Aeolian Islands – Authentic Italy and the True La Dolce Vita

“We’re out of prosecco,” proclaimed our chef. A common occurrence on Puccini, our chartered yacht for the week. “We’ll pick up more bottles when we arrive to Salina,” he continued.

It was the first day of a weeklong charter trip through the Aeolian Islands and this trip was already off to a legendary start.

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Earlier that day, we had left the sleepy port town of Portorosa on the northern coast of Sicily and set sail for the unspoiled archipelago of the Aeolian Islands. Six of us friends from around the world decided to descend on these idyllic islands and charter a yacht complete with a captain and an award-winning chef, for a week of summer sun and sailing on the Tyrrhenian Sea. On our first evening, we gathered on the back of the yacht for dinner. As we sipped on a local Sicilian wine, our chef served us a delectable cioppino, where we quite literally broke bread together in preparation for the most delicious vacation we’ve ever been on.

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Our only requests for a sweet summer getaway: a beautiful Italian countryside, delectable food, and few tourists. In a time when tourists are overrunning captivating Capri and picturesque Positano, was this too much to ask? Did La Dolce Vita exist or was it just a summertime fantasy? Despite tourist travel to Italy increasing every year, the isolated Aeolian Islands have managed to keep their authenticity, intimacy, and solitude. It’s a place where the smell of olives permeates the air, acres of vineyards decorate its steep mountains, and few tourists flock to the islands. It’s as if we found the unicorn of Italy.

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To us, there is nothing more freeing than sailing to uncharted territories with the ones that we love most.  Once we were in open waters,

the sails soared into the azure Aeolian sky, and we were immediately untethered from the outside world, free with the sea.

That’s the way a true vacation is supposed to be. Our schedule in the Aeolian Islands was as malleable as the sails that took us from island to island, going with the flow and quite accurately, going wherever the wind took us. There were no expectations for this week on the high seas and that in itself was a vacation.

There we were, eight adults from the U.S., U.K., and Israel, creating the ultimate summertime fantasy: sailing through the intimate Aeolian Islands, glamping on the high seas, and enjoying Italy at its best. In the Aeolian Islands, life is always “Tutti benne.”

There is no easy way to get to the Aeolian Islands and therein lies its beauty. It’s remote, it’s isolated, and it’s too difficult to get to for the typical tourist. There are no airports in the Aeolian Islands; therefore you can only arrive by private boat, ferry, or helicopter (on certain islands).

The premier way to visit the Aeolian Islands is by private yacht. Our group flew into the city of Catania and took a private car to northern Sicily where we would meet our 52’ monohull sailboat, Puccini. We chartered our yacht through Yachts & Friends (owned by the same people that started the Yacht Week) and headed out to the islands via Portorosa.

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We had heard horror stories of chartered sailboats in Italy gone wrong so we were very picky when it came to choosing a charter company. Collette had sailed with The Yacht Week eight years ago so we felt very comfortable chartering a yacht through their latest company, Yachts & Friends. The Yachts & Friends team handled all communication with the sailboat company and they organized our transfers for us. Overall, our experience with Yachts & Friends provided a turnkey solution to a potentially confusing charter vacation. (This is not sponsored by the way)

To reach the islands, one can also take ferries from mainland Italy and from Sicily. There are also various inter-island ferries that can shuttle travelers from island to island. A full list of ferries can be found here.

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There are seven islands and five islets that make up the Aeolian archipelago: Vulcano, Salina, Lipari, Filicudi, Stromboli, Panarea, and Alicudi. Each island is unique from the others, offering a different flavor of paradise dependent on what you’re craving.

Vulcano: Vulcano is a beautiful island that is known for its vineyards as well as its natural mud baths. These mud baths attract tourists from all over, but in our opinion – SKIP IT! The mud baths are extremely stinky, overcrowded, and touristic.  You’ll be better off sailing around the island, exploring its vineyards, and swimming at its beaches.

Salina: Salina is a quiet island and it was the first island that we overnighted on. It is home to one of the top hotels in all of Italy, Capofaro, a Relais & Chateaux property. Santa Marina Salina is a quaint village with darling shops, lovely restaurants, and delicious places to taste the local Salina wines. Upon arriving, make your first stop at Da Alfredo for a delicious and refreshing granita, a semi-frozen dessert and local delicacy made to cool you off on a hot summer’s day. After you’ve cooled off, head to Casa Lo Schiavo for an aperitivo (order the Salina Bianco) as well as local meats and cheeses. After your aperitivo, walk over to Porto Bella Restaurant for an elegant seaside dinner with a view of the harbor.

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Lipari: One of our personal favorites, Lipari, is the most populated island in the Aeolians, yet it still possesses an intimate charm. It’s home to Spiaggia Bianca, the white beach, with white pumice stone shorelines that sprinkle into the turquoise waters. At night, travelers should head to Filippino for the freshest seafood in the islands or to Kasbah for a perfect pizza.

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Filicudi & Alicudi: Filicudi and Alicudi are the two most western islands of the Aeolian Island archipelago. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to visit these islands, but we’ve heard that as the most remote islands, they offer the most authentic and intimate experience in the Aeolian Islands.

Stromboli: Home to a constantly erupting volcano, Stromboli is not for the faint of heart. Adventurers will love visiting this island and hiking up to the top of the volcano for the most incredible volcanic light show. *Traveler tip: if you’re looking for a heart-pumping hike, the 3,000 ft. vertical hike to the top of the volcano is well worth it. However, you must be prepared to climb because this is a serious hike. To trek Stromboli, you must visit town and get a guide (a requirement for the hike). The trek costs around $35/person and it lasts for about five to six hours. Our captain called ahead and organized the guide for us.  This was fantastic because the guide picked us up directly from our boat. To learn more about climbing Stromboli, click here.

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Panarea: If there is one island that you’ve heard of in the Aeolian Islands, it’s probably the posh Panarea. This island has been a favorite of A-listers for decades. This small-whitewashed island is home to fabulous shopping, luxury boutique hotels, and one of the best nightclubs in Europe – Raya. This nightclub is only open 6 weeks out of the year and it’s located at Hotel Raya.

With its abundance of boutiques, high-end restaurants, and vibrant nightlife, we recommend spending two days in Panarea. For dinner, head to Dapena Restaurant, a charming restaurant that serves homemade pastas and fresh seafood caught around the island. After dinner, grab a drink at Bridge Sushi Bar before heading to Raya around 1:30 am.

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Over all the Aeolians offer a more rustic view of Italy.  Don’t expect to see the polished beauty of Positano or Milan.  The Aeolians offer a beauty that is more authentic and raw. While Nature provides most of the scenic spots the Aeolians offer any visitor a glimpse of Italy’s past.   

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