One Week Sailing the Aeolian Islands

NauticED Team enjoying Sicily

NauticEd is a sailing authority offering sailing training around the globe. Using their newly accepted Mediterranean sailing license, the SLC (Sailing License and Credentials), Grant Headifen, Global Director of Education, and his partner, Lauren took off for an amazing sailing holiday in the Aeolian Islands. Here’s their story:

The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago off the Northeast coast of Sicily, Italy. Named after the Greek God, Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, the seven Aeolian islands naturally lend themselves for a sailing charter. Here one can experience an explosion of history, tastes, sights, adventure, and culture as you sail the islands of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi.

After the NauticEd team returned from a one-week charter in the Aeolians, we affirmatively declared it the new #1 sailing destination. Why?—The list is endless but includes fantastic sailing, outdoor adventures, excellent food, sparkling Mediterranean waters, and a wonderful blending of cultures. Now here’s a brief recap of our incredible adventure...

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Having spent a few days in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, we took the train to Portorosa to begin our charter. After our briefings, we headed to the nearby market to provision. As seasoned charterers, we recommend provisioning lightly when in the Mediterranean. We provisioned for breakfast foods, snacks (meats, cheeses, crackers, and spreads) and of course libations, but we found that lunches and dinners are best eaten ashore. Most of the islands have markets with fresh foods and wines to stock up on whatever is needed.

Then the real fun began! Excited to get going, we released stern-lines, dropped the corpo morto, and headed towards Lipari. Along the way, we stopped for our first Mediterranean swim in the beautiful blue waters of Gelso Bay on the southern tip of the impressive volcanic island of Vulcano.

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After a successful med mooring (Hint: We cover that topic in our NauticEd “Maneuvering Under Power” course) in Lipari, the largest Aeolian island, we headed into town to explore. A must-do here is the Aeolian archaeological museum in the upper town. Surrounded by old fortified city walls, the museum contains relics from the islands throughout the ages. Along the Corso Vittoria Emanuele, we sipped aperitifs and dined on fresh fish while gazing at the magnificent scenery, where the white pumice mines of Lipari reflected on the deep blue sea.

The next morning, after grabbing some fresh swordfish sushi for the day’s snack from the pescheria, we set sail towards Panarea to the north of Lipari. But first, a swim at Basiluzzo, a spectacular island seamlessly rising high out of the water with swirling rock layers. Enjoying the warm water and ocean breezes, we then sailed to Lisca Bianca and Il Bottaro. At the north end of Bottaro is an amazing phenomenon related to the island chain’s volcanic history—underwater volcanic vents that bubble up to the surface. The odor is not the most pleasant but it’s an amazing experience. We definitely recommend bringing a mask and an underwater camera!

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Next, we were off to the posh jet-set paradise of Panarea, the smallest of the main Aeolian islands. Here, the whitewashed abodes reminiscent of classic Greek architecture climb up the tall island sides, while the car-free streets lined with bougainvillea and other beautiful flowers are full of upscale chic shops. This is a place to get wonderfully lost in the winding streets, stopping to shop or have lunch at the many laid-back cafes, bars, and restaurants serving delicious fresh foods and wines. Save some energy though because at night, Hotel Raya is the place to be. The rooftop terrace has perfect views of Stromboli’s volcanic eruptions.

Back on the boat the next morning, we set course for Stromboli, the dramatic active volcano island. Stromboli is one of three active volcanoes in Italy and has been erupting continuously for thousands of years. It is unmistakable from miles away as it rises 3000 feet above the water in an iconic volcano shape.

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Thirsty for an adrenaline rush, we grabbed a mooring ball and hired a guide to take us to the craters. Fair warning though—the hike to the top is not for the faint of heart but it is unbelievably worth it. By the time you get to the top of the mount, darkness is setting in, and Stromboli’s impressive fireworks show rages on as explosive magma erupts 500 feet into the sky. One more bucket list item = checked!

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We continued our journey by heading to Salina, the twin-peaked island known as the “green pearl” of the Aeolians due to its lush vegetation. On the west coast, we stopped in the bay at Pollara where parts of Il Postino were filmed. Next we short sailed to the marina in the main town of Santa Marina on the east coast. Here, we rented three-wheeled scooters and explored the relatively unchanged and natural island making sure to stop to taste the sweet Malvasia wine and capers for which the island is known.

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After an enjoyable 12-knot breeze sail to remote Filicudi the next morning to see the Grotto del Bue Marino, we headed back to Lipari and then to Vulcano. Vulcano is the southernmost island of the Aeolian group and is known for its therapeutic mud-baths and natural springs. We indulged in the unique experience and covered ourselves with the warm goop before relaxing in the bubbling springs.

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Immune to the “stinky” smell already, we made the short trek up to the Gran Cratere. Up here we saw the entire Aeolian archipelago. This was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the amazingness of the past week’s sailing charter—the adventure of viewing Stromboli’s eruptions, the underwater fumeroles and chic shops of Panarea, the history and cuisine in Lipari, and the greenness of Salina. As I wiped a bit of volcanic mud off my cheek, I took a deep breath in and thought...”THIS certainly doesn’t stink!”

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