The last few years my travels have been mostly work related, covering fashion weeks and events for a global television network as a producer and TV host. I couldn’t even remember the last time I had a proper vacation to simply relax and unwind. The idea of returning to the Aeolian Islands immediately sparked my nostalgia and a few clicks later we were ready to depart the same week.
The seven volcanic islands offer great diversity in experiences and all are short distances apart. We chose Lipari as our base as it’s the most lively one, and provides easy transportation to the other islands. Myself being a hotel geek and my travel companion being extremely selective, we were a bit disappointed to see that we couldn’t find any 4 or 5 star hotels available at this time. As we wanted to stay central we chose a 3 star, Giardina Sul Mare, with a salt water swimming pool and fantastic views as bait.
I would say the rooms were somewhat correct according to a 3 star, but other amenities on the grounds added to the appeal of the establishment. The 180° balcony view, the salt water pool and stairs with lounge chairs on different levels leading down to a tiny dock were well appreciated features. The dock served as a starting point for a swim to the black beach only meters away and also as a pick up spot for boat taxis that could bring you anywhere around the islands.
My memory of the restaurants on Lipari had faded a bit since my last visit, but I remembered the name Al Pirata which was just on the port Marina Corta. The restaurant boasts fresh fish and seasonal vegetables prepared Aeolian style. It is located directly on the ocean front and we enjoyed the views of the castle, port and church in the moonlight.
I naturally wake up very early, and at 6 am I noticed beautiful light patterns on the wall from the sunlight peeking through the holes in the shutter. As I opened the shutters and balcony door I was met by an extraordinary sunrise. The island was in utter peace except for the sounds of the ocean and the sun painted a beautiful ray of golden light stretching across the deep blue ocean.
Late afternoon with the temperature well above 30°C we were yearning for a dip in the salt water pool. We were also eager to try our new Easybreath snorkelling masks that let you breathe through both nose and mouth with a 180° view under the surface. The masks were absolutely genius and the air also cuts automatically when you dive down so you don’t have to clear your tube when you resurface. They recently designed a piece to attach a camera and I can’t wait to dive with a GoPro attached. After geeking about the masks for a while we decided to prepare for dinner as the other guests didn’t seem too impressed with these strange looking sea creatures lurking around in the depths of the pool.
Even with temperatures way up in the thirties celsius, a trip on our rented electric bicycles was too tempting. We perused the map that Bruno of “Bike Rentals Lipari” had given us and found a route that led to White Beach. The beach has its name from the pumice mines that existed there creating white beaches as the pumice mixed with sand.
After cycling uphill for a while we decided to stop at the old white beach that has a restaurant, bar and lounge chairs where we could leave our bags. To get to the beach you have to descend a 3 digit amount of steps and carrying my heavy bicycle bag I was dreading the ascent with each step down. For your curiosity my Fitbit had recorded that I walked up and down 57 flights of stairs that day, so you can imagine it was quite a trek just to reach the beach. I use my Fitbit religiously to measure my activity levels and sleep patterns and this bike trip definitely doubled my daily activity goals in all areas.
Finally on the beach we parked ourselves in a couple of hammocks with a couple of soft drinks before finally trying our Easybreath masks in the ocean. From my previous travel there I already knew we wouldn’t see anything spectacular underneath the surface. We basically just swam around diving down to inspect random rocks and fish here and there. Completely fine with me as I’m a water baby and perfectly happy splashing around for a few hours. Less happy though when I came back and realised I had acquired a semi-permanent “white bikini” underneath my blue Lisa Marie bikini. A new resolution to reapply the 50 SPF sunscreen more often was made on the spot!
Upon meeting the mirror that morning: “Hello Tomato!” A red summer dress was necessary to create the tiny illusion that my skin wasn’t the shade of cooked lobster. The day plan was quite simple, discovering more of Lipari and eating good food. After walking around and looking through boutiques we headed to the salt water pool at the hotel to relax before reserving a table at Kasbah that we had been recommended. The setting of the restaurant was in a descent sized courtyard with great ambiance and delicious food.
There were other hungry guests in feline form roaming around as well though. These kitties were not intrusive, but they were very content sitting next to my chair, tilting their heads with a “Please can I have some” look. The cats are able to enter as there is an animal shelter across the small street which is a playground and place for the cats to eat and drink water. Personally I thought the extra company was cute, but I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant to someone allergic to cats. Kasbah turned out to be one of our favourite restaurants on the island and we tried the most recommended ones. After an intense food marathon we went for a night promenade up the cobblestone paths to the castle. Many parts were closed off, but we found a spot with a nice view of the ocean and town in the light of the full moon.
After another night of peaceful sleep, I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and butterflies in my stomach as we had planned something I had been looking forward to. The summer I lived around the islands I used to manoeuver the boats on my own so I was eager to rent a boat to steer without a guide. One of the conveniences of the hotel is that the boat rental service arrived at the private dock of the hotel with the boat. He then drove us back to the port, handed the boat over to me and jumped off.
The ocean was a beautiful shade of blue with the sun glimmering on the crests of the waves with phenomenal backdrops. Bliss! After looping around the island Vulcano we headed to the new White Beach on Lipari. Upon arrival, I realised very quickly that I had pretty much forgotten how to anchor a boat and on the first try we had to pull it up and untangle the whole rope that now looked like a cat toy. Even though we were surrounded by other moored boats we gave it another try, this time almost crashing into a nearby boat. At this point I knew that the best thing to do was to leave the “party” while there was still an ounce of self esteem left in our flustered selves. If attempting to rent a boat make sure you understand all instructions which can be quite difficult if 97% of them are delivered in a language you do not master.
A bit further along the coast we arrived at Aquacalda and after watching a Youtube video on how to anchor a boat we actually managed to make the boat stay put for some snorkelling. There wasn’t much to see really except tiny fish and a stingray. Swimming and enjoying a picnic away from other boats was priceless though. How to change the gasoline tank was luckily an instruction we had understood and we succeeded in returning to the port on time.
To escape the sweltering heat we decided to book a lunch at Theresia Resort on the island Vulcano. Upon arrival, the first thing that hit us though was not the heat wave. It was the stench of sulfur that encompasses the whole island. I had been tempted to try the therapeutic mud baths as they looked quite nice in photos, but the smell was too fierce even from far away. Theresia Resort though was nested on the other side of the island with no trace of the sulfur smell. One of the specialties of the restaurant was stone oven baked pizza that my travel partner tried. The view from the restaurant was spectacular, overlooking Lipari and an outdoor pool. An ideal spot for a relaxing afternoon.
To finish the day we aimed to reach an observatory on a cliff with the bikes to see the sunset on Lipari. After a long, strenuous ascent up absurdly steep, narrow and curved roads we decided to head back not to get stuck in the dark with no lights and cars passing by. But one cannot complain about the spectacular sunset from the hotel though. A perfect ending to a magnificent trip.
THE SELECTIST RECOMMENDS – THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS:
– Night cruise to see the “fireworks” from Stromboli, the active volcano.
– Swimming at Cala Jundal, Panarea.
– Hiking on Vulcano.
– Renting bikes to explore Lipari.
– Italian ice cream, especially the Gianduja and Cassata Siciliana flavors.
Photography by Edouard Lombard