Isole Eolie – Aeolian Islands

This is an excerpt from the book “Sicily”.

Lipari - Photo © Sossio
Lipari – Photo © Sossio

The Aeolian islands (Isole Eolie) are a group of attractive islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea about 25-50km north of Sicily in Italy. Formerly off the beaten track, this diverse group of volcanic islands is becoming more popular and can be very busy during July and August.

The Islands :

  • Lipari  – the main island and the main town (called Lipari as well) is the transport hub, with plenty of hotels and makes a good base.
  • Vulcano – right next to Lipari, this island is dominated by the Gran Cratere volcano cone giving off clouds of sulphurous gas. This peak gives great views. The island is popular for its beaches and mud baths.
  • Salina is lush and hilly – great for a relaxing walk. Some of the film Il Postino was shot here.
  • Panarea – a smaller, upmarket island with great views across to Stromboli.
  • Stromboli – the most remote of the islands, it is little more than a volcano rising out of the sea. Popular for trips out at night to see magma spurting out of the cone.
  • Filcudi and Alicudi lie to the West and are much less visited, particularly Alicudi, which is still primarily agrarian.

Communication

Although local dialects of Sicilian are spoken among the locals, the traveler will find that standard Italian is also spoken by most people he will encounter. Those involved in the tourist trade may also speak some English, German, or French. Cellular telephone coverage is dependable in the settled areas, but access to the internet is rare. There are a few internet cafes in Lipari Town.

Getting There

There are frequent car ferries and much quicker hydrofoils from Milazzo and Messina on Sicily, and from Reggio di Calabria on the mainland, to and between the islands. Most call first at Lipari, and then proceed to the other islands. Ferries are frequent in Summer, with fewer during Spring, Autumn and Winter and on Sundays. For timetables see SIREMAR, Ustica Lines and NGI. It is important to check the timetables in advance, and to allow plenty of time for connections, as boats can be early or late.

A few car ferries a week also continue on to Naples (see SNAV) and during the summer hydrofoils run to and from Naples, Cefalu, Palermo and Messina.

Lipari - Photo © Sossio
Lipari – Photo © Sossio

The Aeolian Islands are quite remote, which is part of their appeal. No air travel is available to the archipelago, except for the very expensive helicopter service which runs during high season from the Catania airport. For more information see Air Panarea. Most international travelers, then, will arrive at the airport of either Palermo or Catania airport in Sicily, or Reggio di Calabria, across the straits of Messina on the mainland.

Although the Reggio airport is relatively near the port, boats from Reggio are infrequent. Likewise, only a few ferries per day run from Palermo during high season, and the airport is far from the city.

These ports are best used by the traveler  who is already in Italy, as is Naples, a much longer boat trip that is convenient for travelers arriving by plane or train in Naples from points north.

For the traveler  arriving directly from abroad, numerous budget airlines have routes from around Europe to Catania. From there, one can take the train, or an express bus, to Messina, connecting to a boat; or, at Messina, one can connect to a second train or bus to Milazzo, which has by far the most boat departures. Although it is convenient to change trains in Messina, the Milazzo train station is a few miles from the port. On the other hand, the bus from Catania arrives at the train station, while the bus for Milazzo departs from a separate bus station a few blocks away. Ask for help at the information booth outside the train station.

One express bus per day departs from Catania airport for Milazzo, but arrives there so late as to miss the boat for certain of the islands. One may wish to spend the first night in Lipari, with its charming town, and then depart for the outlying islands. As another alternative, the car rental agencies have special deals allowing the traveler  the use of a car one-way from Catania to Milazzo – inquire in advance as these deals may not be available without reservations. The car rental agencies in Milazzo are a few blocks from the port.

Aeolian Islands map

Getting Around

The larger islands, Lipari, Vulcano and Salina have quite good bus services. Timetables are available at the tourist offices in each island’s port. Those islands also have scooters for rent, and are the only of the islands with comprehensive systems of roads. Panarea and Stromboli are small enough to have no roads or automobiles to speak of; Panarea in particular is completely accessible by foot. Alicudi and Filicudi are so remote that they have little in the way of developed tourist industries or infrastructure.

On those islands, transport from the port, and scooter rental, should be arranged with one’s innkeeper. Boat rental is also popular for touring the periphery of each island; although the small boats for rent are not adequate for travel between the islands, but are popular for the excursion from Panarea to the islets of Basiluzzo and Drauto.

Guided tours in the Aeolian Islands >>>
More photos of Lipari >>>