Travel to the Aeolian Islands – Episode 493

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Travel to the Aeolian Islands - Amateur Traveler Episode 493

Hear about travel to the Aeolian Islands as the Amateur Traveler talks to Rick Zullo from about these historic but lesser-known islands off the coast of Sicily.


The Aeolian Islands have been named as a UNESCO World Heritage site. “The Aeolian Islands provide an outstanding record of volcanic island-building and destruction and ongoing volcanic phenomena.” Rick says, “There’s all kinds of restrictions on development there so they are pretty much as they have been for the couple hundred years. In fact, one of the islands only got electricity as late as the 1990s. So there still very well preserved little fishing villages with lots to see as far as archeology, natural beauty (hiking, scuba diving, boating), history and wonderful wonderful seafood. This is a place where you go to see the Italy of years past.”

The Aeolian islands were mentioned as one of the ports on the long voyage of Odysseus. These small islands were ruled in turn by Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and Spanish.

Lipari is the main island and the one with connections to the larger island of Sicily by the faster ferry. It makes a good base for exploring the rest of the island chain, which are also connected by ferries.

The island of Volcano has a volcano on it. You can bath in the surfer smelling mud baths although Rick was told you better have brought a bathing suit that you don’t want to keep as you will not get that smell out. At the nearby beach the waters of the sea are also heated by the volcano.

The island of Salina was made famous by the film Il Postino and its famous with wine Malvasia. The island of Panarea is where the jet-set hang out in August. Basiluzzo is uninhabited but you can see the remains of a Roman port which is partially submerged. The volcano which makes the island of Stromboli is active and you can routinely see lava erupting from it.

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Show Notes
Aeolian Islands (UNESCO)
Aeolian Islands
Ristorante Filippino
Il Postino: The Postman
Stromboli (food)
“Our Odyssey to the Aeolian Islands”


Paige commented on Travel to El Salvador – Episode 491:

This podcast made me happy! I love El Salvador so much, it’s one of my favorite places in the world for many of the same reasons that Joe brought up. Gorgeous beaches, fantastic national parks, Suchitoto (and Los Almendros! Love that hotel!) and the fact that Salvadorans aren’t annoyed with too many tourists, and don’t mind showing off their amazing country to travelers willing to make the trip. I’d like to add that Juayúa and the Ruta Las Flores is a great destination for less adventurous tourists, with solid tourist infrastructure, trails, waterfalls, handicrafts, and easy transport connections to Guatemala City. If you speak a little Spanish, other spots to see include massive Coatepeque crater lake, with some lovely little hotels and restaurants right on the water; Perquín, the old revolutionary capital that’s now a semi-developed base for ecotourism; Bahia de Jiquilisco, if you want to support El Salvador’s nascent sea turtle protection programs; and La Palma, the handicrafts center founded by Fernando Llort, plus a side trip into the cool cloud forests of El Mirador del Mundo. Joe was right, everyone who spends time there want to become an informal ambassador of El Salvador!

Please note that the State Department warning that says 34 US citizens have been killed in El Salvador since 2014 ignores the fact that their infamous organized crime organizations (gangs, maras, whatever you want to call them) are transnational, and most (if not all) of those deaths involve US citizens who are involved with gangs. The average US/American tourist is not going to have any problems with crime, much less violent crime. Obviously, you want to travel smart, but I’ve spent months, much of it alone (as a middle-aged woman) working and traveling in El Salvador, using public transport, and have never even had problems with pickpockets or bribe-happy police officers. 11/11 would go there again and again.

Travel to the Aeolian Islands - Amateur Traveler Episode 493


Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 493. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about quaint fishing villages and smoldering volcanoes as we travel in the footsteps of Odysseus and go to the Aeolian Islands off Sicily. Welcome to The Amateur Traveler.

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Chris: I’m your host Chris Christiansen. We’re getting close to our 500th episode, only 7 more to go. But today, let’s talk about the Aeolian Islands.

I’d like to welcome to the show Rick Zullo of Travel blogger about Italy who’s come to talk to us about a lesser-known destination of Italy. Rick, welcome to the show.

Rick: Thank you very much, Chris, it’s an honor to be here with you today. I love your show and I’m a fan and it’s an honor to be a guest today.

Chris: Well, thanks, and I say “a lesser known destination in Italy.” I had to look this up. So where are we talking about today?

Rick: Okay, yeah these are called the Aeolian Islands and they’re a little volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily. So if you are looking at Sicily, it’s on the north side in the Tyrrhenian Sea and there’s seven little islands. There’s actually eight but seven that are inhabited and it’s a wonderful destination for people who are a little more adventurous.

Chris: Okay, yeah let’s start with why would someone go because we’re going to talk about getting there and it’s not a place you’re just going to stumble across. It’s going to take some effort to get there so why are we going to take that effort and go to these islands?

Rick: Well, the thing about it is they’re really well-preserved. In fact, they’re a UNESCO Heritage site and there’s all kinds of restrictions on development there. So they are pretty much as they’ve been for the last couple hundred years. In fact, one of the islands only had electricity as late as the 1990’s. So they’re still very well-preserved.

Little fishing villages and lots to see as far as archeology, natural beauty. So if you like hiking and things on the water, so scuba diving, boating, that type of thing. And history and wonderful, wonderful seafood so this is a place where you go to see the Italy of years past.

Chris: Excellent, and we’ve talked about getting there. You mentioned that getting there takes a little work.

Rick: Maybe more than a little. So this could be a barrier and this is why you really won’t find almost no American tourists there. There are Italians who go there because this is a wonderful location for them. Easy to get to if you already live in Italy. But yeah, the challenge for people from the U.S. is first you have to get to Italy.

So generally a flight into Milan or Rome and then another flight from Milan or Rome to the city of Catania on the main island of Sicily. And then from there, you have to hit ground transportation, usually in the form of a private coach, like a bus that would take you to the port town of either Messina or Milazzo, Milazzo being the more popular, and from there you take a hydrofoil.

So a fast boat that usually takes an hour to get to the islands from there so there you have it. You have to rely on air, sea, and land transportation to get there. It’s not like it’s a hop, skip, and a jump.

Chris: Excellent, so we’re out of Messina or Milazzo. I am looking at it on the map but I am just trying to figure out how to pronounce the double z’s there. So just off the northern coast of Sicily?

Rick: The northern coast of Sicily. This is the Provenca of Messina. So Messina is, I guess, you’d call it the state capital of this area. And these little islands are just about an hour off the main coast.

Chris: Excellent, so what kind of itinerary do you recommend for when we go up to the Aeolian Islands?

Rick: So I would suggest picking one location as your base and Lipari might be your choice. It’s the largest of the islands and it has the most diverse activities as well as the best port connections. So from Lipari, you can easily reach the other islands by these small little ferry boats that go back and forth all day. Lipari is the biggest and it has about 10,000 inhabitants so it’s not tiny. It’s decent size and that’s broken up into, I think, about four or five main towns, the biggest being the town of Lipari itself. So I can go on from there and talk about the itinerary a little bit.

Chris: Sure.

Rick: This is the island Lipari that’s the biggest and probably has the most tangible sense of history. It was a Greek settlement originally. In fact, you can still see the remains of a Greek acropolis there on the island. In fact, they have the main castle there that’s just above the port and this castle, fortified little city inside the main town of Lipari has a Greek acropolis but also a Norman cathedral, a wall built by the Spanish. So you sort of see the whole timeline of this Mediterranean area in this one very small location. It’s fascinating.

Chris: Well, I was noticing that as I was looking up some of the history of the place, that we’ve got Greeks. We’ve got Carthaginians. We’ve got Romans. We’ve got Normans. We’ve got Turks and then you threw in Spanish, which I hadn’t even noticed.

Rick: Yeah, the Spanish were much later, like 15 or 16th century. They were there in all of Sicily in fact and so you do feel a little bit of their influence there. I really think it’s the Greek that you feel the most. Maybe I just want to feel it the most but even some of the houses there on some of the islands, the have the whitewashed houses with the blue trim. Kind of reminiscent of the Greek islands that we know today of Santorini or Mikonos or those islands. So it does look a little bit like that. The name of the islands, in general, are named after the Greek god Aeolus, who was the god of the wind and it is windy there.

Chris: Okay, that is why it sounded familiar. I was trying to place that. Thank you very much.

Rick: Yeah, no it’s really interesting. In fact, these islands were also setting for much of Homer’s Odyssey. So if you know the story of Odysseus, he was trying to get back after the Trojan war and he was stuck on these islands for…I think it was years and the gods kept pushing him back with storms and sea monsters and everything else. And so he was on these islands for a long time.

Chris: So you did say traveling to these islands could be complicated?

Rick: Yeah, you have to watch out. You pass through the straights of Messina and you have to watch out for the two sea monsters. There’s Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla was a six-headed sea monster that wanted to eat six of his crew members and Charybdis was a whirlpool that eventually sucked his boat down into the sea. So it’s not easy. Be careful when you’re going there.

Chris: Excellent. So we started on Lipari. We mentioned a little bit of what’s on Lipari but what would you do day to day? What would you tackle the first day?

Rick: Well, the first day I would relax and see this area I was just talking about around the castle. So the castle includes an archeological museum. There are the remains of the Greek acropolis. You can visit the Norman cathedral and the wonderful views from up there too. You can look down on the port and the marina area and take some wonderful pictures. Your first day, I would do that. I would just get the lay of the land. Visit the castle and the cathedral and the museum and then go have a nice lunch.

Chris: Got a recommendation for lunch?

Rick: I do. The place that I went to about a month ago was called Filippino, F-I-L-I-P-P-I-N-O and it’s a great location. Right there by the castle and a beautiful outdoor setting with bougainvillea hanging down over the umbrellas and everything. And wonderful seafood. So go there and have a big fresh whole fish. That would be the thing to eat there.

Yeah, so if you wanted to stay on Lipari, which again, I do recommend, I think you should go for at least a week because if you’re taking all the trouble to get there, you need to spend the week there. Look into the possibility of renting what they call casa di canza, so vacation houses. So it’s a small little house or apartment that you could stay there and actually have a little kitchen and a little sitting area and they’re really cheap if you go in the off-season. Now don’t go in August.

Chris: I was going to say you were there a month ago so that’s off season.

Rick: That’s off-season but the weather was wonderful. It was perfect for doing anything you wanted to do outside. Now the water was a little cold by then but I’ll mention later on Vulcano they have some wonderful thermal baths and even in the sea itself, they’ll have thermal areas where the hot water is bubbling out of the sand underneath the sea right off of the beach. So I would get one of these little casa di canza and just stay there for a week. For like 300 to 350 dollars a week, you can have you own little place with a balcony overlooking the sea and everything.

And you pay 5 extra dollars a day for air conditioning if you want it but honestly, if you go in the off-season, you don’t need it. That includes everything, $350.00 there would get you a little one-bedroom apartment overlooking the sea and you could stay there very comfortably and not have to eat all your meals out. You could, at least, have a meal or two at your place if you wanted to. Save a little money. Although to be honest again, the restaurants are fairly inexpensive too so there’s no reason not to eat out.

Then from Lipari you can take a very short boat ride to the island of Vulcano and as the name suggests, there is a small a smoldering volcano on the island. It’s not the one that people typically go to see. It’s not the one that erupts in any kind of spectacular fashion. But it is there and it gives rise to some of these other phenomena. For example, there are some warm mud baths that have this volcanic soil, this volcanic mud, and the thermals come up from the ground and make the mud very warm and supposedly it has curative properties for the skin.

Chris: And did you try the mud baths when you were there?

Rick: I didn’t. I got close but the rotten egg stink was enough to keep me away. In fact, somebody said unless you have an extra bathing suit that you’re willing to discard, you’re better off not going in because it will not come out of your clothing, so I opted not to. But nearby there, there’s actually a beach and if you step just off of the sand into the water, just about 10 or 15 feet off-shore, you can see where there’s those bubbles coming out and around in the beach as well in the ocean water.

So the ocean water is also warmed by the thermals of the volcano. So it’s very pleasant. There’s a nice little beach club there. For five euros you can plop down on a beach chair with an umbrella and someone will come up and offer you a drink and it’s a very relaxing way to spend a day.

Chris: Excellent. How long is that ferry ride?

Rick: Yeah the ferry ride from to Lipari to Vulcano is only about, oh gosh, 15 minutes maybe at the most.

Chris: Oh, wow, yeah, very close.

Rick: Yeah, it’s the closest island. Those two are pretty close together. Remember, it took us about an hour to get from the main island of Sicily to Lipari, but then when you start jumping around within the Aeolian Islands, the trips are fairly short, 15 to 30 minutes max, I would say. So, on Vulcano, there’s also plenty of hiking to be done. You can go up to the top of this volcano as well and get some great panoramic views.

But this is a sort of undeveloped island. I mean, at least, it’s not as developed as say Lipari. It’s a little rougher. It’s going to be a little cheaper if you want to stay there and you’re not going to have quite as many amenities in the way of restaurants and shopping and whatnot. But it’s very pleasant, beautiful outdoor environments to walk around and, of course, there’s the ocean for swimming and water sports.

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Rick: These islands are all very well-connected by ferries, so the other one to see is Salina. Salina is famous for…well, it was made famous by the movie Il Postino, if anyone has seen that. It’s a famous movie. Let’s see, probably the 60’s, nah, 70’s even. So this was a movie actually made by a British production company so it’s not technically considered an Italian film, although it was done in the Italian language with English subtitles. This is a very famous movie and people go there to see this.

This is on Salina. So mostly this island was famous in the past for being the area where they produced this sweet wine called Malvasia. It was very popular, among the British especially, and they made a lot of money on this island exporting this sweet wine until the Phylloxera plague destroyed much of the crop. That prompted a lot of the residents to actually immigrate to Australia. In fact, they were the ones who started that country’s wine industry.

Chris: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that.

Rick: Yeah, so it was bad. They had to actually bring back some rootstocks from the new world, from California and graft them on to the old vines and so that way they were able to make this resistant vine of grapes which now grow. But it’s a nice place to visit as well. Okay and this island, Salina we’re talking about, also has sort of that Greek island feel to it. It’s got the whitewashed houses with the blue trim and sort of very laid back, very comfortable and that sort of thing.

So now if you want to go to the other end of the spectrum, you can go to Panarea, and this is sort of where the jet set hang out. All the rich and famous Italian celebrities and soccer players would go to Panarea in August, spend an entire month there. In fact, all these islands, I think August is the month to avoid because that’s high season, and prices triple, and it’s more crowded.

July can be that way too, a little bit so really my suggestion is any of these places, any months other than July or August would be great. Now the winter months, they’re fine to visit but you’re not going to be able to do the water sports and stuff like that. But in Panarea, the hotels are going to be much more expensive, much more luxurious, and if that’s the kind of vacation you want then you can certainly find some 5-star accommodations on the beach and rub elbows with the rich and famous.

But near to Panarea, there’s another island. It’s one of the uninhabited ones. I mentioned there were seven, there’s actually eight, and I hope I’ll pronounce this right, Basiluzzo. Basiluzzo is just a big rock in the ocean, and you can go there and you can climb around on it and stuff and you can see the remains of a Roman port there that’s partially submerged. And there’s also a Roman villa there on the island, which you can climb around a little bit. So it’s kind of cool. It’s not in a museum type of setting. It’s just out there in the open and you can go there for your own exploration.

Chris: And does it still have ferry service even though it’s uninhabited?

Rick: So in this particular island of Basiluzzo, there is no ferry service. You would have to reach there by private boat, and there are plenty of those. They’re actually quite cheap to find somebody that’ll take you around for a day, and you can do that. So now the island that you want to see if you really want to take in the volcano is called Stromboli and this is one of three active volcanoes in Italy, the other two being Etna, which is on the main island of Sicily, and the other being Vesuvius, which is near Naples.

So the last major eruption of Stromboli was in 2009 but they have daily eruptions. In fact, you can take the boat there. They like to take you at sunset because as the sun’s setting you can actually see the red and orange lava spitting out, and it’s pretty cool. And it’s not dangerous. You can actually hike to it as well if you have the right equipment, boots and clothes and probably a guide.

I think they charge you about 30 bucks for a guided tour and it takes a couple of hours and again, most want to go at sunset. They want to reach the summit at sunset so that they can take great pictures of the sky darkening while the lava is flowing. So it is mostly an explosive type of an eruption. It’s not really the flowing lava so much but more like the spurting lava and you can see it and you can get pretty close actually.

I did it by boat. I didn’t hike that volcano myself but I did go there on a boat trip and we just kind of bobbed off the island there right at sunset and sure enough right on cue, the darn thing went off and got a couple of pictures.

Chris: Well in my understanding, I was reading that J.R.R. Tolkien identified his fictional volcano, Mt. Doom in Mordor with the volcano of Stromboli.

Rick: Yeah, I heard that as well. I think they probably mentioned that on the trip.

Chris: I’ll bet they did.

Rick: Yeah, it’s also used in the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.

Chris: Oh really? Okay, I see.

Rick: Yeah, that’s the end of the novel, the end of the story, I guess, maybe where they exit. It’s back out to the top of the earth again. So yeah, there’s some folklore there.

Chris: And also something you can order in an Italian restaurant, a Stromboli.

Rick: Yeah, right.

Chris: I assume named after the volcano but I honestly don’t know that.

Rick: Yeah, aimed after the volcano or just aimed after probably somebody from that island who made this dish that decided to name it after his hometown.

Chris: So and you say hometown and it’s got an active volcano but it is an inhabited island from what you’re saying.

Rick: It is an inhabited island, believe or not. Yes, on certain sides of the island they have little villages. There are not many. I’m trying to think, I think there’s, I want to say, about 500 inhabitants on that island, maybe less than that, four hundred, but yes, it is inhabited, believe it or not. I guess they know when the volcano’s going to erupt to head for high ground or I guess just take off on a boat and go to a safer spot.

Chris: Yeah, I think high ground would be a bad choice of words there. That would be up towards the volcano. I don’t think we want to do that.

Rick: No, no, no. That’s right, that’s right. Jump in a boat and get the heck out of there. But yeah, they do. They live there. And so it’s an interesting relationship that these people have with the land, with the volcano, with the sea. The winds can be brutal there certain times of the year, in the winter especially. The sea gets rough, the volcano erupts, there’s even earthquakes, you name it, and they live with it and so that’s just their world.

Chris: Well, it looks quite striking to me. It’s not a big island, yet the volcano was, what I was reading, over 8800 feet or 2700 meters. It looks like a volcano.

Rick: Yeah, absolutely. Again, I only saw it from the sea but it was pretty impressive. It makes you feel kind of small. Like I said, they just sort of live there and I don’t want to say in harmony with the elements but they’re certainly respectful of all these different natural perils that are surrounding them every day but they live their lives. You know, it’s a fishing community. It’s an agricultural community.

Obsidian was once a big export of theirs, so the volcanic glass. I guess that’s used for jewelry or what else would they use it for? I’m not really sure. That’s an export as well. Wine, fish, these volcanic products and nowadays, of course, they’ve done a clever job of marketing the volcanic mud for beauty reasons and all that kind of stuff.

So there’s these other two islands. There’s Filicudi and Alicudi and these are the ones that are really just small. I mean to the point where Alicudi has 80 year-round residents on it and they don’t really have a tourist business. I suppose there are some houses and stuff. You could stay there but these are really small communities. Probably been there for generations and generations and don’t really have a lot of contact with the outside world. And the ferries that go there are infrequent, and I really don’t see tourists going there very much at all.

Chris: Okay, so you’re recommending really for a week, base in Lipari and then visit the islands to the east, the eastern half of the islands.

Rick: Yes, the eastern half and then Vulcano is just south of you there. Salina is worth a visit as well but I think this is the way you do the trip. You base yourself there in one place and then you take day trips to the other islands, and again, this is for people who want to do some hiking. They want to explore some archeological ruins. They want to do some water sports, now whether that’d be just swimming in the ocean, in the sea rather, or they do have scuba diving.

There’s some wreck diving there from what I understand. I didn’t do it but I did do snorkeling there and the snorkeling was beautiful. The water was crystal clear blue. You can certainly do swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving. Boating, they can take you out fishing if you’re interested in that.

Chris: And you mentioned archeological sites but I don’t feel like we got into any detail on those.

Rick: Yeah, on the main island of Lipari, there is the Greek acropolis.

Chris: The Agora you mentioned.

Rick: Yeah, right. Yeah, the Agora and that you can see there. It’s just ruins obviously. It’s just the remains of it. There is the Roman villa on the smaller island of Basiluzzo. So there is ruins of a Roman villa there and as well as a Roman port. Now I hadn’t seen that. I haven’t been out there to that, but they say that actually submerged or right at sea level, slightly under water is this Roman port. In a sense, I guess what you see is probably just obviously rocks.

Chris: Steps and columns and things.

Rick: Steps and columns and things like that. Right, exactly. So this is a great area. Now the seafood, of course, is their main diet. The little sardines, they make these in different ways. The little fried sardines, they call it Fritto Misto. They’ll mix-up sardines with calamari and shrimp and make a nice little fried dish for you. That’s usually taken as a light lunch, believe it or not. It’s not super heavy. Lots of different pasta dishes of course, all incorporating shellfish, often mussels and clams and that sort of thing.

The white wine, like I said, there’s the Malvasia, which is a dessert wine but they have various types of native white wines. Inzolia is one you that you see a lot. That’s not actually native to Lipari or to the Aeolian Islands. It’s more the western part of Sicily but that’s kind of the typical white wine that you would drink there.

Chris: What surprised you about the area?

Rick: What surprised me? Well, it did surprise me the second time going and I don’t remember the first time but it surprised me how hard it was to get there. And I think that is really part of the charm, for me, it is because not many people make the effort. At least, not many foreigners do. You do see some Italian tourists there but you really don’t see many foreigners at all.

The people there are quite nice. They’re welcoming to tourists. You’re not going to find a lot of English spoken, although if you go on Lipari, some of the main hotel staff will certainly speak English but going into little shops and markets and things like that, you may have to resort to hand gestures, which work quite well.

Chris: As long as you know your inappropriate Italian hand gestures.

Rick: Yeah, be careful because you want to avoid those. You might make some enemies while you’re there. No, but they’re really friendly and they welcome guests for the most part, at least on Lipari and Panarea and Vulcano and Salina. So if you go to those small islands, they’re a little more standoffish. But on the big islands, they want people to come and they’re always interested, especially if you’re from a foreign country.

They want to know, “How did you come all the way here?” It is pretty amazing. For them, they live their entire lives on these islands and they can’t imagine how far away New York City must be, for example, and they’ve seen pictures of it. Someone from New York might as well be from Mars and they like talking to you and getting to know you a little bit, finding out about your life and everything, what brought you to their part of the world.

Chris: Any particular local that you have fond memories of?

Rick: A local person? Yes, there was this one guy, I don’t know how we got to this location. It was kind of an industrial area, believe it or not. We were taking this bus around the island and we stopped. We saw a little coffee cart and we stopped there. And I do speak Italian but these people speak a pretty strong dialect and can even be considered a separate language. And so I was trying my best to talk to him but he was just one of those people that had lived there his entire life, maybe have been to a couple of the other islands around there and never really ventured off the island.

But he was very proud of himself because, I guess, a documentary filmmaker had come through there a few years ago and featured him in a film. So he was the movie star of the island and he was pretty proud of his status. Everybody knows him as the movie star. That was the one guy that I talked to the longest and he had this little coffee stand and I think he was a fisherman actually.

His wife ran the coffee stand but he would come there after he was done in the day and just hang out and people just sit there for hours and drink coffee and chitchat. And you really get into that pace of life there where people slow down and just talk to each other. No one’s looking at their watch or checking their email or anything, they’re just enjoying their surroundings, and it’s a very relaxing atmosphere.

Chris: Excellent. You mentioned hiking a couple times. Do you have a particularly enjoyable hiking trail that you did?

Rick: Gosh, yeah. It was on Lipari actually. So Lipari, the main city, it’s also the island, it’s also the name of the port city. It’s called Lipari as well. Which was where I stayed and that’s where most of the accommodations are. But on the backside of the island, they have some fantastic hiking trails and they go all the way up to the peak of the island.

Chris: And you say the peak of the island, all of these islands are volcanic and so this one has an extinct volcano while the other ones have active ones.

Rick: Probably so, I’m sure it does, so up on the north edge of the island. So the port is sort of on the southeast part. Now we’re up on the north edge of the island, it feels like you’re standing on the edge of the earth really and you’re just looking out at this expanse of sea, and you can see these other little islands, including Stromboli, where there is the active volcano.

I was there during the peak of the day so it was quite bright and I couldn’t see anything but maybe a little smoke coming off Stromboli but it’s just really beautiful up there. You can really see forever and very clear and the ocean is crystal blue.

Chris: And let me interrupt you for just a second. I was wrong. The volcanoes on Lipari are actually still considered active.

Rick: Oh, really? You found that online. Oh, great. I’m sure they all are. I don’t know what the difference is between active and dormant.

Chris: Dormant is no activity.

Rick: No activity.

Chris: In this case they have steaming fumaroles and hydrothermal activity so that’s why they consider them active, apparently.

Rick: Well, that makes sense because I said sometimes you do see these bubbles coming out of the ocean and it’s obviously warm water, warm something coming up from the center of the earth. The one thing I was going to go back to, and I guess it’s easy to romanticize this sort of stuff a little bit, this was the area that was documented by Homer’s Odyssey. And you get the sense there that this sort of mythology, well, everybody recognizes this mythology. It’s still alive there.

They play with it a little bit or at least they’re playing with me being the tourist, incorporating it into this folklore of the island itself and mixing it in with superstition and religion. And it all just becomes this mix of these supernatural beliefs. Again, I’m not sure how much I would call them beliefs, as they are just part of their history and part of their story. So it really adds a layer.

Chris: Okay, that was a little vague, so can you give us an example?

Rick: Yeah, okay. Well, for example, in Sicily, they have this religious sect. I’m sure it’s not active anymore, but this was probably as recent as, I don’t know, 100 years ago, where there were Catholic women who prayed not to Mother Mary but to Demeter, who the Roman gods call Ceres. And so it’s almost like what we’d call, what, Santería, maybe in the Caribbean, where they combine mythology or paganism with Catholicism and then throw in a little superstition there too just randomly. And they’ve got their own brand of religion, if you want to call it that or whatever, their beliefs.

So these things that we would consider mythology and stories from ancient history actually are invowen into the fabric of life, in a way. Again, I don’t know how many people “believe” it or how much of it is just of like we have Santa Claus and we like to talk about him and he’s part of our culture. But obviously once you’re about seven years old, that’s the end of Santa Claus. I think in past years, it was much more a real part of their belief system, and now it’s more part of their history. But it is interesting because you do feel it and they are proud of it and they go out of their way to let you know how important they are that they were part of the birth of Western civilization. Yeah, it is interesting.

Chris: Excellent. As we go to wind this down, anything else we should know before you get to my last four questions before we head off to the long trip to get to the Aeolian Islands?

Rick: I think this would be a trip that I would probably plan in conjunction. If you’re going to do a longer trip to Europe or to Italy, if you wanted to do a week to see Rome, maybe Naples, and then a week in the Islands, I might plan it that way just because, number one, you could ease yourself into the culture and everything a little bit. It’d be pretty shocking, I think, to just show up at Lipari. But after 20 hours on the plane or whatever, you’d have jet lag. But I might suggest that and just come with an open mind and a hungry appetite and you’ll have a lot of fun.

Chris: Excellent. I should say one odd fact that I stumbled across is that there is a fine if you wear only your bikini thongs or swimming costumes in the town center. So you don’t want to do that. Want to bring your cover-up or there’s a 500 euro fine.

Rick: That’s good to know. That’s excellent information because they do dress a little scantily on the beach.

Chris: And that’s pretty typical European too is that they wear a lot less on the beach, but you’re not expected to wear that in the town. We’re somewhere in-between there.

Rick: That’s for sure. Yeah, I know in Florida, where I’m from, I’ve seen people in the grocery store in their bikinis and flip-flops.

Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot that you visited in the Aeolian Islands. Where are you standing? What are you looking at?

Rick: Yeah, I think the one I described a minute ago. I’m on top of Lipari and looking north. Right below me is just a brown cliff that just all of a sudden becomes this crystal blue sea. And then off in the distance is a black volcano with smoke rising out of it. That’s it.

Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Aeolian.”

Rick: That’s funny. I don’t know if I could say, “Only the Aeolians.” I could say we could break it down and say Sicily or Italy. But no, probably the Aeolians, we could say, “Just don’t expect any kind of timetable to be honored.”

Chris: Sure. I think it’s a little bigger than the Aeolians, but yes.

Rick: Yeah, if the boat shows up an hour and a half late, don’t look for an apology or an explanation. Just go with it because they’re on their island time. And if it’s the same date, they figure they were on time. So that’s it. It does make me laugh but it can be frustrating when you have a plane to catch.

Chris: Finish this thought: “You really know you’re in the Aeolians when…”

Rick: When you’re sitting at a beautiful outdoor restaurant having some fresh fish and sipping a little Malvasia wine and looking out at the ocean and there’s some boulders out there, the volcano. But you feel that salty sea breeze come in, and there’s the Italian chitchat in the background, and you can close your eyes and you would know you were there. You wouldn’t even have to really open your eyes.

Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize your whole experience in the Aeolian Islands in just three words, what would you use?

Rick: I would have to say, “Welcoming, delicious, and panoramic.”

Chris: Excellent. All right. Our guest today has been Rick Zullo. Rick, where can people read more about your travels?

Rick: Well, I have my personal blog at, and it’s a travel blog but it just deals with travel within the country of Italy. So from Milan all the way to Sicily, I cover it all.

Chris: Excellent. And do you want to point out to us a recent article about the Aeolian Islands that you’re going to publish between now and when this airs?

Rick: So yeah, I have an upcoming article about a recent trip to the Aeolian Islands that I took with some other bloggers, and we had quite the Odyssey, to stick with the theme here of today’s episode. And I chronicle a little bit of that in the blog post, our challenges in arriving in Lipari and how happy I was when I finally got to my hotel.

Chris: Excellent. Rick, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for Italy and then specifically for the Aeolian Islands.

Rick: Chris, it’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Chris: In news of the community. Last time I checked, we only had four open spots for the trip to Cambodia in April of 2016. One thing. If you want to know about those things sooner, you might want to get on the Amateur Traveler mailing list, and that’s probably how you’re going to find out about these things quickest, or join the Facebook community. We also put things out on the Facebook page or, in case of specifically trips, join the Amateur Traveler Private Trip Crew, which is

We had a comment from Paige recently on the episode we did on El Salvador that said, “This podcast made me happy. I love El Salvador so much. It’s one of my favorite places in the world for many of the same reasons that Joe brought up: gorgeous beaches, fantastic national parks, Suchitoto, and Los Almendros. Love that hotel and the fact that Salvadorians aren’t annoyed with too many tourists and don’t mind showing off their amazing country to travelers willing to take the trip. I’d like to add that Juayua and the Ruta Las Flores is a great destination for less adventurous tourists, with solid tourist infrastructure, trails, waterfalls, handicrafts, and easy transport connections to Guatemala City.

If you speak a little Spanish, other spots to see include the massive Coatepeque crater lake with some lovely little hotels and restaurants right on the water. Perquín, the old revolutionary capital, is now a semi-development base for ecotourism. Bahia de Jiquilisco if you want to support El Salvadoreans’ nascent sea turtle population programs and La Palma, the handicraft center founded by Fernando Llort, plus a sight trip into the cool cloud forest of El Mirador del Mundo.

Joe was right. Everyone who spends time there wants to become an informal ambassador of El Salvador. Please note that the State Department warning says that 34 U.S. citizens have been killed in El Salvador since 2014 ignores the fact that their infamous organized crime organizations, gangs, MERS, whatever you want to call them, are transnational, and most if not all of those deaths involve U.S. citizens who are involved with gangs.”

Yeah, I didn’t get into that because honestly I don’t know. I didn’t really want to say that on the show, although it’s certainly something I suppose and I think the State Department didn’t say it also because I’m not sure it’s not something that they know definitively. But it’s certainly a question you have to raise. And thanks, Paige, for your comment.

And with that, I think we’ll end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have a question, leave a comment on this episode as Paige did or send me and e-mail to host at You can also follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter as @Chris2x. And as always, thanks so much for listening.

Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.

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Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine.

6 Responses to “Travel to the Aeolian Islands – Episode 493”

Patricia Bunyrd


Just listened to episode 493 on Aeolian Islands. I am adding it to my list next time I go to Italy. The destinations is worth the effort to take the ferry over.



Glad you liked it Patricia!

Obaidul Huq


Episode 493 (Travel to the Aeolian Islands) very awesome podcast I have listening ever. Thanking you for creation. I will enjoy your others podcast.




Glad you liked it 🙂

Sam Oppenheim


Love these islands – went on my honeymoon, some things to add:
1) Salina has resorts with incredible food, rooms, properties, pools, spas, massages, etc. It is AMAZING.
2) Salina has archaeology sites from the bronze age and stone age, you can hike up and see them. not much to see, but cool history.
3) on all these islands you can hire a scooter and ride all around
4) Wine tastings at each vineyard, rewarding and fun, olive oils too.
5) Stromboli is worth the hike to the top
6) Stromboli has black sand beaches.
7) You can take a ferry from Stromboli to Naples, but as Rick said – they can run slow, we missed out flight connection in Naples.
I’d recommend 1 week in Sicily and 1 week on these Islands with an open jaw ticket into Sicily and out of Naples. We actually started in Malta. Totally amazing islands, beautiful people, food, landscapes, and calm atmosphere. I think they are like Kauai or the Azores and other volcanic archipelagos in the Caribbean.

Correction: Il Postino is a 1994 movie, set in the year 1950. The famous beach scene in that movie is on Salina and is distant from the hotels, we went by scooter and were the only tourists there. it is AMAZING. Pollara beach. I have photos of the hotels and beaches on my website, see below.

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