The Aeolian islands are a group of seven volcanic islands just 45 minutes by hydrofoil from Milazzo and 1 hour 15 minutes from Messina. Famed for centuries by the cognoscenti for their association with Greek and Roman civilisations the islands offer a different and slightly mysterious world from that of mainland Sicily. The oldest are Alicudi and Filicudi which are approximately 1 million years old and the most recent are Vulcano and Stromboli which still have volcanic activity.
Architecture here is quite unique with houses built from the local lava and pumice stone and mainly painted white. Only Lipari and Salina permit cars from outside and the smaller islands offer the rare experience today of an almost vehicle-free environment. Services between the islands are good and visitors have a choice of hydrofoils or more leisurely car ferries.
Filicudi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its wild, natural beauty this small sleepy island is a haven for nature lovers and walkers. There are panoramic paths to follow and a hiking trail up to the highest of its cluster of extinct volcanoes at 2,500 ft.
Lipari is the largest and liveliest of the islands and according to mythology claims that it was the home of Aeolus, god of winds, who gave Ulysses a bag of winds to assist him during his ten-year Odyssey around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Among its attractions Lipari has a superb archaeological museum, spa baths and Roman sauna cave. A trip round the island by scooter is the best way to explore the small villages and admire the breathtaking views of the other islands.
Panarea is the smallest and arguably the most beautiful of the islands with stunning views of Stromboli. Very fashionable with the "jet-set" in the summer months, it has clear blue waters surrounding a rocky coastline and is much favoured by scuba divers and snorkellers. With the absence of cars and with its rich and colourful sub-tropical vegetation Panarea is a prime example of how life can still be lived at nature's pace.
The second largest island, also the highest is Salina. With its twin peaks it is surprisingly green and fertile. It is here that the grapes for the famous dessert wine malvasia are grown along with capers and olives. The island, consisting of three small towns, is quiet and relaxing.
Stromboli is the furthest away from the mainland. It is most famous for its spectacular "fireworks" display and is the only volcano in Europe with permanently eruptive activity. An early evening climb to the crater can be undertaken with a guide and takes approximately three hours to go up - two to come down.
The crystal clear waters surrounding the Aeolian islands make it a diving and snorkelling haven. Courses at all levels can be arranged and equipment hired locally.
Vulcano is the closest to Sicily's mainland and its lunar landscape still shows traces of the last eruption in 1890 which shaped its rocky coastline. It is possible to walk to the crater's peak - and also experience the pungent smell of the sulphurous gas it exudes. Its beach is of fine, soft black sand, the sea bubbling with hot springs and its famous hot mud pool is reputed to cure rheumatic ailments.
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