A Few Days In

Aeolian Islands Essentials

by Deborah Schoeneman
Just a typical day on Panarea. Photo courtesy of Hotel Raya.

The seven Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily are one of those known-yet-not-overblown Mediterranean destinations. They're hard to get to, not very touristy, and gorgeous. Plan now: September and October are the best times to go.

AEOLIAN ISLANDS, Italy – My husband and I wanted to honeymoon on the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily that juts out of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The chain is named for Aeolus, the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology who mischievously blew Odysseus back to the islands' craggy shores when he tried to return home.


We're well traveled, resourceful, capable people, but getting there had us mystified. Aggressive Googling only provided us with one ferry schedule in Italian, a language we don't speak. And the ferry schedule said it would be changing on September 15, the day we would be returning to Sicily, and didn't provide further information. To top it off, we were worried about the five hour journey, involving planes, trains, automobiles, and a long ferry from Palermo, which is where our trusty travel aid (Black Tomato) suggested we depart from after flying to Sicily from Los Angeles via stops in NYC and Rome. As Martin Creed, a British artist who has a house on the Aeolian island of Alicudi, put it: "From London, it's easier and quicker to get to Australia."

I called my travel writer friend Julia "Gypset" Chaplin for encouragement. She had written about the cool art scene on the islands for The New York Times, which helped inspire our trip. She said we were nuts, that the islands were honeymoon-worthy, and that the ferries were not a big deal from Milazzo, a port town near Catania, which also has an airport. Then I called my hotelier friend Sean "The Bowery" Macpherson, who had recently visited with his wife Rachelle and loved the islands. They had experienced the islands on an Italian friend's boat. We would later learn that there were plenty of pretty old sailboats available for a charter — a great way to see the islands, particularly if you're with a group of friends or family.

As it turns out, the islands' remoteness is a big part of what makes them special. It feels old-fashioned (in a good way) to expend so much effort getting there. During our ten days of island hopping, we never encountered any Americans. Most other visitors were Italians, with a smattering of Brits and Germans.

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