I have had Aphrodite for 10 years now. During those years I have been able to combine my life as an entrepreneur and my life as a sailor getting around 20 to 40 days on board per year. Aphrodite spends summers in the Mediterranean and winters in the Caribbean, so she has many Atlantic crossings under her belly. She is a 92 feet Ketch built by Vitters in the Netherlands and designed by Andre Hoek with one purpose in mind, safe and fast cruising. With its flashed deck Aphrodite is the perfect explorer sailboat.
And this summer we once more put Aphrodite to the test together with Nina my wife and Isa, Tom and Leo. For close to two weeks we sailed the islands around Sicily and what follows is a review of them that can serve others as a guide of what to do and what to avoid in the Sicilian Islands.
My short take on them is that you should only use Capo Milazzo as the port of embarcation for sailing the Aeolians but waste no time there. Avoid Lipari and Vulcano in August because they are the most popular of the Aeolian Islands and if you are on a sailboat you can do better than that, and focus on the rest which are absolutely phenomenal. Sail directly from Milazzo to Stromboli.
Stromboli is one of the jewels of the Med but there are caveats. The island has two towns, Stromboli itself and Ginastra. Stromboli is charming but quite touristy and just not as elegant as say Panarea or Ginastra itself in the same island. So while most people spend time in Stromboli, I recommend making Ginastra the center of your exploration. For example, while going up to the volcano is organized with guides and many tourists on the Stromboli side, if you are like me and prefer to open your own path and be alone, put on a pair of jeans (as the path that goes up from Ginastra to Stromboli is barely used and has many thorny plants) and go up on your own. In Stromboli we mostly ate on board so I have no restaurants to recommend. After seven the Guardia Costiera leaves the area where the volcano spits lava ever 15 minutes or so and you can get as close to the volcano as you want.
When you sail from Stromboli to Panarea there are three tiny islands that are worth a stop. They are all beautiful and the middle island has a sulphur gas that comes up from the bottom of the sea around 10 meters deep and you can go snorkling around there surrounded by shiny bubbles. Warning: my wedding band, normally silver, turned brown as a result of that swim but metal cleaning products normally used on sailboats worked and fixed the problem. So after spending a day or so you can get to Panarea at night.
Panarea is the only Aeolian with true night life in the sense of large choice of elegant restaurants and a couple of chill out bars. We only ate in one, Quartara, and both the food and atmosphere were great. The town of Panarea deserves a 3 hour walk in both directions. I also recommend a hike to the heliport from where you have a great view of Stromboli. If you have 800€ to spare go for a helicopter ride of Stromboli with Air Panarea, the owner of that helicopter airline is a particularly nice guy and my 3 year old had a good time pretending to be a helicopter pilot together with his 4 year old.
Salinas is the most complete of the Aeolians, by that I mean that if you have a weekend to spend in one Aeolian Island I would recommend Panarea, but for a whole week, it would be Salinas. Salinas has roads, cars, scooters, towns, and yet it is not as crowded as Lipari. Friends of ours spent their honeymoon there and I can understand why. The best town is Malfa, by far. The 4 other towns can’t compare. The place to eat is the Signum Hotel. Rent a scooter, go around, hike, go to la Caldera (sailing and over land different, complementary experiences). Salinas must have much more to explore than what we saw. I would go back there.
Filicudi and Alicudi are the lesser Aelioans. But lesser in the sense that they are smaller, yet in terms of beauty per square meter they hold their own. Filicudi is all focused on one side, the one protected from Mistrals. It is interesting how Mistrals the strong NW winds that go through the Western Med 2 or 3 times a month, have shaped development, both humans and naturals around the region.
In the Aeolians, Mistrals have created a situation in which lava flows face the Mistrals and nature and people avoid them. Stromboli, Alicudi volcanos flow towards the Mistrals. I don’t know why but I have a sense that erosion help decide the path of least resistance for lava flows. Filicudi has these amazing phallic rock formation sticking out 70m off the water that are worth sailing around, quite a few times.
Alicudi is the smallest of the Aeolian and yet incredibly steep. What is unique about it is that the 100 homes or so that have been built there can only be inhabited by athletes who, as Tom said, are willing to go up and down the equivalent of the Empire State by staircase, every time they need milk. And they are inhabited by athletes, I have never seen fitter people and animals as in those islands. The mules work non stop bringing such essentials as drinking water to the homes on the side of the extinguished volcano. We went up to the last home and it took us over an hour of the steepest hike of our lives to get to it, at 488m over sea level.
The Aegadian Islands
From the Aeolian Islands we sailed to the Aegadian and my general comment is that they are not worth your time for anything other than a passage stop from the Aeolians to Pantelleria. On that passage what you may want to do is to stop in San Vito lo Capo, a quiet nice town in the North West corner of Sicily and in Trapani. Trapani is kind of run down but it has a decadent beauty that I liked. It reminded me of Essaouira in Morocco. If you go to Trapani get a car or some means of transportation and go to Erice, a beautiful medieval town up the mountain.
Now back to the Aegadians, we were so poorly impressed by Trapani that we did not even try to go to Levanzo. But Favignana was slightly better. At this point let me grade the islands so you get an idea of what I mean about the Egadi. Vulcano B+, Lipari B+, Stromboli A+, Panarea A+, Salinas A+, Filcudi A-, Alicudi A- but Trapani C, Favignana B. You get my point. Favignana does have a town that has its moments, it is quite busy so if you miss seeing people out and about you may like Favignana more.
But in Favignana the markets are not local fruits and vegetables but Chinese goods sold by sad looking African emigrants desperate to make a living. Still we managed to find a charming restaurant in the Augusta hotel, a garden restaurant where we ate well. In general I would say that we still have to find one restaurant in which we ate poorly. All of them are great Southern Italian food for 20 to 40 euros a person. We only got ripped off once and that was at the restaurant Al Tramonto in Pantelleria where they charged us €96 euros for a mediocre fish or €50 euros per person for a meal that anywhere else would be half of that. Otherwise eating in the Sicilian Islands is generally a phenomenally predicable experience.
And in Favignana we did have a special moment and that was when we coincided with a local, religious celebration in which a Madonna was brought into the church by men in uniform. The light was perfect, the church attractively small and while religion is to blame for a lot of unnecessary killings among humans when properly practiced it can be especially picturesque.
Is Pantelleria worth a day of sailing to get there and another one to get back? I am not 100% sure but we did enjoy it. Pantelleria, like the Aeolians, is a volcanic island. The volcano is not active but there’s “fresh” lava all over the place. As other volcanic Islands, Pantelleria is very steep, with poor anchorages as sandy bottoms are rare. We only found one in Scauri and that’s where we stayed. Avoid Pantelleria town, it is depressing and after a long sail to get to Pantelleria Island if that is the first thing you see, as it happens to us, you will question the whole trip, and if you haven’t slept well, your whole life after seeing that dump of a place. But Scauri for example is Aelian level material. So Pantelleria gets a B+ in my blog because of Scauri, because of the South, because of the hikes and local lava based architecture.
Unless you are one of those sailors, like me who likes to see everything and come to his/her own conclusions, just go to the Aeolian Islands. You can avoid the Egadi and regarding Pantelleria, if it was say 3 hours of sailing from Stromboli I would say go for it. But to sail 2 days from the Aeolians to go to Pantelleria is not worth it.