The Aeolian Islands—Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli and the relatively undeveloped Alicudi and Filicudi—lie off the north coast of Sicily, 80 mi/130 km northeast of Palermo.
These seven volcanic islands were known to the ancient Greeks as the home of Aeolus, god of the winds; they are characterized by rugged coastlines, often-turbulent seas and rich color.
The area offers a plethora of watersports, from scuba diving and snorkeling to sailboarding. You'll want to choose the islands you visit based on your personal interests: Each has its own character.
The most popular attraction is the active volcano on Stromboli: The molten lava is spectacular at night. The hike to the top takes three hours, and you're advised not to get too close—in fact, visitors are strongly encouraged and sometimes required to take a guide. (There's a boat tour for those who don't want to hike.)
Alicudi is for nature lovers—there are no roads, no cars and no nightlife—just a coffee bar, a smattering of hotel rooms and a restaurant. Filicudi is also quiet, though more populated and thus a bit livelier.
Lipari and Panarea are for those more interested in la dolce vita (the sweet life): Car-free Panarea is the smallest and most spectacular of the seven islands, with stylish restaurants and hotels. Lipari, the most developed, has chic restaurants, discos, shops and a castle.
On green, fertile Salina, where part of the Oscar-winning film Il Postino was shot, try malvasia, a golden Aeolian wine the locals call "God's nectar." Take a dip in the sulfur pools (yes, they smell like rotten eggs) on the island of Vulcano or hike to the top of its volcano to see the hot-air vents, whose edges seem embroidered with sulfur crystals.
Ferries and hydrofoils to the islands leave year-round from the Sicilian towns of Milazzo, Messina and Naples; Reggio di Calabria, Palermo and Cefalu offer summer-only ferries.
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