Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands

Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands

The Aeolian Islands 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. The phenonemon of eruptive mountains we now know as volcanoes is actually named after one of them: the fiery island of Vulcano.

The Italian volcano islands

Vulcano itself 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.

Strombolian eruption, Stromboli, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Strombolian action!

Actively steaming archipelago

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 of Lipari, Salina, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea have quieted down in the meantime.

But all of them boast spectacular scenery with impressive mountains, lush vegetation, various geological features and laid-back villages with an atmosphere of La dolce vita.

Stromboli, picture perfect view, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Picture-perfect view.

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.

Naples harbour, rainbow, Vesuvius, Italy
Departing on the ferry to Stromboli from Naples, with a rainbow over the harbour and the intimidating shape of Vesuvius in the background.

Island hopping between volcanoes

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. We also saw the devastating destruction that happened in the year 79 at the historical ruins of Pompei. On Sicily we saw Etna from different angles (but unfortunately not erupting…)

And on the Aeolian islands we hopped from Stromboli to Lipari and Vulcano.

Stromboli view, Aeolian Islands, Italy
View to Stromboli.

Aeolian Islands: Stromboli

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 summit hike is not an option. 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.

Stromboli boulevard, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Stromboli harbour and boulevard.

Stromboli transport, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Local transport on Stromboli. There are no cars on the island.

The classic volcano island 🌋

With its perfect triangular shape and a fiery crater on top, Stromboli is the quintessential volcanic island. Even the ‘volcano icon’ on the smartphone is modelled to its likeness, complete with a Sciara del Fuoco sliding slope.

Aeolian Islands - Stromboli map

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 material coughed up by the volcano.

Hiking routes on Stromboli.

Stromboli beach, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The beach and the town center.

View down the slope of Stromboli, Italy.
View down the slope of Stromboli.

Hiking to the top of Stromboli

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.

Guided hikes on Stromboli

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.

Lava shapes on the lower path of Stromboli, Italy.
Lava shapes on the lower path.

Essential stuff

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.

Stromboli hike, steep slopes, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Steep slopes.

Stromboli hike, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The progressively misty & barren upper path.

No lava guarantee

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…

Foggy crater

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…

View into the fog-filled craters of Stromboli.

Strombolian action

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.

If I’d known there would be a clear view that night, I would have climbed it again without hesitation. I will just have to go back to Stromboli again some day… 😉

Stromboli volcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The observatory on the lower flank of Stromboli.

Lipari harbour, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Lipari harbour.

Aeolian Islands: Lipari

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 excellent island – and wilderness espresso. 😉

Lipari street, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Quaint street in Lipari town.

Viewpoints and enticing islands

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.

Quattrocchi viewpoint, Lipari, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Rocky bays and hidden beaches along the southwest coast of Lipari, with Vulcano and its steaming crater in the background.

View to Salina, Quattrocchi viewpoint, Lipari, Aeolian Islands, Italy
View to the towering twin volcanoes of Salina, beckoning you to come over & climb their lofty tops…

The steep island of Salina

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 mountain in the foreground is Monte Fossa delle Felci, the highest peak in the Aeolian Islands at 962 metres.

It’s even taller and steeper than Stromboli!

Volcanic rock, Lipari, Aeolian Islands, Italy

Volcanic features on Lipari

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.

A giant lava bomb, layers of ash & various volcanic deposits from different eruptions. There are eucalypt trees too! 🙂

Kaolin quarry, Lipari, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Colourful rocks and gullies at the Lipari kaolin quarry.

View to Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy
View to Vulcano and its steaming crater.

Aeolian Islands: Vulcano

The steaming island of Vulcano looms large to the south of Lipari. A giant crater dominates the interior. Its bulky shape rises up behind the town, steam wafting from its edges. This is the ancient forge of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire – and he’s still busy at it.

Vulcanian eruption

Like Stromboli, Surtsey and Hawaii, Vulcano has also given its name to one of 8 volcanic eruption types now commonly used to indicate the specific style of activity. A Vulcanian eruption means a dense ash cloud billowing up high from the crater, accompanied by loud explosions at irregular intervals, with lava bombs and various other deposits spread out over a large area.

It’s the same type of eruption Eyjafjallajökull became famous for in 2010.

This doesn’t sound too encouraging to venture anywhere near the origins of all this doom. But that’s exactly what most visitors to Vulcano come to do. The crater is now peacefully steaming away, and has been fairly quiet since the last eruption between 1888 and 1890.

Vulcano crater hike, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Vulcano Gran Cratere.

Vulcano town and Vulcanello, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The colourful walls of Gran Cratere. Looking towards Vulcano town and Vulcanello peninsula, connected to the main island by a small isthmus.

Hiking to Fossa Gran Cratere

The walk from the harbour to the top of the crater is 7,5 kilometres and takes about 3 hours return at a leisurely pace. You can circle all around the crater and up to the ridge behind it, at an altitude of 386 metres. If there’s too much steam wafting from the crater rim, it might be better to skip that part. The sulphur steam can get quite overwhelming in places.

Gran Cratere, Vulcano, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The giant Gran Cratere in the centre of the island. 

Surreal steaming fumaroles

Nevertheless, it’s worth venturing through it if you can handle it – and be engulfed by a surreal landscape with brightly coloured steaming fumaroles, some of them encrusted with delicate red and yellow sulphur needlecrystals. The views from the crater rim are spectacular!

Vulcano crater rim, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The steaming island of Vulcano, with Lipari and Salina in the distance.

Fumaroles, Vulcano crater, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Fumaroles wafting from the crater’s edge.

Bubbling mud bath

After the walk you can reward yourself with a relaxing soak at the Fanghi di Vulcano mudpools. A natural spa with great views, right next to the harbour. The minerals and silica will make your skin feel nice & velvety soft. Wash away the sticky mud at the hot water beach on the other side, where mineral springs bubble to the surface in varying temperatures.

Be warned though: a faint but distinct smell of sulphur will follow you as a silent witness for days… And it’s better not take a shiny new swimming suit. 😉

Stromboli sea view, Aeolian Islands, Italy
Sea view from Stromboli.

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 overnight ferry from Naples to Stromboli and the main island of Lipari. Another option is the high-speed hydrofoil, leaving in the afternoon and arriving on the islands the same evening. From Milazzo on the northeastern tip of Sicily, the ferry takes about 2,5 to 3 hours to Stromboli, depending on the route and type of boat.

Map of the Aeolian Islands

This handy interactive map shows the 7 Aeolian Islands and the different locations in this article. You can also click on the icons to see the pictures, and zoom in for more details of each island.

(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

What is your favourite Aeolian island and why? Let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. Thank you for sharing. 💚

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Last update: 11 February 2023
First published: 14 May 2018

© All photo’s and content on this blog are my own, and subject to copyright (unless credited otherwise). Please contact me if you would like to use a picture or quote a piece of text from one of my articles. You’re welcome to share a link to my blog articles and pictures on social media, with a tag or mention to Wilderness Coffee & Natural High.

Vulcano crater rim, Aeolian Islands, Italy
The volcano of Vulcano is easier to pronounce than that other infamous one😉

More to explore & discover

La Palma – Cumbre Vieja volcano route

Etna – Vigorously steaming from all its craters

Cook Islands – The stuff of Pacific dreams

The zen of Stafsnes – The hidden beach

The Vierdaagse of Nijmegen – Four days of long-distance trials & tribulations

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