Don’t miss the song of the sirens
Vail, CO, Colorado
They lost my luggage (not once, but twice), I was stung by a jellyfish (medusa) and I got really sick. But this was the best vacation of my life.
What made this vacation special was a formula that can’t fail: Good friends ” a mix of South Africans, Venezuelans and Americans ” who can as easily go “medusa hunting” in the Mediterranean or share the best pasta dishes after hiking a volcano.
This is why I fell in love with the Isola di Panarea ” the smallest of the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily, Italy.
It’s not remote, but it feels like it is. You wake up to your next door neighbor having a “loud” conversation with a family member in Italian. The narrow streets where cars aren’t allowed, are lined with white houses with the most incredible flowers. The vegetation seems to be more alive than I am thanks to the volcanic soil that it grows on. The “carabinieri” (Italian police) patrol the island in a golf cart. And you can get the best cappuccino with a “corneto” (croissant) for breakfast in a little coffee shop by the port and then eat breakfast in full view of the island of Stromboli and its active volcano.
We arrived to Panarea in early June from Sicily in the “Gogo,” my friend Dick Enthoven’s boat. We got there at 8 p.m. and there were rough seas that made the island look haunting with the islets of Dattilo, Bottaro, Lisca Bianca and Lisca Nera surrounding it like a fortress in the sea.
As soon as we left the boat, the discovery began. We started the 10-minute walk to the house, while Deto, who takes care of Dick’s house, took our luggage in a small electric vehicle. Then we walked through the gently steep roads through the town of San Pietro where the local shops were still open. Once at the house, we dined on incredible pasta al limone (there’s no cheese on it and no, you can’t get the recipe) accompanied by Italian wine.
The next morning the sun was out and so was all the beauty of this island and its surroundings.
Panarea is the smallest of the seven major islands in the Aeolian archipelago, which include the islands of Stromboli, Lipari, Vulcano, Filicudi, Alicudi and Salina. Though the island is very simple (in a practical, rather than spiritual way) and low key, many consider it the “Saint Tropez of Southern Italy” for having attracted VIPs from Italy and the world.
The tourist season is short ” July through August ” but intense, especially compared to its neighbor islands. My friend Dick, who visits the island several times a year, says the best months to go there are June, September and October, when the islands quiet down.
In addition to its charm and natural beauty, the island has one of the most important archaeological sites in the Aeolian archipelago, called Capo Milazzese. Along with the pre-historic ruins of a village that dates back to the Bronze Age, hikers will be surprised to find a well-maintained network of trails.
Being a resident of the Vail Valley, and a hiker, I was very impressed with these hikes. From many points you can admire the sweeping views of the other six islands that form the Aeolian group, including Stromboli which features an active volcano. By the time you reach the top of Punta del Corvo, the highest peak on the island, you are about 1,200 feet above sea level.
Suggested Panarea visits include a round-trip of the island that allows you to see all the most enchanting places of the island. Visit the Inlet of Cala Junco, a wonderful natural pool with clear-crystal water. You can also visit the Panarea Islets, where you can see vestiges of old Roman buildings in Spinazzola and Basiluzzo. The Grotto of the lovers in Lisca Bianca is a small cave whose names come from a legend saying that a couple kissing inside will be together forever.
Since you are on one of the Aeolian islands (Isole Eolie in Italian), and if you have some extra time, you can take day trips by boat to some of the other islands. Another suggestion is taking a helicopter ride over Stromboli.
Since the 1970s the islands have become one of the major tourist attractions of Southern Italy and tourism has become the main source of economic activity in the archipelago.
We were lucky since the Gogo took us on a four-day trip from island to island, which allowed us to see and swim in the hidden spots.
Lipari, the largest of the islands, is also the most populated and the administrative center of six of the seven islands; Salina is politically independent and has three individual towns ” Santa Marina di Salina, Malfa, and Leni.
Another special thing to do is to climb the volcanoes of Vulcano ” an hour hike ” and Stromboli. Following the major 2002-2003 eruption of Stromboli, access to the volcano is limited to about 1,200 feet, which means that the summit is off-limits. In recent years hundreds of tourists had crowded the summit area of Stromboli. It was also luck that the eruption was in the winter ” during the summer season it would have certainly caused numerous deaths.
It took about three weeks for my skin on my finger to heal completely from the medusa sting. But I liked it. As I rode my bike again in the Vail Valley, it was a reminder of how beautiful the Mediterranean is … even with these stinging creatures.