Just off the northern coast of Sicily, in the southernmost part of Italy, an ancient landscape of sulphur, pumice, and obsidian emerges from the dark waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Its morphology is typical of volcanic islands, the result of geological activity that has shaped them over the millennia, massaged by the sea and wind, which, like artists, have patiently sculpted over the years what we see today. It is no coincidence that the Aeolian Islands earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000.
There is a kind of 'slow-living in the Aeolian Islands, cadenced by the rhythm of the waves and by fishing and cooking traditions preserved over time. Capers, figs, olives, wild fennel and lemons bigger than your fist grow in abundance in the dense volcanic soils. A glass of sweet Malvasia wine, one of the islands' most important export, complements this perfect sunny destination. Each of the seven Aeolian islands has its distinct landscape and offerings. Walking on extinct (and active!) volcanoes, bathing on black sand beaches and visiting the incredible rock formations and caves off the coast are just some of the highlights. Hiring a boat to explore them all allows you to visit them all in a playful step-by-step itinerary where every day if you wish, you can savour a different one, each day, the exploration begins again on a new island. Here we suggest a circular itinerary that will take you to Vulcano all the way to Filicudi. We wrote it together with a local Sicilian and skipper, Giovanni Arena. With several years of experience on his shoulders, Giovanni shares some nautical nuggets and insider tips on the Aeolian Islands onboard your boat.
Departures for the Aeolian Islands
There are two main ports from which you can set sail for the Aeolian Archipelago: Portorosa, 15 NM from the closest to the land, Vulcano (about 2h30min sailing) and Capo D'Orlando, 16 NM from Vulcano (about 2h45min sailing).
Best bays to anchor in the Aeolian Archipelago
The Island of Vulcano
In terms of size, Vulcano is the third largest and southernmost island in the Aeolian group. It is from here that our boat trip begins. In the past, the volcanic activity that periodically takes place in the Gran Cratere has resulted in people having to evacuate the island. Today, the activity is limited to the fumaroles found in the area around the Fossa and on the isthmus between the Faraglioni and Vulcanello. A strip of land separates Vulcanello from the island, giving rise to the bays of Porto Levante and Porto Ponente from where it is possible to reach the village.
Anchoring tips on Vulcano
Vulcano: Bay of Porto Levante
Famous for its warm water right next to the beach, this is the central bay from where you can reach Vulcano. It is a bay with a fair amount of maritime traffic due to the only commercial port on the island. It is advisable to be careful when entering the bay, giving precedence to the various regular ferries. Anchoring in front of the beach, to the north of the port, is possible. You'll find a sandy and muddy seabed ranging from 5 to 11 metres, which is also safe if you want to spend the night. Buoys are available in this bay or moor at the "Marina di Vulcanello" jetty to the north of the bay or the "Baia di Levante" jetty to the bay's south inside the commercial port. In high season it is preferable to book the buoy or mooring in advance.
Vulcano: Baia Porto di Ponente
This bay is perfect for admiring one of the most beautiful Aeolian sunsets from the boat or one of the lounge bars on the black sandy beach. Be careful when entering the bay: you may bump into rocks on both the right and left side of the bay. I recommend staying right in the centre and make sure t anchor on a seabed ranging from 5 to 14 metres. The seabed has a good hold, making it ideal for spending the night, but watch out for the wind: winds can hit the bay quite strongly here.
Vulcano: Grotta del Cavallo
As you head towards the island's western coast, you'll sail in front of the Grotta del Cavallo: a rocky cove similar to a Greek theatre. The name originates from a boulder at the end of the cave that looks just like a horse's head. Just next to the entrance to the great rocky vault is the Piscina di Venere (Venus' Pool), inside which you will feel "embraced" by the tuff and basalt rocks. Arm yourself with masks and flippers because snorkelling is the one thing you should do in this corner of paradise.
Anchoring here is preferably only recommended during the daytime by dropping your anchor inside the bay immediately to the south, circumnavigating the Pietra Quaglietta rock on the outside. The bay has a sandy seabed in the centre with large boulders near the cliff. From here, you can take the tender to the Grotta and the Piscina di Venere.
On the southernmost tip of Vulcano, you will find two beautiful bays. Baia di Gelso and Baia Della Spiaggia del Cannatella, also with black sand, where it is possible to anchor safely between 5 and 12 metres. In Baia di Gelso, the westernmost bay, a small jetty is a landing place for small boats or tenders, and here you can have lunch at the famous da Pina Restaurant (best to book). In the bay of Cannitello beach, during the summer, a bar is open where you can enjoy a happy hour or an aperitif on the beach.
In favourable weather conditions, it is possible to stay in the roadstead also for the night and enjoy the fantastic colours of the sunset and with good visibility, even the majestic Etna in Sicily.
In Vulcano I also recommend...
Especially for trekking lovers, the free excursion to the crater of the island. Estimated time 1 hour to reach the summit. To enjoy an excellent Sicilian granita, I recommend Ritrovo Remigio in front of the commercial port. Get a taste of the typical Aeolian cuisine in La Bottega Restaurant right in the village centre.
About 6 NM from the island of Vulcano is Lipari, the largest and oldest of the Aeolian Islands and the most populated. On the east side of the island is Lipari, divided into two villages: Marina Corta and Marina Lunga. Starting from Marina Corta, you can walk along with Monte Rosa and the village of Canneto. From here, you will find the famous white beaches with their pumice quarries: a must-stop here where the seabed is even more crystalline. Worth a stop is the village of Acquacalda, a hamlet of Lipari, where I recommend stopping for the obsidian flows. On the island's western side, you will see some jaw-dropping cliffs ending right into the sea. Being on a boat has the luxury of seeing what often cannot be spotted from land: in fact, you can spot the innumerable coves, caves, the Petra Longa and Petra Menalda only from onboard.
Anchoring tips in Lipari
At Marina Corta, you will find a small harbour for small fishing boats only and, in any case, reserved for local boats. In front of Marina Corta or immediately to the south of the harbour entrance, it is possible to anchor on a sandy seabed of about 12 metres. Beware of local traffic when approaching. This anchoring is ideal for visiting the village or spending the night.
A bit further north, you will find Marina Lunga, where you can moor on several floating bridges and take advantage of all the essential yachting services. Alternatively, floating docks are a little further down in the small pleasure port (Porto Pignataro).
In the bay of Marina Lunga, you can refuel at the "Eolian Bunker" jetty just outside Porto Pignataro. I recommend that you always give priority to regular ferries and be careful, especially in high season.
There are many bays along the island worth a stop, from Capo Rosso on the north-eastern side of the island. This unspoilt paradise can only be reached by boat, to Spiaggia Praia di Vinci at the southern end of the island, perfect for snorkelling. We recommend our article on the most beautiful shores of Lipari written also in collaboration with skipper Giovanni Arena.
On Lipari, I also recommend...
On Lipari, it's worth hiring a car or moped to explore the island's interior. Among the many good restaurants on Lipari, the Trattoria del Vicolo, where you will find traditional Sicilian and Aeolian dishes reinterpreted in a modern key, is worth visiting. La Kasbah restaurant, housed in an old theatre, is nestled in the alleyways of Lipari. Refined in its simplicity, it opens onto a cosy and welcoming garden of olive trees. And finally, the Ristorante da Filippino if you want to taste the excellent fish. For a delicious granita or typical Sicilian pastry, I recommend La Pasticceria d'Ambra in Marina Corta or Subba in Marina Lunga.
From Lipari, we continue our week's sailing in the Aeolian Islands to Panarea. The island, which is 10NM from Lipari (about 1h40min), is famous for its nightlife, lounge bars, discos under the stars, boutiques and white houses with blue doors and windows, but above all for its crystal clear water ideal for snorkelling. From the harbour area, you can visit the quaint city centre on foot.
At the island's southern tip, there are two main coves: Cala Zimmari and Cala Junco.
Anchoring tips in Panarea
Cala Zimmari is a safe harbour, well sheltered from the winds and the regular sea coming from the fourth quadrant, so it is ideal for anchoring both during the day and at night. From here you can land on the beach, from where you can reach the nearby prehistoric village or the island's centre in about 20 minutes on foot.
Cala Junco is a corner of paradise set among the rocks. I strongly recommend doing some snorkelling here: the seabed inside the cove is exceptional here. Thus I recommend dropping anchor immediately outside to venture out with your mask and fins.
If you want to visit the island leaving the boat in peace and safety, in good weather, I recommend that you take one of the many buoys with taxi service included in the price positioned along the east coast of the island. It is possible to book them or when you are outside the buoy field, a dinghy will ask you directly if you want to moor.
The nearby islets of Basiluzzo frame Panarea, Dattilo, Bottaro, Spinazzola and the rocks of Lisca Bianca, Lisca Nera, Panarelli and Formiche (pay attention to the latter as they can be a real danger to navigation, especially if you sail at night as they are not marked).
If you are coming from the south, I recommend that you drop anchor during daylight hours between Bottaro and Lisca Bianca on a sandy bottom between 5 and 13 metres without crossing the channel between the two islets because of the shallow water. Anchoring here is a necessity, not only for snorkelling but also for the solfatara (bubbles coming from the bottom of the sea) ideal for a natural hydro-massage.
Basiluzzo, the largest of this small archipelago, is another spot worth stopping by. The mix of colours of the seabed and the turquoise water are exceptional. For safe anchoring, I recommend stopping in front of the east coast of the islet on a 9 to 14-metre sand and stone bottom.
In Panarea I also recommend...
I recommend a visit to the prehistoric village between Cala Junco and Cala Zimmari and trekking along the path from Cala Zimmari and going around the whole island. The restaurants "Cusiritati" and "Da Pina" are perfect for a fish dinner. The Restaurant "Il macellaio" for a meat dinner or a delicious pizza. For an elegant and suggestive aperitif, I recommend the "Raya" restaurant with a panoramic terrace overlooking the bay of Panarea and Stromboli.
Stromboli is undoubtedly the most surprising of the archipelago's islands. Its volcano, in perpetual explosive activity, gives incandescent plays of lava that, especially at nightfall, offer unique emotions. Navigating from Panarea to Stromboli is, without doubt, fascinating and unique in every moment of the 10 miles that separate them (about 2 hours of navigation).
Anchoring tips in Stromboli
On the north-eastern side of the island is the main town. Here it is possible to anchor on a mixed bed of sand and stones between 5 and 12 metres. Otherwise, it is safer, given the island's shape, to moor at one of the many buoys (Marina del Gabbiano) in front of the beach at Punta Lena.
On Stromboli I also recommend...
The most popular activity on the island is trekking up the volcano with an expert guide along a path leading to the observation point where you can see the magma pouring out of the crater. For lovers of granitas and arancini, I recommend a stop at Bar Ingrid in the square not only for its delicious specialities but also for the beautiful view over the bay and Strombolicchio.
On the west side of Stromboli, you can admire the rocky wall shaped by the magma flows over the years. For the more experienced, I recommend sailing at sunset to be enchanted by the explosions of fire and lapilli rolling down to the sea. I recommend always check the local protocols on the distance necessary from the coast on this side of the island.
At 20NM from Stromboli - about 3h20min by boat - you will find Salina, the second-largest island of the Aeolian Archipelago, after Lipari, with an area of about 27 square kilometres. The rich vegetation of ferns, poplars, oaks, vineyards and capers also makes it the greenest, especially in the spring and summer seasons.950m high, Salina is worth spending a day to enjoy the slow pace of life on the island, take a hike up Monte delle Felci or rent a scooter to explore the interior.
Anchoring tips in Salina
Santa Marina Salina is the island's central landing place: here, you will find two ports, one commercial, where you can stock up on fuel and water, while the one further south is the marina (Porto Delle Eolie) dedicated to pleasure boats with all the essential services. If you don't want to enter the port, you can anchor safely just outside the harbour and then reach the island by tender.
Lingua is a village on the extreme south-eastern tip of the island where you can anchor on a bottom between 5 and 12 metres for a day or night stop. The lake is very suggestive with the sunset colours, built by the Romans to obtain the salt used to preserve capers and fish. Let yourself be delighted by the Pane Cunzato and granitas of the Ristorante da Alfredo before returning to the boat.
The Bay of Pollara, made famous by the film Il Postino, is a secret treasure of the island and one of the most beautiful in the archipelago. The stone on the cliffs tells the story of this place, as do the old fishermen's cottages, now converted into fishing depots reached by steep steps. An almost surreal place where time seems to have frozen.
Anchoring in this corner of the Aeolian Islands is a must if sea and wind conditions permit. Enter the bay from the northwest, keeping between Punta Perciato and Scoglio Faraglione to anchor on a sandy and rocky sea bed of between 5 and 10 metres.
Be careful not to pass between the rock and the coast because of large boulders almost at water level.
Formerly called Phoenicodes because of the large number of ferns on the island, steep slopes and rocky coastline characterise this small island formed by a group of craters, the highest of which is Fossa delle Felci (773 m). Together with Alicudi, Filicudi is the furthest island from Sicily. With no roads, the locals often travel on donkeys. Both are perfect for those who want to get off the beaten track. It is 10NM from Salina, about 1h40min by boat.
Anchoring tips in Filicudi
On the north side of the island is the harbour bay with the main pier for ferries. Here I do not recommend anchoring as the sea bed is not a good seal, but you can moor at the small floating dock with water service or the buoys.
On the other side of the island, you can anchor in the small bay on the south coast as you approach the first small beach on the island west part. Here, I recommend anchoring from 11 metres upwards to avoid the large boulders that have crumbled from the rock face over time.
On the south side, as an alternative to the port, you can also moor near the many buoys available in front of the village of Pecorini a Mare. Here I strongly recommend stopping by the Bar il Saloon, where you can chill in the evenings indulging in a glass of Malvasia wine, which's so typical around here.
On the west coast of the island of Filicudi, you can admire the beautiful Grotta del Bue (Ox Cave) and half a mile further out to sea, you can see the Canna (a solitary 85-metre high stack in the middle of the sea) and the Montenassari rock. You can anchor here at 12-16 metres, preferably during the daylight hours and with a snorkel because of the rocky seabed. Arm yourself with a mask and flippers and enjoy the view!
Alicudi is the smallest island of the Aeolian Islands. It has a surface of 5,10 square kilometres, few dozens of people live there, and it is far from Filicudi, about 10 miles heading west (about 1h40min of navigation).
The island has a coin shape: you will not find many sheltered bays, and the seabed drops rapidly. If you want to visit it, I recommend mooring at the buoys available in front of the small village. It is also good to check the weather forecasts here to make sure you find favourable wind and sea conditions.
This sailing itinerary of the Aeolian Archipelago can accompany you on your next boating holiday. Depending on the wind and current conditions, it may change. Whether you are an experienced sailor or a skipper, you will know that travelling by boat requires flexibility in planning. In the same way, we advise you to retrace your steps back to your port of departure, Portorosa or Capo d'Orlando. Still, always considering the wind and current conditions, you can decide together with your skipper and your crew if you want to modify your return route.
Winds on the archipelago in the different seasons
The predominant winds during the summer season are those coming from the northeast (grecale). In the winter season, winds from the southwest (libeccio) and west (ponente) are more frequent.
Generally, you can predict weather conditions based on visibility. For example, when you see the coast of Sicily clearly, sirocco winds are coming. If instead in the same conditions you can see the Calabrian coast, you will have easterly winds. If clouds cover Calabria and Sicily, you will have north or west winds, respectively. Elongated clouds form in the opposite direction to the wind.
About skipper Giovanni Arena
"I come from a small fishing village on the Strait of Messina, and since I was a child, I grew up in close contact with the sea and boats. I started having my first experience at sea with a sailing dinghy at the age of 14. A few years later, at the age of 19, I obtained my sailing licence and immediately afterwards the title of Yacht & Monotype sailing instructor, the latter obtained on Lake Garda. Here I had the opportunity to work for a couple of seasons in a sailing school as an instructor, interspersed with skippering experience in Italy and Greece."
Folllow Giovanni on Instagram @vita_da_barca