The Aeolian Islands group in the south of Italy are a geological paradise – especially if you’re a volcano geek like me 😉 The islands are the stuff of legends. One of them, Vulcano is the actual namegiver to the phenonemon of fiery & eruptive mountains we now know as volcanoes. It was named after the Roman god of fire, and considered to be his sacred workshop where he forged bolts of lightning in its fiery pits. The famous Stromboli, the ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean, has given its name to the type of gentle fountain eruptions it has been spewing forth almost continuously since Roman times.
The archipelago has been around for over 260.000 years and consists of a volcanic arc of 7 islands. Stromboli and Vulcano are still actively steaming and erupting today. The other islands Lipari, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea have quieted down, but all boast spectacular scenery with impressive mountains, lush vegetation, various geological features and laid-back villages with an atmosphere of La dolce vita.
Volcanic islands in Europe
Besides the island of Santorini in Greece, Italy is the only country on the European mainland with several active volcanoes within its borders. Other places that are technically part of Europe are the Canary Islands (Spain) and the far-flung islands of Madeira and the Azores (Portugal) in the Atlantic Ocean. And of course Iceland, which is basically one big volcano with a multitude of cones and fissures by itself.
I went on a trip to the Aeolian Islands with Dutch organisation Geo Travel, flying to Naples and returning from Catania on Sicily, with an island hopping expedition inbetween.
In Naples we visited the intimidating Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei volcanic fields. And saw the devastating destruction that happened in the year 79 at the historical ruins of Pompei. On Sicily we saw the Etna from different angles (but unfortunately not erupting…) And on the Aeolian islands we hopped from Stromboli to Lipari and Vulcano.
Departing on the ferry to Stromboli from Naples, with a rainbow over the harbour and the intimidating shape of Vesuvius in the background.
Stromboli is the northernmost of the Aeolian Islands, and can be reached by overnight ferry from Naples. The ferry trip takes about 10 hours. The ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean has been erupting its mesmerizing glow for over 2000 years. When I saw its volcanic shape looming on the horizon, I was so excited to finally climb to the top and gawk upon its fiery pits. I had visited Stromboli once before on a daytrip from Sicily. But then you only have about 2 hours on the island, and the evening hike to the top is not an option.
Stromboli harbour and boulevard, and the local transport. There are no cars on the island.
With its perfect triangular shape and a fiery crater on top, Stromboli is the quintessential volcanic island. Even the ‘volcano emoji’ on the smartphone is modelled to its likeness, complete with a Sciara del Fuoco sliding slope.
Sciara del Fuoco (the Stream of Fire) is a striking feature on the northwest side of the island, a barren volcanic slope where hot rocks and sometimes even lava flows spewed forth from its craters slide down into the sea. The two villages on Stromboli are behind the mountain ridges on the other side, and therefore (usually) not affected by the constant stream of ejected material from the volcano.
If you want to climb to the top of Stromboli, plan to stay for a couple of nights, so you will at least have some margin if the weather is not cooperating. We stayed on Stromboli for 2 nights and did the hike on the first evening.
The beach and the town center.
The walking track to the top
Stromboli rises up to 924 metres above sealevel. The path winds its way up over a distance of less than 4 kilometres along very steep and rocky slopes. It is literally breathtaking – and incredibly beautiful. There are dazzling views everywhere, down the slope and over the sea to the other islands.
Because of safety reasons and the constantly changing activity, you can only go to the top with a guided hike. These are available between the end of March and the end of October. The hike takes about 5 to 6 hours return, including some 45 minutes at the top. The groups usually leave around 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. You will get to the top just before sunset and walk back down most of the way in the dark. Needless to say, a flashlight, a jacket, proper walking boots, food and plenty of water are essential items to take – as well as a camera for the spectacular views you’re going to encounter. The tour company provides a helmet – you need to wear it at the top in case of rogue flying rocks coming out of the crater. If the conditions are too dangerous, the hike will be cancelled.
Lava shapes on the lower path, steep slopes and the progressively misty & barren upper path.
But even if the hike goes ahead as planned, there’s no guarantee that you will actually get lucky at the top and see the Strombolian action in all its glory. I started off on a perfectly sunny afternoon at the end of May, but along the way more & more clouds were gathering around the top…
By the time we got there, the view was completely obscured and I stared into a crater full of fog. I could hear the explosions going off nearby, but there was nothing to be seen…
The second evening we went to the observatory on the lower flank, where you can have a nice meal while watching the fiery fountains from the veranda. There had been clouds around the top all day, but there were no clouds that evening. I was screaming in frustration as I finally saw the Strombolian action – from a distance. I would have climbed it again without hesitation if I’d known there would be a clear view that night…
The observatory on the lower flank of Stromboli.
I will just have to go back to Stromboli again some day… 😉
Lipari is the main island of the Aeolian archipelago, and an excellent base to explore the other islands from. Several ferries and hydrofoils depart from the harbour town of Lipari in all directions, including Milazzo on Sicily and Naples on the Italian mainland. Nestled at the foot of Monte Galina, the port of Lipari is a pretty town with a historical castle and citadel perched on a rock between the two harbours. Here you can find a variety of accommodation, restaurants, shops and coffeehouses to enjoy a tasty island and wilderness espresso.
Viewpoints and volcanic features
Across on the southwest coast of the island is a viewpoint called Quattrocchi. It literally means ‘Four eyes’ – because you will need an extra set of eyes or a panoramic camera to handle the broad sweeping vistas of stunning views.
Rocky bays and hidden beaches along the westcoast of Lipari, with the steaming island of Vulcano in the distance.
View to the towering twin volcanoes of Salina, beckoning you to come over & climb their lofty tops…
We didn’t visit Salina on this trip, but I definitely want to go there next time. Another reason to come back to the Aeolians – besides finally climbing Stromboli on a cloud-free evening… The one in the foreground, Monte Fossa delle Felci, is the highest peak in the islands at 962 metres – even taller and steeper than Stromboli!
Lipari is especially known for its obsidian and pumice. A variety of volcanic features can be seen on a beautiful hike 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.
Layers of ash and various volcanic deposits from different eruptions, a giant lava bomb and colourful rocks and gullies. There are eucalypt trees too!
Quaint street in Lipari town.
More on Vulcano will be added soon!
View to Vulcano and its steaming crater. In the distance you can even see the snowy top of Etna on Sicily.
The colourful walls of the Gran Cratere. Looking towards Vulcano town and Vulcanello peninsula, connected to the main island by a small isthmus.
The giant Gran Cratere in the centre of the island.
The steaming island of Vulcano, with Lipari in the background.
How to get to the Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands can be easily hopped individually as well. There are many inter-island ferries sailing between Lipari, Vulcano, Panarea, Stromboli, Salina, Filicudi and Alicudi. The archipelago can be reached by the overnight ferry from Naples to Stromboli and the main island of Lipari. Another option is the ferry from Milazzo on the northeastern tip of Sicily. From there, it takes about 2,5 to 3 hours to Stromboli, depending on the route and type of boat.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
This volcano is easier to pronounce than that other infamous one… 😉
What is your favourite Aeolian island and why? Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page. Or simply press the ‘like’ button below if you enjoyed reading this post 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
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Stromboli – The ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean
Etna – Vigorously steaming from all its craters
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