The Aeolian islands (Isole Eolie in Italian) are a group of 7 islands on the north-eastern coast Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea. These magical islands include the islands of Lipari, Stromboli, Salina, Panarea, Filicudi, Alicudi and Vulcano.
In addition to these 7 main islands, there are also five other very small islands which contribute to form the Aeolian archipelago, including the uninhabited Basiluzzo.
For those of you who don’t know, the Aeolian archipelago obtained its name from Aeolus, keeper of the winds, who the ancient Greeks and Romans believed lived there.
Homer’s Odyssey portrays this mysterious island destination as having cliffs rising “sheer from the sea”. It’s where Odysseus (Ulysses) found himself stranded for a period of time after the Trojan war. This is where Odysseus received the winds of the world in a wineskin bag from Aeolus to ensure his safe sea-voyage home.
Centuries later, in 2000, these seven pearls of Sicily were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for the volcanic phenomena and natural beauty.
Aeolian Island Itinerary for First-timers – 6 days (7 nights)
If you’ve never visited the Aeolian islands then this itinerary may persuade you to go. One week of your life for a lifetime of memories, with the only factor stopping you probably being time and money. The Greek Gods don’t make it easy to visit mythological destinations. These islands are kept hush-hush for good reason.
4 nights on one island
3 nights somewhere else
- Day 1 – Lipari (half day) and Vulcano (half day)
- Day 2 – Panarea
- Day 3 – Salina
- Day 4 – Stromboli (possibly staying one night on the island with a day bag only)
- Day 5 – Filicudi and Alicudi (1 day boat cruise excursion)
- Day 6 – Free time on Lipari or another favoured Aeolian island
Let’s first have a look at the island of Vulcano. Ancient Greeks called this island Therassia and ascribed it to Hephaestus, the God of fire. Romans later renamed the island to Vulcano and believed it to be the chimney of Vulcan’s workshop. Vulcan is the Roman name for Hephaestus by the way, and as you probably can guess, this was the island that introduced the modern word for Volcano.
Here’s a great photo opportunity not to be missed when visiting Vulcano. Stand next to the island’s volcanic crater, with the islands of Lipari and Salina in the horizon and take in this marvellous view.
This would have to be the main drawcard to the island. Fossa di Vulcano, or Gran Cratere (Large Crater), are the remnants of an old volcano that towers over the island’s northeastern shores. The crater has been peacefully steaming away fairly quietly ever since. The last eruption occurred between 1888 to 1890. Hopefully it won’t explode again.
It takes approximately an hour each way to get to the peak. Hopefully the pungent smell of sulphur won’t bother you too much. The other attractions to this island include mud baths and thermal springs. Keep in mind some of them are mildly radioactive. They have time-limit recommendations, like 10 minutes or so, displayed on signs which you should take seriously, especially pregnant ladies.
The pool of Aphrodite is also worth a visit. She apparently bathed in it to remain beautiful. Well, she was married to Hephaestus (Vulcan), so I suppose it could be true.
Make sure you take notice of the Valley of Monsters on the way to the golden crater. This is where you’ll see strange animal-shaped lava formations.
For anyone wanting to stay the night on the island of Vulcano, a great place to stay is the Therasia Resort. It offers fantastic views across the sea to Lipari. The other option is to go there for drinks.
The photo below shows a magical view of Vulcano from the island of Lipari. Vulcano definitely has a mystical quality about it. Imagine seeing this island centuries ago and someone telling you it was Vulcan’s workshop. You probably wouldn’t have dared step foot on the island. There’s no point in making a Greek God angry. How things change.
Lipari is the most populous of all the Aeolian islands. It is the main island of the Aeolian archipelago and for this reason it is very popular with summer tourists. This is where most tourists base themselves when exploring the Aeolian islands. It is easy to go on day trips to the other Aeolian islands from here. Expect to see lively bars, plenty of touristy restaurants and lots of souvenir stands. A big bonus is that Lipari is also considered to be the easiest place to find accomodation.
Here’s a great view of Lipari from Salina. Vulcano is the furthest island in the picture.
There’s a Greek acropolis on Lipari, as well as the very interesting Aeolian Archaeological Museum located in the Castle of Lipari. A Roman sauna cave and spa baths can also be found on the island.
A fantastic hike exists along the west coast leading from the ancient Roman baths of Terme di San Calógero to the kaolin quarry just outside the village of Quattropiani.
A visit to White Beach (Spiaggia Bianca) should also be on your list of things to do in Lipari.
You won’t want to miss on this spectacular photo opportunity. It showcases a beautiful section of Lipari’s coastline with Vulcano in the distance.
It looks like a pretty good Aeolian island base to me.
Panarea is the smallest as well as the most fashionable Aeolian island.
It is very popular with the international jet-set (more aptly yacht-set). It’s exclusive, expensive and stunning. This island also has the best night life, for the rich and beautiful anyway. That said, it’s smaller than Capri, and that’s what they say about that island gem. If you can find a place on the island to stay, go for it.
During summer the marina is crowded with yachts and there are plenty of tourists strolling through the traffic-free pedestrian streets around the village of San Pietro. This beautiful island has fantastic blue water and great diving spots, making it very popular with scuba divers and snorkelers.
The only sandy beach on the island is Zimmari beach, which gets very crowded in August. A short boat trip can take you to Lisca Bianca and Lisca Nera, two of the most fascinating coves of the islets of Panarea. These were ancient extinct volcanic vents that were probably once united, but were later swallowed by the sea.
Panarea has intense activity from underwater fumaroles due to the emission of volcanic gases that push under the Earth’s crust, which is is very common in many volcanic areas.
Panarea will provide dreamy views of Stromboli, such as this one next to the villa’s round white column. Staying somewhere like this is probably why you have to be rich. Maybe you can drop in and take in the view.
Boating around Panarea would be sensational.
You’ll definitely want to spend a bit of time at Cala Giunco. This is probably the best beach in Panarea. It is situated near the prehistoric village to the south and is accessible by a staircase going down to the magnificent inlet of pebbles and crystal clear sea.
The dreamy photo below was taken by a hiker on their way to the summit of Punta del Corvo on Panarea. Wow!
Who wouldn’t want to go to Panarea after watching this video?
Many first-time tourists to Stromboli consider seeing the island’s active volcano as being the trip highlight to the Aeolian islands. Having seen a volcano myself, I have to admit seeing one up close is absolutely amazing. The classic Jules Verne science fiction novel “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” ends in Stromboli. That’s enough to convince me that this volcano is very special.
Be prepared for a smoky eruption every 15 minutes or so.
Off the coast of Stromboli is a rocky isle with a light house on it. The name of this volcanic sea stack is Strombolicchio. It is located 2 km (1.2 miles) to the northeast of the island of Stromboli. Its name in the Sicilian language means Little Stromboli.
Want to climb Stromboli’s active volcano? Bianca will show you how to do it.
You also have the option of watching the eruption from the sea on one of the tourist boats.
Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film “Stromboli” starring Ingrid Bergman gave this island international exposure. You may never get to visit Stromboli, but at least you can watch the film.
The second largest Aeolian island has a very different character to the others. This island pearl is green and lush, whereas the other islands are generally more volcanic in appearance. It is the only island to enjoy natural freshwater springs. Salina has a beautiful forrest of ferns which overhang wonderful beaches.
Salina is where the famous movie “Il Postino – The Postman” was filmed. I highly recommend watching this movie if you haven’t seen it before. You need to watch it. It’s poetry in film. The beautiful bay of Pollara is where you’ll want to go after seeing this magical movie.
Salina islanders think they make the best granita in and around Sicily. With that sort of belief, you’ll definitely want to taste this delicious soft semi-frozen desert on Salina. Have a mulberry granita with cream. There are large mulberry trees scattered in the courtyards of many Eolian country houses. Fresh and delicious, you can’t go wrong.
Wine tasting is also very popular on Salina. Be sure to also taste the Aeolians’ famous sweet Malvasia passito wine.
The capers on Salina are considered to be the best in the world. Keep that in mind as well when you’re hungry. Salina even puts on a Caper Festival every year in Pollara.
Here’s a fantastic view of Salina from the air. Salina’s town is positioned in a valley between twin volcanic peaks, which look like camel humps. Stromboli can be seen in the distance. Looks incredible.
Here’s a view of Salina from Lipari, similar to the feature image of this post. I wonder if anyone ever swims across to the other island.
The Aeolians’ highest point, Monte Fossa delle Felci (962m), can be hiked to take in this beautiful view. You can also see the islands of Filicudi and a distant Alicudi towards the west. On the southeast side, you can look down over Lingua salt lagoon and over to Lipari and Vulcano.
Imagine approaching the island of Filicudi by boat for the first time. I wonder if Odysseus ever made it out this far.
La Canna is the tall volcanic rock next to the island that rises about 74 metres (243 ft) above sea level. What a spectacular sight.
There’s a mysterious August festival called “Filicudi, between myths and legend” which gathers tourists and local islanders together. A decorated boat parade heads towards the Bue Marino grotto. There’s even a sculpture depicting Aeolus in the deep sea. Concerts entertain everyone and it all finishes in fireworks. I wonder what Aeolus looks like. Sounds very interesting.
This is the most isolated island in the Aeolian island group.
There are no roads or cars on this rugged secluded island, just dusty mule paths and stone steps. This is a great island to escape away from the modern world. Saracen pirates once used Alicudi as a hideout. There are very few accomodation options available here. That said, a few of the residents and property owners do rent out their homes as summer retreats.
Here are a couple of awesome views on Alicudi facing towards the island of Filicudi.
The ultimate way to experience the Aeolian islands would have to be to sail around them like Odysseus (Ulysses) did. Whether Aeolus will offer you favourable winds is another story.
How to get to the Aeolian Islands?
The best way to get to the Aeolian islands for non-yacht owners is probably by hydrofoil or ferry from Milazzo, the closest land point in Sicily. You can catch a faster train into Milazzo from other towns in Sicily, which will then save you on slower ocean travel time. The other option if you don’t mind a longer sea voyage is to catch a ferry from Palermo, Cefalù or Messina in the top part of Sicily.
Hydrofoil/Ferry from Milazzo in Sicily
Ferries from Milizzo can drop you off in Lipari or Salina in about 1.5 hours, but it could take anywhere between one to three hours depending on the ferry service. Ferry rides to the island of Lipari are most frequent, with other direct ferry services to other Aeolian islands also available from Milazzo.
Hydrofoil/Ferry from Naples in summer (August)
During summer you can also get a hydrofoil/ferry ride to take you to the Aeolian islands from Italy’s mainland city of Naples. The quickest hydrofoil ride can take you to Lipari in about 5-7 hours, however it can also take much longer depending on the ferry service.
Train ride from Naples to Milazzo, followed by a hydrofoil/ferry ride from Milazzo
The other way to get there from Naples is to catch a train from Naples to Milazzo, which takes around 6-7 hours. The train then goes on a ferry for the short crossing from Italy’s mainland to Siciliy. I can’t say I have ever heard of a train on a ferry before. Sounds like a very unique experience. Once you arrive at the Milazzo train station you’ll also have to catch a bus or taxi to the port.
This last entertaining video of the Aeolian Islands and Panarea is definitely worth watching. The granita desert looks delicious.
I wonder if anyone wants to visit the Aeolian Islands now?
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