Stromboli and Panarea: two very different Aeolian jewels

This blog is by Chiara Laganà, a Calabrian journalist and blogger based in Rome. Chiara is a film buff and also enjoys discovering hidden gems in the stunning natural surroundings of her home region of Calabria and nearby Sicily.

Thanks also to Cris Toala Olivares and Angelo Pagano for contributing some photos and quotes. For a blog by world-renowned photographer Cris Toala Olivares about his time living on Stromboli, see here

“This is a ghost island! Nobody lives here!”

These are the words of Karin, a Lithuanian woman who is brought to live on the volcanic island of Stromboli by her Italian fisherman husband in Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film Stromboli (Land of God).

After marrying the Italian to escape a prisoner camp, Karin, played by Ingrid Bergman, struggles to cope with the harsh and barren environment of Stromboli, doesn’t get on with its conservative inhabitants, and eventually wants to flee.

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As the site of one of Italy’s most active volcanoes, which has been almost continuously erupting for the past 2,000 years, even in reality Stromboli has trouble attracting women to lead their lives in its shadow.

“There is a problem on Stromboli: there are hardly any women,” said Mario Zaia, a guide who has lived on the island for more than 30 years and was one of the lucky few to meet a woman who wanted to stay and start a family there.

“The young guys need luck to find a girl who likes living on the island. But not for a month, someone who wants to make a life here. That’s not easy, if you have come from somewhere else, if you don’t fall in love with the land where you want to live first. The ones I have seen in the last 35 years lasted a short time.”

While a life on Stromboli may not be for all, a visit is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Even if you do not fancy walking up to the top of the active volcano, you can enjoy a fascinating day out on Stromboli’s shores, discovering its beautiful natural surroundings and trying out the delicious local food.

I had a chance to savor this experience in September, taking in both Stromboli and the nearby island of Panarea.

IMG_3878Stromboli is one of the eight Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, not far from Sicily, which together are recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site. They also include Alicudi, Basiluzzo, Filicudi, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, as well as Vulcano, the site of another active volcano. They where named after Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds.

Stromboli and Panarea are like opposites among these islands. While Stromboli is rougher and life revolves around its incredible volcano, Panarea is a glamorous, posh and touristy neighbour. Stromboli is also full of tourists, but they are different to the ones on Panarea. They are not wearing fancy sandals or kaftans, they prefer trekking shoes and a big rucksack.

Stromboli can be reached by boat and is about 30 – 45 minutes from Panarea. Once you set foot on its black sands and its pebbles you feel like you have landed on the moon.

A smoking crater of the active Stromboli volcano. In the backdrop we see the islands Panarea, Lipari, Vulcano and further behind Sicily.
A smoking crater of the active Stromboli volcano. In the backdrop we see the islands Panarea, Lipari, Vulcano and further behind Sicily. Photo by Cris Toala Olivares.

One of the first things you should do when you arrive on Stromboli is take a dip in the beautiful blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In my case, we arrived by boat and we were dropped off as close as possible to the shore. The water here is quite cold and deep- that’s worth remembering before jumping in.

After this, you can take a tour of the island even if you left your trekking shoes at home. Once you have walked up steep, winding streets you arrive at the heart of the village of Ginostra where you can find two churches, some bars, a supermarket and the centre of the Italian Institute of Geology and Volcanology.

We had lunch in pizzeria Da Giovanni. The pizzas were delicious and the pizza chef was a good laugh and loved listening to 80s music.

The last main eruption happened in 2007, but you might be lucky enough to see a flow of lava down the Sciara del Fuoco slope on the north-western side of Stromboli.

inhabitants in Ginostra at Stromboli island

Photo by Cris Toala Olivares

Not far from Stromboli, you can find Strombilicchio, a sea stack remnant of the original volcano from which the island of Stromboli emerged. Here you can see the lighthouse and some rare and endangered species of both flora and fauna such as the Bassia Saxicola, a flower at risk of extinction like the Aeolian Wall Lizard, a rare lizard that can be seen only on Strombilicchio and on the islands of Salina, Filicudi and Vulcano.

bassiasaxicolaPanarea, on the other hand, is completely different. It feels like another world compared to Stromboli. It is one of the most well- known islands among the Aeolians, along with Lipari. The restaurants, hotels, and cocktail bars here are generally all upmarket. Even if you do not have much cash to spare, it is still worth a visit to see the wonderful views and pretty light.

panarea1Beyond the glitz and glamour, Panarea is also a good spot for trekking, beautiful seas and the best of Sicilian food. Bring someone who can sail– a dip in the deep blue areas of the sea is an experience you will never forget.

Panarea is one of the smallest and most geologically ancient of the Aeolian islands. You can find ATMs here but no banks. There are also several jewelry shops and a Vilebriquin store, which sells the poshest swimming costumes for men.

A great place to enjoy an aperitivo in Panarea is the Hotel Raya. You can sit on its terrace and take in incredible views of the surrounding sea.

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There are several good places to eat: Da Francesco serves wonderful food and has a great atmosphere. And don’t leave without having tried a traditional island granita, a semi-frozen drink with Malvasia dessert wine and peach.

This is how Panarea was described in 1976 by Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the greatest Italian directors whose film L’Avventura is set in the nearby islands of Lisca Bianca and Basiluzzo:

“You could make phone calls from Panarea. There were two radio devices, American war remnants. The engine that supplied energy to these devices was manual, like in old cars. The post clerk often had his arm in a sling–he used to break it while starting the engine. But when he was well you could communicate. What happened was that anyone who had a portable radio on the island could tune into to the wavelengths of the transmitting device and listen to the conversations. Everyone’s mood was spread in the air, the tiny streets of Panarea were filled with amorous expressions heard at full volume”.

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How to get to Panarea: Panarea is reachable with ferry boats that leave daily from Milazzo, Messina, Reggio Calabria, Palermo and Napoli

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