The Aeolian Islands are va-va-voom, volcanic kinda hot.
Our founder Bianca has a sorbet-soft spot for these floating slices of paradise and has taken everyone from her friends to her Sicily tour peeps to see ‘em because they’re too pretty not to share.
The Aeolian Islands are where you dine with an active volcano spitting fireworks as your backdrop… after spending the day soaking in thermal water spas. Seriously.
(Or silky almond milk baths in copper tubs –– your choice if you come on a Sicily tour with us.)
These gorgeous Greek-vibing islands are north of Sicily, but they’re still under the radar for most visitors to Italy.
Named by Greek settlers for Aeolus, God of the winds, the Aeolian Islands feel truly Mediterranean in every way.
Your walk slows down to a stroll because there are no crowds here.
Even the introverts start striking up conversations with tanned strangers.
We believe the Aeolian Islands are The Spot for you if you’re itching to explore a new gem in Italy that has all of the seaside gorgeousness but none of the bustle. (We’re looking at you, Capri.)
The Beginner’s Guide to the Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands have an eruptive past, but easy-breezy present. Over centuries, the surrounding volcanoes have shifted and formed new islands, broken up existing ones and basically tossed it all about in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
There are seven islands in total, and each one has its own personality –– from rough and untamed to solitary to stinky (yup!).
The Aeolian Islands: Who’s who
- Lipari: This is the “big” one, where most of the Aeolian Island population lives. It’s still surrounded by old city walls and has blindingly white shiny pumice quarries peeking over the sea.
- Salina: Our personal fave and where we take our Sicily Tour friends. Salina is super pedestrian-friendly and has all kinds of gorgeous green foliage. It’s lined with cute restaurants and cafés, and you gotta sample their signature sweet Malvasia wine.
- Stromboli: This volcanic island is where you hike during the day, and watch it spit fireworks at night from a boat or nearby island. A walkable volcano in a turquoise-blue sea? C’mon.
- Panarea: Known for its black volcanic coastline and the gorgeous Hotel Raya (where celebs love to vacay), it’s quiet year-round outside of the summer. Perfect spot for stumbling on little lagoons you can have all to yourself. Bring your fancy-pants outfits.
- Filicudi: This lil’ guy mostly keeps to itself -– it’s still developing, with three villages and a couple of restaurants sprinkled throughout. No soft sandy beaches, but gorgeous pebble beaches leading into warm, clear water.
- Vulcano: The sulfur in the ground makes this place a stinky spot. An island where four volcanoes meet, it’s known for its therapeutic mud baths (getting pretty busy between July and August) and makes for an interesting day trip. Walk up to the crater if you can.
- Alicudi: The teeny-tiny Aeolian baby of them all. Wild, remote and way off the grid.
How to get to the Aeolian Islands
Here’s the skinny: it’s definitely not an easy trip to the Aeolian Islands for all first-timers, but it’s totally doable.
The best way to get there? Take the hydrofoil.
Fly in to either:
- Catania Airport
- Palermo Airport
Then, you’ll need to drive or take a bus to where you can catch the hydrofoil, in a place called Milazzo.
Ditch your car, and take the hydrofoil!
Liberty Lines operates the hydrofoils to the Aeolian Islands, so be sure to check their schedules ahead of time.
Alternatively, you can also take the ferry from Milazzo or Naples –– they’re slower and less frequent so unless you’re set on bringing your car — ditch it for the faster hydrofoil.
We recommend taking the hydrofoil because time wasted getting to the Aeolian Islands means less Malvasia wine and fresh capers you’ll get to try.
Since it’s a little trickier to get to the Aeolian Islands, we suggest staying at least 3-4 nights so the trip feels worth it. In a perfect world, stay a week! Or, come along on our Sicily Tour and we’ll take care of everything, end-to-end.
Where to stay in the Aeolian Islands
The first thing you gotta do? Choose a home base.
We know, having to pick just one out of seven gorgeous islands –– these are good problems to have.
The Skinny: We recommend staying on Lipari or Salina for ease of arrival. Alternatively, you can choose Panarea or Stromboli –– a little further afield.
Trust us: the urge to sit still in the Sicilian sun will happen almost instantly.
You may wake up with every intention of hiking a volcano, or you might just end up on a sunbed all day. The Aeolian life is the best kind of slow.
Here’s the lowdown on why we recommend choosing Lipari, Salina, Panarea or Stromboli for your stay:
Lipari is the busy bee, and the easiest of all the islands to travel to from Milazzo (it’s the first stop). The hydrofoil drops you right in a pretty little town, and you could hunker down there without moving a muscle for a week and be happy! Lipari is the most frequented by tourists (which means more hotels, more options), but “busy” on these islands isn’t the same thing as busy in the real world, if you know what we mean.
Salina is our fave. We have a soft spot for this spot of green in the sea. We think it’s the prettiest one (vineyards and olive trees on an island? Check!), and we take advantage of the fact that not many people have clued into how awesome it is just yet. Only in-the-know people come here, which is why it’s on our Sicily Tour. Salina is enchanting, relaxing and tiny.
Panarea is like the Positano of the Aeolian Islands –– glitzy and a little tougher on the wallet. It’s filled with bars and restaurants that stay awake all night in the summer, and you may just see a celebrity or two. There are tons of yachts bobbing offshore. It’s super picturesque and quaint.
Stromboli is for you if you want to hike the volcano. The hikes are in the evening so you’ll need to overnight on the island to do this.
Now, here are some ideas for which hotels you can stay on the Aeolian Islands:
- Lipari: Hotel Borgo Eolie, Arciduca Grand Hotel, Hotel Carasco.
- Salina: Hotel La Salina Borgo di Mare, Hotel Mercanti di Mare, Hotel Signum, Turkiscu B&B. We also heart our friend’s apartment for longer stays on the island.
- Panarea: Hotel Lisca Bianca, Hotel Cincotta, Dependance La Caletta.
- Stromboli: There are only a couple! Hotel Ossidiana, La Sirenetta
So, now you know how to get there and where you wanna hunker down in –– let’s talk about what you wanna do.
A perfect day on the Aeolian Islands: Isola di Salina Version (Salina Island)
We typically spend three nights on Salina Island on our Sicily Tour, and here’s how we’d line up a day that brings the fun and saves space for downtime.
In the morning:
Wake up at your gorgeous hotel, and lounge poolside with a book or fresh cappuccino. Explore your spa and treat yourself to an experience you can’t get back home — like taking a bath in freshly ground Sicilian almonds made into milk, for instance.
If you can pull yourself out, freshen up and head to town for a bite overlooking the sea. Order something you’ve never tried before.
Then, walk down to the water and book a boat tour so that you can meander your way through the islands and hidden inlets, visiting Stromboli, Panarea, and Lipari.
Your afternoon will involve lots of laughing in your bathing suit as your hair whips behind you, cruising like the star you are. Some spots around these islands have hot streams of bubbles coming from the ocean floor you can play in, so a dip is a must too. We even sometimes see dolphins.
If you decide to stay on land, go to the beach at Rinella (right near your lunch resto)! Rinella has beautiful black sand that’s looks amazing as you zip down towards it on your scooter and feels incredible when you’re lounging in it between dips in the water.
Whether you’ve been out on a boat or on the beach, haul your salty skin back to the hotel in time to head out again at sunset. After you’ve changed and freshened up, head over to Bar L’Oasi in Pollara for an aperitivo with a view — all the locals head there to watch the sunset.
We have sooo many other ideas for your time on the Aeolian Islands. Wineries, hiking, boating, best restaurants and activities. We hope this gives you a small taste of all that can be discovered on what we like to call “the Hawaii of Italy.”
Looking for more ideas for Sicily? Here are more posts:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Taormina, Italy
- Top 10 Reasons to Travel Sicily, Italy
- Wish You Were Here: Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily
- How to Get to Sicily
- Our Sicily Tour Experience, Exclusively for Women
If you’re tempted to go and live your best Sicilian life without figuring it all out on your own –– you can! We offer tours for women to this part of the world.
There’s still space left to travel with us on our Sicily Tour (we have only one date left in 2019):
October 12 – 22, 2019
And we’ve got a freshly drawn almond milk bath in a copper tub with your name on it.