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Episode #069: Discovering Sicily’s Aeolian Islands

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The Italian island of Sicily has several archipelagos off its coast, smaller islands off the large island and this week we’re headed to the northernmost point of Sicily, to the little-known Aeolian Islands where our Sicily travel expert Karen La Rosa encourages us to ‘Live the myth!’

Show notes

In this episode, we learn about how each of these remote volcanic islands has differing personalities and terrain. From stunning light shows provided by active volcanoes to bathing in mud, tales of the gods, fat caper berries, and organic wine! The Aeolian Islands are the perfect Mediterranean escape and are fairly undiscovered because, as Karen describes, it takes a little effort to reach them, but it is, of course, well worth it.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. A volcano is considered active if it’s erupted in the last 10 thousand years
  2. You can get to the islands from Milazzo on Sicily’s main island, where tickets can be bought at the ticket office at the port. You can purchase your tickets online, but this is only a ticket reservation – you still have to go to the ticket office to pick up your actual ticket
  3. The island of Vulcano is named for Vulcan, the mythological Roman God of fire. He apparently had his forge on the island and this is where the word ‘volcano’ comes from
  4. Vulcano’s mud is a constant 82 degrees Fahrenheit/28 degrees Celsius year-round
  5. Vulcano has a stunning black sandy volcanic beach – Spiaggia Nera
  6. Salina island is known as  – the one that teaches the others how to be an island – the one with a green soul!
  7. Sicily is at the forefront of the green movement, in a very natural way, to protect its islands. With wind and solar power and there is also a real focus on sustainability in the food and wine industry there
  8. The islands are famous for capers. The caper plant is unusual in that they don’t plant the seeds from the big cucunci, instead, they graft. And they only graft the good ones, so it’s a kind of genetic selection to get the best product
  9. Off the small island of Stromboli, Strombolicchio an even tinier island has Italy’s most active volcano which has been erupting for more than two thousand years. It erupts about every twenty minutes and strombolian activity is an actual term that means continuous explosion
  10. While Stromboli is referred to in the masculine in Sicilian and it means he’s powerful, Mount Etna is called mother or her majesty because she is so nurturing to the land
  11. On the island of Filicudi off Le Punte beach, there is a submarine archeological museum for divers to explore. There are about nine ancient shipwrecks and loads of amphora undersea untouched
  12. For magical sunsets head to Belvedere di Stimpagnato on Filicudi. It overlooks Alicudi island and here there is also the Sea Cow Cave (Grotto del Bue Marino). According to legend, this was the home of the God Aeolus. You can only get to it by sea and once inside there are amazing reflections that the light creates on the water
  13. If you only have one day for visiting the Aeolian Islands pick one and do that island well. Save the other islands for another day!
  14. Keen an eye on the weather forecasts – it can get very windy, even in the summer months, and sometimes if there are very strong winds the boats won’t go
  15. Wine massages are a thing on the Aeolian Islands! You can get a spa massage using a cream that is made out of wine must

About our guest – Karen La Rosa

karen la rosa - la rosa works

Karen is a tour operator and owner of La Rosa Works that specializes in travel to Sicily. For more than 10 years, she has been promoting travel to the island, bringing small to medium sized groups to join her and designing and arranging itineraries and tours for independent travelers.

Sicily is Karen’s heritage and her passion. That love evolved into a highly respected boutique travel business. Karen shares the island’s beating heart with her clients – from authentic, historical and off the beaten path experiences, to the contemporary and entrepreneurial efforts that represent the new paths in present day Sicily.

Karen’s tours are immersive and fun with expert guides, wine and food always the protagonists. Karen’s website, her YouTube channel, and social media presence are all aimed at engaging people interested in exploring Sicily’s fascinating history, stunning beauty, warm hospitality and some say, the best food and wine in Italy. Her clients write reviews that are amazing and a true testament to her kindness, generosity and passion for Sicily.

Karen is an Italian Wine Specialist, speaks Italian and has visited Sicily countless happy times.

You can also find Karen on these social media channels:

Food & Drink

  • salinity – a slightly salty tang in wine
  • Malvasia – a white wine grape
  • cucunci – the fruit/berry of the caper
  • calzone – oven-baked folded dough with savoury fillings
  • granita – delicious and refreshing semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and fruit
  • passito – drying wine for 6 months on straw mats to bring out the sweetness

Places mentioned in the show

  • Vulcano the closest island to Milazzo, taking just under an hour to reach

  • Lipari – the largest of the Aeolian Islands
  • Salina – the second largest island in the archipelago, formed from two now extinct volcanoes
  • Filicudi – created by a volcanic event only about 1 million years ago, the island is known for being wild and unspoiled. It is only four square miles, most of which has been a nature reservice since 1997.
    • Hotel Cannaa lovely, traditional white-washed Aeolian house, surrounded by vegetation and facing the sea
    • Villa La Rosa restaurant – welcoming and delicious food
    • La Sirena rest – in the ancient seaside village of Pecorini and just a few steps away from the sea
    • Fossa Felci – the highest peak on the island with a very different landscape from the rest of the island and is cool even in August. A trip to the top will reward you with breathtaking views of the whole archipelago and even of Sicily
  • Panarea – great for scuba diving and loved by the wealthy and  celebrities for low-key luxury
    • Hotel Raya – gorgeous, exclusive overlooking the sea and with spectacular view of the active volcano of Stromboli
  • Stromboli –  at only about five square miles, it is small but mighty and has just two villages – Stromboli and Ginostra
  • Strombolicchio – the tiny island off the already small island of Stromboli, is the most northern point of Sicily and is sometimes called the lighthouse of the Mediterranean. It’s a three-hour ride from Milazzo
  • Alicudi – a wild island with no cars or ATMs. The island is named from the Greek word for heather, which grows on the slopes of the island.

Resources

  • Liberty Lines. Milazzo – Hydrofoil, fast ferry, to reserve tickets online and pick up at ticket office at the port.
  • Terroir – a French term used to describe the environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environment contexts, farming practices and a crop’s specific growth habitat
  • Stromboli – 1950s Rossellini movie with Ingrid Bergman
  • Ergot – this fungus grows on rye and related plants
  • Vulcan – mythological Roman god of fire
  • The fumarole fields – where the steam comes out from the thermals
  • Obsidian – a naturally occurring volcanic glass that is beautiful and rare

Resources from Untold Italy

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Transcript

Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.

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