Italy’s Aeolian Islands, an archipelago of seven small islands located north of Sicily and south of the Amalfi Coast, deserve a spot on your list of dreamy, must-visit destinations.
These days, most of us aren’t overlooking sparkling seas and red bougainvillea spilling over cliffside houses. More likely, our views are of backyards and lively neighborhood streets. Sure, we may be summering at home, but why shouldn’t we dream about travel? Let’s fantasize about exotic getaways and plan upcoming adventures. On that note, I present a glimpse of one of the most dream-worthy destinations I know: Italy’s Aeolian Islands scattered off the coast of Sicily. I visited two of this archipelago’s seven UNESCO-protected isles last summer, and offer this short chronicle to inspire you to dive in and make them part of your future travels.
“Sai guidare un motoscafo?” the Italian dock master asks. Can you drive a boat? “Si,” I respond. “Perfetto!” he exclaims, before he hands me the key and turns away. Off we go, partner Don and I, departing the port of Panarea, the smallest of the seven Aeolian islands. We motor around an outcrop of rocky monoliths jutting from the Tyrrhenian Sea before circling the island’s rugged coastline, occasionally dropping anchor to swim and explore secluded coves and black-pebbled beaches. A few miles away, the island of Stromboli huffs and puffs, sending billows of steam into the cloudless sky. We had hoped to hike the smoldering volcano, but an ongoing eruption closed it to visitors. No problem. We’ll watch the fireworks as we stroll aimlessly through Panarea’s sleepy town, indulge in lazy lunches and savor late dinners in open-sky cafes plying us with Aperol spritzes, seafood pastas and grilled octopus drenched in lemon juice.
On our last day, we tackle an ambitious hike around and over the island. A stone path begins past a limoncello-colored chapel where a young woman carries armloads of fragrant lilies inside for a fairytale wedding. The cobblestone footpath turns into a rocky trail climbing through primitive, cacti-laden terrain and along the basalt cliffs plunging into the rolling sea below. Hours later, the panoramic trek ends with re-entry into the town’s winding streets bordered by whitewashed cottages and terraced gardens. Notably absent are cars, street lights and designer shops, but don’t let that fool you. This place can swing. In July and August, Panarea is the Mediterranean’s magnet for international jet-setters who relish the island’s anti-scene allure as they party on their yachts and dance the nights away on Hotel Raya’s seaside terrace. We visited in early September to avoid the crush.
The following day, a ferry whisks us away to Salina, the second largest and greenest of the islands. It’s rich with olive groves, vineyards, citrus orchards and roads lined with robust caper bushes. We head to Capofaro, a resort that does chic, well-chilled. The low-key retreat is part of a working vineyard where rows of Malvasia grapes stretch from the hillside to the sea’s edge. I amuse laborers with my rough Italian and an offer to help as they harvest the crop by hand. The day closes with a wine tasting and a late-night dinner in Capofaro’s celebrated restaurant. Next on the agenda: a stop at Lingua, a rustic beach club where chaises and colorful umbrellas clutter a deck perched on rocks above the water’s edge. A waterfront path leads to da Alfredo, a casual cafe famous for its granitas. Fig, almond, lemon—who can decide? The evening ends in the main port town of Santa Marina Salina, with a slow-paced passeggiata and dinner at Casa Lo Schiavo, serving local dishes riddled with capers and mint. Of course, no trip to Salina would be complete without a sunset dinner in the remote village of Pollara, made famous by the movie “Il Postino.”
As with all magical getaways, the trip to Panarea and Salina ended far too soon. But with five of the Aeolian Islands yet to explore, I know I’ll be back.
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