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The Aeolian Islands (also spelled as Eolian Islands and known as Lipari Islands) are a archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The islands appeared as the result of volcanic activity over a period of 260,000 years with lava rising from depths of the sea. There are seven islands in the archipelago; Lipari is the largest (14.5 sq miles or 37.6 sq km), and Panarea is the smallest (1.3 sq m or 3.4 sq km). Other islands are Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi. There are also and five small islets near Panarea: Basiluzzo, Dattilo, Lisca Nera, Bottaro and Lisca Bianca.
Despite the volcanic past, only two volcanoes, Stromboli and Vulcano, are classified as active. However, on Vulcano, the last major eruption took place in 1888. Currently its volcanic activity is limited to fumaroles - openings near the volcano emitting steam and gases. Most other islands have fumaroles as well. This leaves Stromboli as the only island in the archipelago that is currently active.
The earliest culture in the area was discovered on Lipari (pottery); it relates to the 4th - 3rd millennium BC. From 6th to 4th century BC, the islands were under Greek domination which not surprisingly was replaced by the Roman one lasted until 4th century AD. The Byzantine empire came in and ruled until 11th century when Sicily was liberated by the Normans. A period of prosperity started and continued until 1544 when Franco-Ottoman alliance fleet sieged Lipari killing or enslaving most of it population. Another turning point took place in 1693 when a powerful earthquake east of Sicily devastated the area.
Tourism to the Aeolians has been active since 19th century. However, with the ever increasing popularity of the islands, they are not anymore off the beaten track. Unfortunately, the beauty and unspoiled nature of the archipelago is threatened by the growing number of tourists this very nature attracts. Because of this, new construction on islands is severely restricted. Where houses are built or restored, they must resemble the native Eolian look and style.
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What Makes It Special
The Aeolian Islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer attracting about 200,000 visitors every year. The growing interest by travelers in archipelago is easy to understand. Although islands are easily reachable today, they are still considered a remote location; combined with good tourist infrastructure and safety Aeolian Islands appeal to all kinds of travelers. Blue and crystal clear waters surrounding islands, stunning views and mostly unspoiled and beautiful nature increase their attractiveness even more. Visit to the area can be also very educational since it shows in real life geologic activities responsible great deal for the current shape of our planet. The Aeolian Islands are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites for providing "an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction, and ongoing volcanic phenomena."
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Directions To Destination
The closest to Aeolian Islands city in mainland Sicily is Milazzo, a small town (population about 33,000) on the northern coast of Sicily, 25 miles (40 km) from Messina. Milazzo is the main place where most ferries and boats depart to and arrive from Aeolian Islands. However, there are other departure ports in Sicily or continental Italy with services to the archipelago. Hydrofoils (passengers only) are available from Palermo, Cefalu', Messina, Reggio Calabria, Naples. Ferries (passengers and cars) - from Milazzo and Naples.
If you want to travel on Aeolian Islands with the car, keep in mind that Italian government as well as local authorities take steps to limit car traffic. Because of this, expect possible bans (by decree issued by Italian government) on motor vehicles (for nonresidents) from July 1 to October 31 on Panarea, Stromboli and Alicudi, and from July 1 to September 30 on Lipari, Vulcano and Filicudi. By the way, currently, all visitors are charged €1 by local authorities for the "entrance ticket" (usually added to the cost of boat tickets).
Due to the influx of travelers, crossings are scheduled rather frequently throughout the year with more departures during summer time. For example, from Milazzo to Lipari there may be up to 15 hydrofoils every day in summer departing from 6 AM to 7 PM. The travel time from Milazzo to Lipari by hydrofoil is roughly 1 hour. Check the following sites of Italian companies providing passenger and ferry services to and from Aeolian Islands (services between all archipelago islands are available as well) for the schedule:
For Hydrofoils (passengers only):
- Ustica Lines
For ferry services (tragetto):
- Siremar (Tirrenia di Navigazione)
- La Navigazione Generale Italiana (NGI)
The Ferriesonline web site is convenient for booking tickets.
Keep in mind that transportation options available are numerous and can provide a great deal of flexibility in planning your trip. For example, you can consider traveling to Lipari directly from Naples using overnight ferry (about 10 - 11 hour trip) departing from Naples around 8 PM. The length of the crossing depending on the island and your point of departure. For example, for hydrofoils from Reggio Calabria it takes about 2 hours to get to Lipari and 3.5 hours to Stromboli. From Palermo to Lipari - 4.5 hours. However, the islands of Lipari and Vulcano are very close to each other, the trip time is 10 - 15 minutes only. Finally, to give you an idea about prices (2011): Milazzo - Lipari is €17.30, Palermo - Lipari: €38.30, Reggio Calabria - Lipari: €25.40, overnight tragetto Naples - Lipari for two passengers, cabin, and a small car is €293.
No air travel is available to the archipelago; however, you can find companies offering helicopter transfers (as well as helicopter excursions over some islands). The cost of this service is very high; we estimate that one minute of flying is roughly €30. Helicopter transfers are available from the airports of Palermo (PMO) - 65 min to Lipari, Catania (CTA) - 40 min to Lipari and Reggio Calabria (REG) - 23 min to Lipari. If you are interested, check these companies: Air-Panarea and Icarus Elicotteri.
Aeolian Islands visitors may have two different strategies in deciding on their transportation needs: one of them is for travelers arriving directly from abroad, the second is for those who are already in Italy. The former should target Catania-Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) in Catania - this airport is well connected with direct flights to many countries. Once in Catania, such travellers should transfer to Milazzo or Messina. To go to Milazzo use taxi (1 h 45 min, cost around €140) or bus: during summer time by Giuntabus, trip time about two hours, cost €12, currently 3 departures/day (subject to change). You can also go from Catania to Messina with SAIS Autolinee and after that from Messina to Milazzo by Giuntabus. However, if you are thinking about Messina, do not forget that there is a consider that there is a hydrofoil service from this town to any of Aeolian Islands (with most going to Lipari - €16.20). You can also use train from Catania; however, I do not advise this option for the following reasons: (1) you will have to take a bus from the airport to Catania’s train station and then take the train to Messina; (2) if you want to proceed to Milazzo, you will have to change trains; (3) the Milazzo train station is a few miles from the town's port.
If you are already in Italy, you may have more choices, hence, greater flexibility. Once piece of advice - consider Naples as an intermediate point to jump to Aeolian Islands. Similarly, consider Messina as a jumping point. One advantage of Messina over Naples is that the former is better connected to the islands than the latter. At the same time, Messina is still well connected to the rest of Italy by rail. For example, train Rome to Messina is about 7.5 hours.
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Best Time To Go
As with most Italian seaside resorts, your best bet is July and August although it can get really hot in August. If you prefer less people and more moderate temperatures, September is an excellent option. The average high temperature is 86 °F (30 °C) in July, 93 °F (34 °C) in August. July and August are months with the lowest precipitation: 0.2" (5 mm) and 0.5" (13 mm) respectively.
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Where To Stay
Our picks for
- Residence Alberghiero Eolie (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 101, 98055 Lipari), a four star hotel with rates €70 - €140 room/night (tax, breakfast included). It is located in a 19th century building on Lipari's central promenade; each room (total 12) has balcony or terrace and a view either on the archeological park or the castle.
- Residence Hotel Villa Fiorentino (Via G. Franza 9, 98055 Lipari), a four star hotel. Rates are €165 - €300 per room/night. The hotel is outside the city center of Lipari and very close to the sea and main archaeological site. It consists of several buildings with the total of 16 rooms. In August the hotel may only be bookable for long stays of 7 or more nights, from Saturday to Saturday.
- Capofaro Malvasia & Resort (Via Faro 3, 98050 Malfa), a five star family-owned boutique hotel with 20 rooms. Rates are €175 - €400 room/night (tax, breakfast included). Rooms has sea views that include Stromboli and Panarea islands. Beaches are one mile from the Capofaro Resort.
- Hotel Ravesi (Via Roma, 66, 98050 Malfa), a three star hotel with rates €90 - €260 room/night (tax, breakfast included). Hotel has 14 rooms and is located five minute walk from the beach and at the same time very close to Malfa’s historic quarter.
- Therasia Resort (Località Vulcanello, 98050 Vulcano), a five start hotel, rates €265 - €400 room/night (tax, breakfast included). This completely renovated hotel in Aeolian style has magnificent views on the six islands. Hotel has 97 rooms.
- Hotel La Piazza (Via S. Pietro, 98050 Panarea), a three star hotel with rates €90 - €320 room/night (tax, breakfast included). Hotel is surrounded by a garden and has panoramic views of the Caletta Bay. Hotel is decorated in a typical Aeolian style. Summer time the hotel may only be reserved for long stays of 3 or more nights. It has 35 rooms.
- Hotel Quartara (Via S Pietro 15, 98050 Panarea), four start hotel; rates are €250 - €560 room/night. It is a small romantic hotel matching upmarket and luxurious atmosphere of the Panarea island.
Hotel has 13 rooms with private terraces four of which have see view.
Research and book hotels in or near Lipari, Italy
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Generally, activities include sightseeing, hiking, biking and all sorts of water sports (from surfing and sailing to swimming and scuba diving) and as often during Italian vacations, relaxing (also known as dolce far niente or sweet doing nothing). Here are some additional information about islands and suggestions what to see and do on various islands:
Lipari: the center of all aspects of life on the archipelago islands; it 's also known for its natural beauty. There are two extinct volcanoes on Lipari with deposits of pumice (very light and abrasive volcanic rock) and obsidian. The main town on Lipari is Lipari (eastern side of the island). You can visit there archaeological museum and park located in the Castle, the old city and churches around the Castle (one if then is St. Bartholomew Cathedral of Norman origin), Museo Archeologico Regionale Eoliano (Aeolian Regional Archaeological Museum). Above Lipari is Belvedere Quattrocchi (with amazing views on several islands). Visit thermal baths of St. Calogero (western side of the island).
Salina: the island itself is considered the "green pearl" of the Aeolian islands for its natural lush vegetation (the island is the Regional Park was established in 1981); do not miss Malvasia delle Lipari wine produced from grapes grown on Salina; remember that most of Massimo Troisi's movie "Il Postino" was filmed in Salina. Monte Fossa delle Felci on Salina is the highest peak (3176 f or 968 m) of all the islands.
Stromboli: this island is known for its unique volcano which is erupting permanently every 30 to 45 minutes (although the volcanic activity is moderate and not dangerous to those who live and visit the island). There are few beaches on Stromboli. Even if it may be the most spectacular of the islands from a distance, consider skipping this island completely if you have limited time. However, a hike to the volcano's crater can be your experience of a lifetime (takes five hours: three up and two down). For the record, the houses of Stromboli are arguably the purest expression of Aeolian architecture. A visit to Strombolicchio, a steep basalt 141 foot rock (43 m) on the north east of the island (about one mile off Stromboli) can be also interesting.
Filicudi: one of the most pristine of the Aeolian archipelago (only about 250 people live currently on the island); arguably, the island has the most beautiful coast line with many deep grottos. Grotto of the Monk Seal is the most attractive with its game of lights inside. Another famous attraction is the Cane Cliff (Faraglione La Canna), a 71 foot high stand-alone rock emerging from the water.
Vulcano: it is the closest of Aeolian islands to the mainland of Sicily. Having less vegetation than other islands, it is visually less attractive and at times even alien. However, the island's volcanic activity created a unique landscape and black sand beaches. The landscape is dominated by the Big Crater (Gran Cratere) - it possible to climb the crater (3 hour trek), an interesting and educational experience accompanied first by amazing panoramas and later by sulfur vapor escaping from fumaroles surrounded by sulfur crystals. The island is also popular for its therapeutic mud baths (visit Laghetto di Fanghi to experience them and wash off the mud in nearby hot springs).
Panarea: visit Capo Milazzese, a promontory with the site of a Mycenaean (Bronze age Greek civilization, about 1600 BC - 1100 BC) settlement. Do not miss Cala Junco below, a natural swimming pool surrounded by amazing lava rocks.
Alicudi: probably the wildest and most isolated island in the Aeolian archipelago (with population of about 100 people). There are no paved roads (only paths with steps) and no vehicles. Mules and steep climbs on foot are the only means of transportation on Alicudi. The nature is pristine and wild. There few small pebble beaches.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
In deciding on your accommodations, take into account your travel style - do you like to be on the move, or prefer to have a permanent place to stay with daily excursions when you want to other islands? If you fancy island hopping, keep in mind that you will need to allocate not less than 7 days for the whole archipelago. It does not mean that you need to allocate exactly one day per island. In fact, consider skipping completely at least one of them - Alicudi (even if it is beautiful in its wilderness); whereas on some islands (first of all Lipari and Vulcano) you may want to spend a couple of days. Anyway, while planning you itinerary keep in mind that during summer time some hotels in the area may not offer one night accommodation.
If you are thinking about permanent place to stay I can recommend either Lipari or Panarea. The rational is simple: the first, Lipari, indeed is the best to use as a hub for brief pleasure trips since it is located in the center of the archipelago and has the best connection with other islands and the rest of Italy. At the same time, Lipari is a beautiful island and the largest one which can be good if you care about cultural, shopping and food activities during your stay. The second island I mentioned is the smallest one, but most romantic and tranquil which is good if you are looking for solitude or more secluded location (which may be another reason to prefer one place to stay). Still Panarea is well connected to other islands - there are four islands (Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Vulcano) with boats departing in the morning (around 9 AM) and returning back around 6 PM - 7 PM. In addition, with staying on Panarea you can easily organize boat trips to small islets near the island to enjoy the variety and grandeur of their cliffs. For the record, of all islands, Panarea is the most cosmopolitan with many vacation houses built recently; as a result, it may be more difficult to find a hard-core Eolian experience here than on other islands.
Tourist infrastructure is a fast growing aspect of life on the archipelago. The larger islands, Lipari, Vulcano and Salina have good bus services. Cell telephone coverage is reliable in towns, but access to the internet is rare. Boat rental is popular for touring around islands.
If your budget is limited, consider staying on Lipari; islands like Panarea and Salina tend to have higher prices.
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