By Thomas Panagiotopoulos

Every time I travel scratching the surface of the sea, I feel pendulous. Pendulous not necessarily in the few centimeters of the hull which touches the water, but between reality and dream. Besides, this given moment is a dreamy one anyway!



THE AEOLIAN ISLANDS
The ancient Greeks believed that Aeolus, the God of the winds, the “Master of Navigation” lived there. A reference to the Aeolian Islands is also made in Homer’s Odyssey. The people who came from Cnidus and Rhodes are considered to be the first colonists who in 750BC, with Pentathlon as their guide, resided on the islands. In order to be protected by the pirates and the Carthaginians they developed a notable fleet while they simultaneously allied with Syracuse.
VulcanoNorthwest of the narrow passage of Messina, in the Aeolian Sea and in N. geographical width from 38° 23’ up to 38°48’ there are seven small islands scattered around: Lipari, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Panarea, Filicudi, Alicudi.
These islands constitute a volcanic complex of unique beauty. Black bulks, which look as if they emerge from the bottom of the sea creating a magical, sacramental landscape.
Also known as “Lipari islands” they attract a lot of visitors during summer months mainly for their unique color but also for their special character. Each one, so different but also so similar to the rest, fascinates only by its “peculiar” view. Steep cliffs lost in the sea, weird formations of volcanic activity, bottomless deep blue water. Beaches created by lava pieces which were thrown at the sea, the black beaches of Stromboli up to the white ones of Lipari. They are contradictions, which in combination with the sacramental aura covering the island create unforgettable scenery.

Stromboli
The northeast of the “Italian Ionian Islands”, it was chosen as our first destination since the sea there was still. So, in case the weather would become worse the following days, we would have it on our stern, since the rest of the islands are southern. We approached the south cape P.Lena while, high up in the crater of the volcano, explosions one after the other, were forcefully sending smoke towards the sky in different shapes, a constantly repeated phenomenon at about every ten minutes. And, as the crater constantly continued to smoke, the people at the beach were enjoying swimming, being at terms with everything that was taking place a few meters higher. With low speed engine and navigating near the shore, we toured the whole island ending up at Scari, where all the boats were anchored.
There are two settlements: Stromboli in the northeast and Ginostra in the southwest. There are no cars and the transport from the one village to the other is conducted with liners and local boats. In total, there are 350 inhabitants who are mainly occupied with tourism and fishing.
StromboliThe plain, white, little houses and the many small beaches of black sand surrounded by lava bulks in irregular shapes are quintessential. The only drawback of the island is the lack of safe anchorage for the boats. But, there are three things that constitute Stromboli so special:
The ascent to the top of the mountain: During the evening, the view is unique. From there, you can admire one explosion after the other as scarlet pieces of hot lava are erupted from the crater of the volcano, looking like stars spreading in the night sky. Of course, in order to reach the top, it needs plenty of effort; at least a three hour walk in a difficult and wild path. The supplies which we must definitely have with us are a bottle of water, some light food, hiking boots and, of course, our camera.
Sciara del fuoco: That means "the slope of the fire". It is in the west side of the island which from far away it looks as if it emits smoke throughout its length. While we are approaching, we detect lava pieces rolling down the sea.
Strombolicchio: A gigantic rock of 56 meters high, a mile northwest of Stromboli, which looks like a medieval castle. On its top, which we can reach if we go up to two hundred stairs, the lighthouse dominates impressively. The view here is breathless. The rock is vertical and it is lost in the aquatic abyss. But, what will remain unforgettable to us is the exciting deep blue color of the sea around Strombolicchio; a color which we rarely see.

Panarea
Ten nautical miles southwestern, there is Panarea. With a surface of just 3.4 square kilometers it is the smallest island of the Aeolian Sea. In Panarea belong the small islands of Basiluzzo, Dattiio, Lisca Bianca and Bottaro, Lisca Nera, Panarelli and Le Formiche isles. This entire complex composes unique scenery especially when the sea is still. Among all these isles, where the sea water is amazing, whole “fleets” of any kind of boats, sunken off shore, attribute an intense, romantic tone in the already enchanting environment.
PanareaWe tied up in the pier of S.Pietro and we went out on the small concrete road of the shore. We sat in one of the most idyllic cafés we had ever met and we were watching this “sweet” place, having all our senses relaxed. White, plain houses one next to the other, smothered in colorful flowers, narrow cobbled streets with a lot of shops and small taverns. Everything is so clean and tidy that you are happy walking around them. Further away, the small fishing boats are out since the inhabitants are mainly occupied with tourism at this time of the year. But beyond S.Pietro, which is by far the sweetest and most romantic place of the Aeolian Islands, you should not omit to swim in the wonderful sea water of Basiluzzo isle; especially in its northern side where a big natural pool with crystal clear water is formed. Full of beautiful images, we headed southern towards Punta Milazzese. In Punta Milazzese, two small bays surrounded by vertically cut rocks are formed, offering a wild and extraordinary view. An image so rare and impressive! Of course we chose this place as our base but, also to spend the night in the ribs since it is the safest regarding north winds.

Filicudi

It is twelve nautical miles western of the island of Salina and by many it is considered as the most beautiful island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Phoenicusa (Phoenician island), as it was called in ancient years, has an oval shape and in its southeast edge, the peninsula Capo Graziano enters deep into the sea forming two open bays: one on its northern side, where the Filicudi port is, and one in its southern side which is called Pecorini a mare.
We chose the little scenic port of Pecorini because the weather here is milder without being of course, the safest place. There is just a small pier which can cater for only a few boats. Plain, white and pink houses, two little shops and a café-restaurant constitute its infrastructure. This beautiful and scenic place is complemented with some fishermen repairing the small wooden boats which are taken out for fear of the mistral. There is only calmness and peace, away from fuss and socialites. It is an ideal place for those who look for beauty in simple and pure things.
The shores of the island are steep and rocky while the lack of sand is the only drawback. The deep caves such as Moccatore, St.Bartholomew, Perciato and Blue Marino as the most important one, are wonderful, where the amazing colors and intense contrasts are considered unique. Beside the caves, in Filicudi, characteristic are the gigantic rocks of Notaro, Mitra and La Canna. Especially the last one emerges impressively from the sea and reaches up to 85 meters high.

Alicudi
AlicudiIt is the most western and isolated of the Aeolian Islands, just 2.5km wide. Formerly it was just a volcano while today it is just a mound above the sea with its top in 675m.It is a secluded island which has not been discovered by tourism yet, where absolute quietness dominates. It is an “immaculate” place; a rock in the middle of the sea, inhabited by about 100 people. Hospitable and smiling people who offer you lavishly anything you ask them. Of course, there are no roads and no traffic. It is a place for those who do not wish to spend their holiday “packed” in a crowded place but rather, they prefer exploration and peace. An old, “eaten up” by the sea pier hosted our ribs. In front of that, there was a café-grocery store which you rarely see nowadays. We took the only cement road of 300m length. In its end there was a beautiful hotel stuck inside a rock. Its name was Ericusa! We enjoyed our morning coffee by the wave and after having gotten plenty of rest, we went slowly up the narrow stone-built alley which leads high up to the slope of Alicudi where there are snowy little houses scattered around; plain and tidy, with their terraces full of colorful flowers, looking at the enchanting sea.

SalinaSalina
It is the second biggest island with an area of 26.5 square kilometers and 2,500 residents. There are three villages: Santa Marina Salina, Malta and Leni.
Santa Marina Salina, which is the biggest, is built on an ancient Greek colony of the 4th century BC whose traces are evident along the shore. There are 6 volcanoes on the island from which only Fossa delle Fenici and Monte dei Porri have preserved their conic shape. The most recent explosion happened in the west side of the island, 1300 years ago, creating the crater of Pollara where many scenes of the film ‘Il Postino’ were filmed in 1994 – the visit to the house of the painter Pippo Cafallera where the writer Pablo Neruda was exile, was a unique experience. Traveling around the island, we can admire the tall and straight shores, the black beaches, the characteristic small white houses built by the sea. The big terraces with the classic arbors on the columns of the house and the colorful flowers compose a very beautiful image. It really worth’s renting a motorbike to wander the beautiful seaside roads which connect the villages with each other.


Lipari
It is the epicenter of the islands in the archipelago with 8,500 residents. It has got the biggest tourist development and it is an important commercial centre, mainly due to the extraction and export of the local pumice stone.
LipariIts many sights, its beautiful beaches and the mild climate both in winter and in summer rank it among the most ideal resorts. The city of Lipari is built around the castle, the ancient acropolis which is on a lava rock.
Just underneath the castle there is Corta marina where we tied up. It is a small fishing port from which the access to the best parts of the city is easier. There is also the beautiful, tiled S.Onofrio piazza where Via Garibaldi starts, the most crowded street with plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. In order to spend the night though, we chose Porto Pignataro which is on the opposite side of the bay of Lipari, due to fact that there was plenty of water for washing as well as a 24 hour guard.
The tour of the island, which does not take more than an hour, is an unforgettable experience. First of all, we stopped in Quattrocchi where the view is amazing. Steep slopes go down the sea forming two amazing beaches, accessible only with a boat. If the weather is calm, the sailing boats flood the place by decorating the whole situation in the best way.
In the background, scattered rocks emerge from the sea while at the back the crater of Vulcano complements the scenery. Apart from Quattrocchi, it is worth visiting the thermal baths of San Calogero and Acquacalda beach where they used to load ships with pumice stone. Finally, we should not forget the famous white beaches of Canetto which are separated from the gulf of Lipari with the Monterosa peninsula.

Vulcano
Literally a breath away from Lipari, there is Vulcano where Hephaestus had his workshop. In its north side two open bays are formed: one on the east, called Porto Levante, where there is also the port, and one on the west called Porto Ponente. We tied up in Porto Levante and went out for our first acquaintance with the place. VulcanoA few meters farther, there are the famous therapeutic mud baths. We had a bath here without having, of course, the best attire and since we could stand the intense smell of sulphur, it offered  us incredible relaxation.
Afterwards the ascent to Gran Cratere follows which is very interesting and does not last more than an hour. The view here is enchanting, while it is the only active volcano on the island. As we were tired, we headed for Porto Ponente. It was perhaps the most beautiful black beach we had ever seen. We sat in the only café there whose tables were in the sand and we enjoyed the sunset while in the background the mountainous bulk of Filicudi was distinct. So, a full and beautiful day ended and, as we were tired, we withdrew into out “floating” houses.
The next day was dedicated to the tour of the island shores by the ribs. There are a lot of beautiful beaches in Vulcano. We chose one on its south side where the preparations for the departure slowly began…