One of the chief attractions the beautiful island of Sicily has to offer is the ability to get up close and personal with a variety of breath-taking natural wonders. From the shimmering blue depths of the surrounding Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas with their spell-binding diving and sailing opportunities; to the rugged, mountainous terrain, peppered with ample hiking and trekking activities - Sicily is the perfect destination for those who can’t get enough of the Great Outdoors.
However, to experience one of the most compelling natural sights of Sicily, a trip off the northern shore to the famous Aeolian Island chain ought to be on your itinerary. This small archipelago, rising up out of the sapphire sea, presents a primordial landscape of rugged coastline and dramatically smoldering volcanoes.
Stromboli and the Aeolian Islands
This UNESCO World Heritage site plays host to seven islands as well as a smattering of uninhabited islets, terrain typified by magnificent black sand beaches, smoking craters and steaming fumaroles. Although this volatile region is reminiscent of a land that time forgot, the Aeolian Islands experience a surge in popularity during the summer months, drawing both the yachts and attentions of the fashionable jet-set.
The island of Stromboli is no exception to this rule - it has experienced its own slice of fame and fortune from when Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman shot the movie, Stromboli, Terra di Dio, on its shores in 1949. The pair reportedly fell in love on Stromboli’s shores and once the film was released, visitors followed in its wake.
Fast forward to the present day and it is now the mighty volcano of Stromboli which entices visitors to this small island. The captivating spectacle is renowned for being one of the world’s most active volcanoes, its temperamental and frequent eruptions spewing glowing lava and plumes of steam from an assortment of vents tucked inside its crater.
Watching this sort of activity by night is truly a sight to behold with small yet fiercely glowing showers spraying up to 200 metres above the craters - a light display which has earned Stromboli the nickname ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’. This constant activity - dating back to ancient times - makes Stromboli’s volcano unique, securing its place as one of the world’s most accessible and visited volcanoes.
To watch the eruptions of Stromboli’s volcano from afar or from the deck of a passing ship is a sight worth writing home about, but to climb to the summit and catch the show from a front-row seat takes the experience to a whole new level.
At a total height of almost 8,000ft, 75% of Stromboli’s bulk lies beneath the surface of the waves. However, the 3,000ft that rises above sea level presents a popular climb for those of a reasonable level of fitness, keen to experience at close quarters the rewarding view from the rim of the crater, into the fiery depths below. Geologists monitor Stromboli’s volcanic activity closely to ensure that visitors remain as safe as possible.
There are several routes that can be arranged with local tour companies or private guides. A relatively new path cuts straight up to the summit viewing platform from St. Vincenzo church whilst the older routes via the panoramic viewpoint at Sciara del Fuoco and the picturesque Ginostra village, are often less busy.
Hikers should be of a reasonable level of fitness to tackle the two to three hour climb to the summit and should be prepared to deal with exposed slopes, loose sand, rocks and unpaved trails. A sturdy pair of trekking boots, a torch, water, snacks and a warm jacket are essential pieces of equipment to embark on the climb, though your tour company will provide safety helmets too.
Most of the tour groups plan the trek to reach the summit for sunset, to watch the changing colours of the sky against a backdrop of volcanic explosions. As darkness falls, the show continues beneath a starlit sky, before the descent begins.
The nuts and bolts
The cost of joining a group trek to the summit of Stromboli is approximately 25-30 Euros, inclusive of helmets and a guide who speaks English with departure times varying from 3pm to 5.30pm, dependent on season. Trekking gear can be hired from the town.
Stromboli itself can be reached from Sicily by hydrofoil or the ferry service.