Forgotten archipelag of the Eolians Islands
The isles in question are the Lipari islands, located in the southern part of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The name sounds mysterious to a tourist's ear; from my experience the statement "I was on the Lipari islands" rarely brings up the relevant part of the world. It is the name of a group of volcanic-origin islands and of active volcanoes located to the north of the Sicily coast.
This statement usually earns some recognition, but my speakers still seem uncertain as to what exactly I am talking about.
It is true that for some years now I have spent my vacation in Italy. Any tourist departing for a holiday in that country knows something about Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Sicily or Sardinia, but who knows about Stromboli, Panarea, Vulcano, Lipari, or Filicudi?
According to the legend, on his way back to Ithaca from a long journey, Odysseus arrived at the court of king Aeolus, who ruled the islands in question. Aeolus gifted Odysseus with bags, in which the winds were captured, apart from the breeze that was to blow in his sails and carry him home. However, his overcurious crew opened the bags, starting a storm that drifted the hero's ship off the course and resulted in his wanderings that lasted for over the next dozen years.
In my case however, the expedition to the Lipari Islands undertaken in the summer of 2000 was, as it was the case each year, for diving and tourist reasons. For five years now I have spent my holidays in sunny Italy. The yacht that allows me to cruise the strangest islands and rocky formations situated on the waters west of the Italian peninsula, provides me with a truly unique means of transport.
Our drive to Pizzo, were the yacht was moored, lasted two days. Pizzo is a picturesque township located on the sea coast in the Calabria region. Further south, there is only Reggio Calabria and Sicily. As the southern coast of Italy differs greatly from its northern counterpart, I hoped to experience my most thrilling holiday in that part of the world yet. The place is not as noisy and motor boats or tourists are less numerous than, for example, on the Elba island. However, Pizzo is not worth talking about, as it was only a short stop before our two weeks' vacation. I say "ours" because I was of course not alone on the yacht. My wife Asia and twenty friends (most of whom were diving afficionados) plus the vessel's crew constituted my company for the next 14 days.
Next day, 11 a.m.; our 34-meter long hired sailing vessel finally left the port, taking our excited selves to discover new lands and underwater life. After just an hour of sailing, we spotted on the horizon an island crowned with a characteristic smoke coming from its highest part. It was Stromboli, an active volcano, which erupted lava a dozen or so meters upwards in 20-30 minute intervals. With each passing hour, the island was steadily "growing"; by the evening it turned out that the eastern part of the island and the town lived under the shadow of an almost 1,000 meter volcano. The western part of the island was practically uninhabited, as the rocks, lava and other matter erupted by the volcano ended up on that side. The characteristic volcanic scree stretched to the sea, offering some stunning underwater sights. Within a hundred meters from the coast, the scree was located at 7-10 meters under the water. At one point however, the volcanic ledge ended with an edge of approx. 85 grades and descended vertically to the depth of 80-90 meters, stretching gently till 2,000 meters. The water clarity was 30 meters. I discovered the fascinating sight of volcano smoke coming out of a crack located underwater at the depth of approximately 25 meters. I thought to myself: "Such sights make all the dive learning effort worth it." In comparison to other parts of the Mediterranean, the fauna and flora of the spot offered a truly magnificent exception. I have never seen water sponges to be so abundant. The slides made from underwater photos look like masterpieces from the old masters.
The volcano can be climbed, but that feat requires the presence of a guide There are no well-trodden paths leading to the crater, as volcanic rock systematically covers all the known places. The guide is therefore vitally important, all the more because he presents all the climbers with protective helmets. No, I'm not kidding. Without a helmet you could get hit on the head by a rock or a piece of hot lava.
It is common knowledge where to find a guide, and the small port features an information stand, where beautiful girls inform you of the possibility of climbing the volcano.
The islands we visited next were: Baziluzzo, Lisa Bianca, Lisa Nera, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano and the biggest of them all, Lipari. Unfortunately, we had no time to visit Alicudi and Filicudi.
Some comments regarding the diving prospects of the island of Baziluzzo. On the eastern side of the island, there are spots where the volcanic underwater activity is easily visible in the form of small bubbles of gas, observed on the entire sea bottom. Strombolicchio is an uninhabited small island, located to the north of Stromboli. The vertical slabs extend underwater and at the level of 30 meters you can observe a veritable forest of red gorgonias. Everywhere the rocks are encrusted with soft, orange coral. This memorable sight will not leave my mind for many, many years. The views cannot be compared even to the magnificence of the Red Sea with its richness of flora and fauna. Practically every dive meant new discoveries related to the volcanic activity. The best place to look was the site called Pietra del Banio, located off the western wall of Lipari. At the depth of 14 meters it featured hot volcanic springs. Though such a phenomenon decreased water clarity in some places, the very fact of diving in volcanic springs was the stuff of legends. Another must-see spot is the underwater world at La Formiche site off the Panarea island. It is a rock formation located away from the coastline and inhabited by larger and rarer species of fish.
Panarea is an island which becomes so crowded over weekends that finding a place in its numerous restaurants, pizza houses and cafes becomes very difficult. We had the misfortune of visiting the town at its most crowded, accidentally discovering that it serves as a meeting place for all the young people of the area. Should anyone wish to visit, I heartily recommend the small hotel called "Raya" (www.hotelraya.it). Vulcano is well worth visiting due to the extinct volcano. You can have a few hours' long expedition to the crater. A one-way walk from the town located close to the crater, i.e. Porto Pouente takes approx. 50 minutes. At the crater you can observe sulphur fumes, which create a very photogenic yellow sediment around the cracks from which the gas is evacuated. The odor is far from pleasant, but the view makes up for the horrible smells, horrendous heat and dust. As you reach the crater's top, you can notice the huge contrast. As you make your way up, you can observe the volcano's Mars-like landscape with its desert climate, rocks hot from the sun that discourage any life while vaguely resembling the lunarscape, few withered bushes here and there, sulphur fumes and ever-present dust that eats into your skin. This is no short Sunday walk, but rather a strenuous expedition for the most resilient adventurers. Without a liter of water per person that expedition is doomed to fail. The southern slope is totally different. The green thicket of plants provides cover for numerous marmots and birds, and the climate is much milder. A sight not to miss!
Lisa Bianca and Lisa Nera are more large rocks protruding from the sea rather than islands, however, they look as picturesque as the real islands against the background of the nearby smoking Stromboli volcano. It's a great dive site. Between the rocks, an old wreck is located, settled at the depth of 25 meters. Unfortunately, its name remains unknown. It has rested there long enough to be populated by many mollusks, crustaceans and various species of lichen.
Salina is an island created by two expanding volcanic ridges. The only town situated between the hills is called Rinella and it does not offer many tourist attractions.
The biggest island of the archipelago and the most interesting for tourists is Lipari. Our stay in Lipari coincided with a church holiday, which was celebrated in a manner very much different from Polish ones.
It was a festival in the general sense of the word, featuring stage shows and finished off with a fireworks display straight out of a carnival fete, but that's Italians for you. They love having fun and, in particular, they adore fireworks. I'm afraid I won't see a display to compare with that one for quite some time.
In a restaurant we met an English musician who played international hits on his guitar. Later, he told us that he came to Lipari many, many years ago as a tourist. He liked the atmosphere and the good-natured local people so much that he decided to stay. Now he spends his time playing in the Italian restaurant, even though the guy is not so young anymore.
The islands have something elusive that creates that unique atmosphere. Each island is unique, therefore you will easily find many attractions rather than boredom there.
The Aeolian islands have ferry and hovercraft connections with Milazzo, Messina and Catania in Sicily, as well as Reggio Calabria and Naples. I am not certain, but I believe that a Rome connection exists as well. As the islands have no airport, the closest ones are located in Naples, Reggio Calabria and Catania. The ferry will take you to the main island of the archipelago, i.e. Lipari, but the other islands are also connected by ferries that depart according to a schedule, just like city buses. The expedition was particularly thrilling due to the fact that as we cruised around the islands, the yacht's bottom and the sea bed were over 2,000 meters apart; moreover, the area is famous for its two active underwater volcanoes, which in several thousand or million years will create their own islands in the archipelago.
The vacation cost me (i.e. for one person with travel expenses) approx. PLN 3,000 (some 730 euro), not counting own expenses on beer, pizza or memorabilia. The yacht cruise amounted to PLN 2,000 (about 486 euro), while our drive with accommodations for three persons totaled PLN 800 (some 194 euro). However, without the yacht my tourist experience wouldn't be complete. I tested the merit of that opinion during the expeditions in previous years. That is why I would like to recommend that form of holidaying to anyone. I intend to spend the summer of 2001 cruising around Malta, Gozo and Comino. There isn't much free space on the yacht, but I would still like to invite anyone interested.
Text and photos: Rudi Stankiewicz
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