Sicily’s Aeolian Islands: Where heaven meets hell

CNN  — 

Locals call them the “shape-shifting” or “floating” islands.

That’s because the Aeolian archipelago has been sculpted and destroyed by volcanic activity over the millennia.

Named after the powerful wind god Aeolus, the string of UNESCO-protected islands north of Sicily and west of mainland Italy offers a variety of volcanic landscapes and local color, each with its own unique character.

From the active cone of Stromboli to chic Panarea and car-free Alicudi, here’s how to enjoy the best of the Aeolian islands.


Filicudi is only nine kilometers square and has about two hundred residents.

Nicknamed “Bone Island” because of the pirates who died here after long sieges, Filicudi is a place where unspoiled nature rules.

There are just two fishing villages and one road on the island, with steep stone paths connecting bright cottages.

Sea stacks such as “La Canna,” shaped like a cobra’s head, jut out of the emerald sea, while the black, green and red cliffs contain labyrinths of grottoes. Then there’s “Lovers’ Cave,” which is famous for its fertility power. In fact, “enter in two, exit in three” is a saying popular with locals.

It’s possible to explore Filicudi with Nino Terrano of I Delfini who rents scooters, dinghies and organizes dives, guided boat tours with sea-urchin bruschetta tasting, midnight fishing and sea-stack climbing.

Exercise trainer Simona De Stefani (+39 349 887 9963) holds yoga, shiatsu and fit walking sessions on the wild hilltops.

When it comes to dining options, Tavern La Sirena is a good option for fish fresh from the net.

Hotel restaurant La Canna is surrounded by fig trees and prickly pears and offers panoramic sea views. Run by Filicudi’s former postman, Pietro, the hotel and eatery features stone dwellings with typical Aeolian-style terraces made of columns and majolica benches. Menu specialties include vegetarian rolls fried in breadcrumbs.

The thatched umbrellas at pristine Joseph Beach are a good place to relax, while cozy Saloon bar is a good happy hour hotspot.


Stromboli is home to one of the most active volcanoes in Europe

Stromboli is considered the most spectacular of the Aeolian Islands because of its volcanic activity. Visitors should prepare for a constant adrenaline rush, as the hyperactive “Black Giant” erupts every 15 minutes with smoky cannonball blasts and warm underwater bubbles. It’s flanked with huge scars from former lava flows.

The jet-black scenery clashes with the translucent aquamarine water and the white village running from the port to the lonely beach of Piscità.

Stromboli has long been associated with fertility, and residents often refer to it as the “aphrodisiac isle.” There’s even a “magical” citrus plant on the island which is thought to have helped couples conceive.

Expert guides Stromboli Fire Trekking offer a strenuous eight-hour trek to the crater for those keen to get closer to the volcano. When eruptions occur, people lie on their stomachs to feel the vibrations.

Local Pippo (+39 339 222 9714) organizes evening and daytime boat trips to admire the fireworks under starry skies as well as visits to the isolated fishermen’s village of Ginostra, popular for sunset aperitifs.

Le Sirenetta Park Hotel, a restyled 1800s farmhouse, serves delicious grouper dumplings wrapped in laurel leaves. They also take divers inside the 1,000-meter deep crater beside Strombolicchio, a dinosaur-shaped sea stack.

Il Gabbiano Relais, a former nightclub set in a luxuriant garden, has spacious deluxe apartments with pool and private panoramic rooftops. Owner Federica Masin organizes exclusive beach dinners and weddings.

Fresh fish delicacies and homemade pastries are served at Le Terrazze di Eolo.

READ: Going to Sicily? 10 things to know before your trip


The mud baths at Vulcano are its most popular attraction.

Dubbed the “Mouth of Hell,” Vulcano is believed to be where Greek God of fire Hephaestus vented his anger over wife Aphrodite’s betrayals, so it seems fitting that it’s full of bubbling mud baths and hot springs.

Tourists flock to Vulcano’s steaming mud baths to spread “healing” lime mud (a mix of calcareous and sulfur debris) over their bodies before jumping into the sea, where underwater fumaroles (volcanic vents) act as natural hot tubs. Be warned, the scent of sulfur is very strong.

You can rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard to explore the lava sea tunnels and the pool of Aphrodite, which is where the lustful goddess apparently washed away her sins to be reborn a virgin.

Guided walks to the golden crater pass through the Valley of Monsters, which is full of bizarre animal-shaped magma shards.

Therasia Resort is a good location for sunset drinks, offering a unique view of all seven islands as the sky turns ablaze. Its Il Cappero restaurant boasts one Michelin star. There’s also restaurant Hotel Garden, which is situated near the popular black sand beach.

The offbeat, quiet Asino Beach bar (+393313071974) in the tiny village of Gelso is worth a visit. With thin black sand, reddish rocks, cactus and palms, its scenery is a mix between Mars and a desert shore.


Lipari is the largest of the Aeolian Islands and the most inhabited.