Sicilian Islands and their coastal counterparts
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and together with the picturesque Aeolian Islands, it is without a doubt one of the best spots for holidays in southern Italy. It has an incredibly rich history that can be felt at every step, amazing beaches with breathtaking crystalline seas, and locals famed for their hospitality and delicious cuisine. If you're planning to spend a week or two in Sicily, I would definitely recommend visiting the northern areas of the island: this will give you the opportunity to visit the Aeolian Islands too, which during the summer are among the most desirable destinations in Italy. After landing at Catania Airport and before making your way to the islands, why not take a trip to Taormina, a popular tourist destination, or Milazzo, which is more quiet, but equally beautiful? The ferries for the Aeolian Islands depart from Milazzo regularly, and you can reach the closest island within an hour.
A little mountain top town overlooking the Ionian coast, Taormina will take your breath away with its incredible views and warm atmosphere. It's Sicily's most famous resort, abundant with shops and restaurants and offering an active nightlife. During your holidays in Taormina you simply can't miss a visit to the Greek amphitheatre, with its famous panoramic view of Etna: in the summer season it hosts artists from all over the world, whose performances are made all the more special in this exceptional venye. Taormina is also a good base for visiting other local attractions, including Mount Etna, Alcantara Gorge and Castel of Castelmola. For nature lovers, the Alcantara Gorge is a must, while tourists Castel of Castelmola is definitely worth a visit for its panoramic location overlooking Taormina.
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The boats for the Aeolian Islands depart from Milazzo, but it would be a shame not to visit this little gem properly once you're there. This lovely little town, slightly less touristic than Taormina, will let you savour the real Sicily and even if small, it offers many attractions. Milazzo is located at the base of a peninsula that juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea, with a small promontory covered by amazing beaches on one side, and the port with its beautiful promenade perfect for an evening stroll on the other. The Castle of Milazzo, situated in the ancient Borgo, becomes a hot spot and venue at night with many restaurants and pubs, as well as various cultural events. Another place to visit whilst here is Capo Milazzo, a panoramic point overlooking the whole of the north part of the Sicilian coast.
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Vulcano is the first of the Aeolian islands that the ferry stops at. This island is dominated by the Gran Cratere active volcano cone, which gives off clouds of suplhurous gas. It is possible to hike to the top of Gran Cratere in just about an hour. The best time for the hike is in the morning, when you can avoid the direct sun and enjoy the amazing view over the other Aeolian islands, Sicily and the coast of Italy from above. It also allows you to witness a living and breathing volcano up close, which is a pretty exceptional experience. Of course, if that all sounds like too much effort, Vulcano is also popular for its black sand beaches and volcanic mud baths.
Of all the Aeolian Islands, Salina is the island I love the most: lush and hilly, it's great for a relaxing walk. It takes its name from “saline” because of the salty deposits that are found in and around the island. Its more ancient name was Didyme (meaning mountain twins), derived from its two volcanic peaks: Porri and Fossa delle Felci, the highest peak of the Aeolian Island. Most of the island is green and consists of an exceptional natural reserve; its prolific wild vegetation makes up a large part of the island's natural beauty. The easiest way to move around is by renting a scooter, which will allow you to discover beautiful beaches and romantic little churches and squares. Not to be missed, however, are the long walks and hikes: the mountain paths are narrow, but surrounded by wild flowers, every step brings a new aroma and fresh pleasure to the senses.
The most remote of the islands is little more than a volcano rising out of the sea, but definitely the most special of all. As the island is quite small, you can easily stroll around it to enjoy the picturesque scenery of charming white houses and beaches with black sand. Stromboli is also famous for trips out at night, to see magma spurting out of its vulcanic cone. You can experience this incredible scenery in two ways; either from the sea or directly from the top of the volcano. The first option is definitely the more comfortable, as it evades the effort of a quite difficult hike! There are many boat rentals on the island that will allow you to observe “la sciara del fuoco”, the magma falling into the sea, but the night hike to the top of Stromboli volcano is an exceptional experience that gives you the possibility to observe the eruptions up close (but not too close!). It is possible to rent all the necessary equipment at reasonable prices from a shop in the main square - think frontal lights, helmets and boots - and you will also be provided with a guide.
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