolians to see the extensive Greek ruins on Lipari, but mostly to swim and dive in the crystalline seas and to sunbathe on the myriad beaches and rocky shores. You can get here from Palermo and Messina, but the best connections are the ferries and aliscafi from Milazzo to Lipari. Smaller boats connect Lipari and the other islands daily.

Lipari is the main island, and generally offers the best accommodations. The people are warm and friendly, and their town's romantic citadel offers an uninterrupted record of its inhabitants from Neolithic times, featuring an extensive acropolis. If you're feeling energetic, hike to the top of Mount Sant'Angelo: the breathtaking view will greatly repay your efforts. Lipari's beaches are black, thanks to the obsidian which made it prosperous in ancient times.

Take day trips to the other islands. Vulcano, an extinct volcano inhabited by 400 islanders, is studded with fantastic formations, both above ground and under water. Stromboli, the tragic island made famous in Roberto Rossellini's film of the same name (starring Ingrid Bergman), features two miniscule towns on opposite sides of a mildly active volcano. Salina's slopes are dotted with vineyards that produce a heady malvasÐ ¼a; its waters are populated with fish and octopus. Take home some of the local capers packed in salt: until you've tried them this way, you'll never really know what a true caper tastes like (if you don't like capers, you may discover it's really the vinegar they're usually packed in you don't like, not the capers). Tiny Panarea is perhaps the most picturesque island, with its stark white houses and brilliant yellow ginestra bushes; its uninhabited satellite Basiluzzo might remind you of Delos, although its ruins are Roman. Filicudi (and smaller Alicudi) are both blessed with magnificent shores and underwater vistas; a popular outing is to Filicudi's Grotto of the Sea Lion.