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Aeolian Islands Travel Guide – The Seven Sisters in the Thyrrenian Sea

Rising majestically up out of the shimmering, cornflower depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the sensational Aeolian Islands create a breathtaking vista just off the northeastern coastline of Sicily. A UNESCO-protected site thanks to its unique natural attractions and unspoilt beauty, the Aeolian archipelago was named after Aeolis, the God of Wind, by the Ancient Greeks.

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Stretching out in a formation reminiscent of the three-pronged Mercedes star, the islands offer a playground of intriguing sights and experiences, neatly situated between the tip of the Italian mainland and beautiful Sicily.

Introducing the islands

Commonly referred to as ‘the seven sisters’, each of the
seven Aeolian Islands demonstrates a different
personality – just as you would expect from a family group. However, the factor they do all have in common is their volcanic origins – the islands are the tops of volcanoes, sunk dramatically beneath the surface of the sea, down into the shadowy depths.

Lipari

Lipari is the largest island and popular due to its ruggedly beautiful landscapes typified by plunging cliffs and dotted with pastel-coloured houses. There are 8,000 permanent residents that call Lipari home but during the summer months, many more visitors flock to the island to take advantage of its bustling nightlife, sweeping bays and postcard-perfect beaches.

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Vulcano and Stromboli

Vulcano and Stromboli are two islands that are renowned for their awesome volcanoes. Vulcano boasts four as well as natural mud baths, bubbling with sulphurous gases, and steaming fumaroles. People come to Vulcano to bathe in the mud that, although somewhat smelly, is thought to be excellent for skin, joint and muscle complaints. In comparison, Stromboli holds a formidable reputation as the most active volcano in Europe. The periodic fountains of hot ash, bright sparks and fiery lava create a show like no other – climb the crater at night to witness Stromboli at its very best.

Salina

Salina is the emerald isle, coated in greenery and ideal for hiking and trekking through lush flora. The achingly stunning landscapes were made famous when the island featured as the backdrop for the classic film Il Postino, starring Casablanca star, Ingrid Bergman. Salina is renowned for its exceptional diving opportunities and characterised by its twin mountains, the highest in the Aeolian Island group.

Panarea

For a taste of the high-life, consider a visit to Panarea where Hotel Raya, one of the best Aeolian Island luxury hotels, draws the jet set with its elegant terrace. This is the island where the A-List might bring their yachts to enjoy the blissful surroundings and fashionable bars and shops.

Filicudi and Alicudi

At the other end of the scale, adventurers looking to get away from it all would do well to explore rustic Filicudi or Alicudi. The smallest of the islands are situated to the far west and are the best locations to experience the tranquility of island village life and relax on pebble beaches, surrounded by crystal clear water.

What to see and do

Island excursions and day trips

Although choosing to base yourself on one of the Aeolian Islands allows you to experience island life at its best, explore at leisure and sample the culinary delights of fresh seafood and the famous sweet Malvasia wine, many visitors also prefer to stay on mainland Sicily and visit the islands as part of an excursion or day trip. This way, you can mix and match the islands according to your own interests – whether it’s hiking, fishing, diving, sunbathing or cultural experiences you seek.

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Choose from an organised tour or charter your own boat for an individually tailored experience – from the scenic boat tours from mainland Sicily to private sunset dinner cruises, ideal for an Aeolian Islands honeymoon, the archipelago is your oyster.

Snorkeling and diving

Beneath the inviting blue blanket of the Tyrrhenian Sea lies a fascinating underwater kingdom, the volcanic lay of the land providing unusual rock formations not often found in the Mediterranean Sea. There are a selection of dive operators where you can get certified – La Gorgonia on Lipari comes highly recommended and offers packages suitable for all levels.

Punta Castagna is a popular site with its white-pumice plateau and vertical wall pulsing with aquatic action. Expect to see parrot fish, groupers, sea breams and the odd barracuda or moray eel lurking in the depths. Vulcano and Panarea are also particularly renowned for their snorkeling and diving spots.

Trek the volcanoes

The defining experience of the Aeolian Islands, climbing a volcano or at least sitting back and enjoying the fiery show with a drink in hand, are highlights that attract visitors from all over the world. Vulcano’s geysers, fumaroles and four rumbling volcanoes make for an excellent showcase of natural beauty, but it is Stromboli’s fearsome fireworks that provide the ultimate spectacle. Join a guided trek to the crater under cover of darkness and peer down into the spitting depths below. Alternatively, take an evening cruise and watch the eruptions from on board a boat, under the starlit sky.

Where to stay?

There is an assortment of options when it comes to accommodation in the Aeolian Islands, from a luxurious high-end hotel on Panarea to a traditional pension on rustic Filicudi. However, the option of a self-catered stay close to or within this beautiful island chain might be just what you’re looking for.

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Here at Sicily 4U, we offer a range of comfortable villas throughout Sicily with a few options located in the island chains off-shore. Our self-catered properties give you the benefit of more space than you might have in a hotel with the ability to live like a local in a home-away-from-home. Explore our collections or contact us for further assistance with your Aeolian Island holiday.

Top travel planning tips

The Aeolian Islands weather benefits from its position in the south of Italy. Hot, dry summers and mild winters are to be expected though it is the summer months which prove the most popular with temperatures of up to 30 degrees centigrade and waters of around 26 degrees centigrade. Sailing the archipelago during the winter might see a few more rainy days but the water rests at approximately 14 degrees centigrade. To reach the Aeolian Islands from Sicily, there are numerous hydrofoils that run regularly from Palermo, Messina and Cefalu.

The Aeolian Island ferry transports both passengers and vehicles from Milazzo and Naples on mainland Italy too. Check company websites for up-to-date timetables and for additional information on other, less regular departures from other destinations.

Discover our location guide for information on other popular destinations in Sicily.