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Mountains of fire

Stunning natural beauty, unique works of art, unforgettable cuisine: Sicily's Aeolian islands.

Mountains of fire

Lipari, Vulcano, Panarea, Stromboli, Salina, Alicudi, and Filicudi: the names of the splendid islands of volcanic origin which together form the Aeolian or Lipari archipelago, a territory which falls under the jurisdiction of the province of Messina. A few numbers: twenty towns, 4 districts, a population of 12.000, a total surface area of 115 square kilometers. The best way to reach the islands is to take a ferry boat or hydrofoil from Milazzo, the closest port. An alternative route is that from Palermo to Salina, with stops available at both Alicudi and Filicudi. Boats also depart from Naples for Stromboli, Panarea, Salina, Lipari, Vulcano and Milazzo. The islands are perfect to explore by boat.

Our journey across the archipelago starts on the largest of the islands, that of Lipari, located between Salina and Vulcano. The towns of Canneto and Acquacalda are situated by the coast whilst Pianoconte and Quattropani are located on the mountainside. The town of Lipari is situated in the South East of the island. Numerous the churches to visit; from the Church of the Addolorata to the Church of the Immacolata and the Cathedral dedicated to San Bartolomeo, Patron Saint of the Aeolian islands. The most significant site is, without doubt, the Archaeological Museum of the Aeolian islands, founded in 1950 and home to a fascinating collection of sculptures, vases and artefacts of every genre, the remains of ancient civilisations, discovered in the course of numerous underwater explorations.

The island of Vulcano is a veritable kaleidoscope of colors; the lively yellow of the sulphur, the numerous shades of grey of the sand, the intense black of the volcanic rocks. The inhabitants live in the towns of Vulcano Porto and Vulcano Piano (the first by the sea and the second on the high ground to the south of the island). Three the craters which distinguish the morphology of the territory: Vulcanello; at 123 meters the lowest, Della Fossa, 391 meters high and subject of constant scientific monitoring, and Monte Aria which, with its 500 meters above sea level, is by far the highest of the three.

One way of experiencing the island is to climb up to the top of these colossal craters, and especially to that of the Della Fossa Crater, the most imposing and, potentially, the most frightening. To reach the mouth of the crater, visitors walk for some 3 hours along a pathway zigzagging past active geezers which have lent the land an intense yellow glow. The expenditure of energy required to reach the tops is notable but more than compensated by the breathtaking view which awaits the visitor, with Salina to the west, and Panarea and Stromboli to the North.

Salina is positioned right at the center of the archipelago, and is the greenest of the seven islands. Autonomously administrated, Salina has two ports, those of Santa Marina and Rinella, and three towns; Santa Marina, Malfa and Leni. The beauty of the island is quite stunning; from the lush Mediterranean vegetation which carpets the hillside to the crystal clear waters of the sea which laps its shores. The most celebrated of Salina's bays has to be that of Pollara, on the western coast of the island, characterised by soaring cliffs which seem to quite literally throw themselves in to the sea. Pollara Bay was the set for a number of scenes from the celebrated film "The Postman" with Massimo Troisi, Maria Grazia Cucinotta and Philippe Noiret. But Salina is, above all, land of the Malvasia grape, cultivated on the slopes of the island's two mountains, and from which the delicious amber-colored wine of the same name is produced.

Panarea is the smallest of the seven sisters, the closest to Naples and, in recent years, the chosen island retreat for Italy's VIP politicians and industrialists. The island is surrounded by the islets of Basiluzzo, Spinazzola, Lisca Bianca, Lisca Nera, Dattilo, Bottaio, the Panarelli and the Formiche, which themselves form a mini archipelago between Lipari and Stromboli, and reveal a geological formation of undisputable volcanic origin. It still conserves all its wild natural beauty, as yet saved from the hands of developers. The most important commercial and tourist harbour is that of San Pietro; the principal district of the island where most of the houses, shops, restaurants and fashionable night spots are concentrated. The little white cottages, built in traditional Aeolian style are invariable adorned with colourful displays of flowers.

The island of Stromboli acquired its fame as elite tourist destination following the shooting of Rossellini's neorealist film "Stromboli" there in 1949, film in which Ingrid Bergman was the main female protagonist. Of course Stromboli has always been known, on an international scale, for its everactive volcano. The inhabitants of the little island seem to live in total harmony with the threat posed by the 900 meter tall giant which towers above them. The ferries and hydrofoils drop anchor at Scari, a district populated by fishermen and surrounded by beaches of black sand. The other inhabited areas of Stromboli are those of San Vincenzo (the fraction originally mainly home to farm workers), Piscità and Ficogrande. Lining the principal streets numerous restaurants and attractive little shops have sprung up, lending additional tourist appeal to this charming island. To the South West, still only accessible via the sea, is Ginostra, a quite unique place which, during the winter, is inhabited by a just a few familes.

Filicudi is the second most westerly island of the archipelago (after Alicudi), situated approximately 24 nautical miles west of Lipari. The Monte Fossa Felci, an extinct volcano, circa 774 meters high, dominates the landscape. The population of circa 250 inhabitants (which increases to some 3000 and more during the summer season) is distributed between the centers of Filicudi Porto, Valdichiesa and Pecorini a Mare this latter an ancient fishing village in the heart of the natural bay between the promontories of Orani to the west and Stimpagnatu to the east, linked by the island's one and only asphalted road.

Filicudi has been declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO and, in fact, part of the island has been destined as Regional Park. Amazingly, it was not until 1986 that electricity was brought to Filicudi, by way of a gas oil generator. Together with the electricity, televisions and all nature of domestic appliances arrived on the island, as did electrical pumps for the wells; all developments which allowed for a steep rise in tourism.

On the romantic island of Alicudi the houses are scattered across the eastern slopes of the island; those which descend gently down towards a sea accessible only across the rocks and the pebble beaches. There are no cars to be seen in the small town of Alcudi, the only inhabited area of the island, and it is not uncommon to see people and merchandise on the backs of donkeys; still the principal form of transport here. In this solitary oasis, paradise for lovers of both sport and nature, abundant in agave, ficodindia, flowering capers, olive groves, grape vines, heather and bougainvillea in various sheds of red, pink, purple, and orange; the almost perfectly circular Mount Filo dell'Arpa, another of the archipelago's extinct volcanoes, reigns supreme. The island cuisine is based on local produce, with particular emphasis being given to fresh fish.

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