Salina, the island that hosts our recommended hotels, provides a good base for day trips to other parts of the Aeolian archipelago. Vulcano, Lipari and Panarea are nearby, while Stromboli is farther afield but well-served by ferry services because of its popularity. To the west, Alicudi and Filicudi are tiny and tranquil.
The third-largest Aeolian island, and the closest to the northeastern coast of Sicily, Vulcano offers an olfactory greeting the moment you arrive, since the air here often carries a harmless whiff of sulfur. The Romans gave the island its name, after that of Vulcan, their god of fire, different iterations of which have entered modern languages as the word for “volcano.” They also mined alum and sulfur here, and extracting these minerals was the main activity on the island until the 19th century, when Scotsman James Stevenson planted vineyards and built himself a villa, where he lived until the eruption of 1888 (the last major volcanic event on the island).
Vulcano was formed by three volcanoes that eventually merged. The only one still active is the Fossa cone, whose smoldering Gran Cratere is a steep, 45-minute climb from Vulcano Porto, where the ferries arrive. Many people also visit the island to wallow in warm volcanic mud baths, to which are attributed a variety of therapeutic properties. For those not planning to hike up to the Gran Cratere, the most relaxing way to see Vulcano is to take one of the boat tours that circumnavigate the island. These often put in at the yellow-sand beach in Gelso, where Trattoria da Pina di Maniaci will provide a simple but delicious lunch of pasta with capers and wild fennel, or a squid-ink sauce, and maybe a fritto misto.
The coastline of Lipari looks like a cookie someone has nibbled, which is the result of the pumice mining that was a major economic activity on the island for centuries. The largest, busiest and most populous of the Aeolians, Lipari remains lively throughout the year. The town of Lipari contains the main sites, the majority of which are located in Il Castello di Lipari. The one not to miss is the Museo Archeologico Luigi Bernabò Brea, which has a fascinating collection that includes neolithic vases, Roman amphorae and what is widely considered to be the finest collection of ancient Greek theatrical masks in the world.
Reached via a monumental staircase, Lipari’s cathedral was first built on the ruins of a Greek temple before being destroyed by the Arabs in 838 B.C. Rebuilt and remodeled many times, its baroque façade and campanile are local landmarks. The best lunch spot is the excellent Il Filippino, which serves dishes like orange-and-swordfish salad, bombolotti pasta with ricotta and prawns, swordfish-and-caper timbale and jasmine mousse. For a beach day on Lipari, take a boat to the Spiaggia Bianca, where the seabed is covered by white pumice dust. Umbrellas and sunbeds are available for rent.
Beloved by aristocratic Italians, as well as the Milan fashion crowd (Stefano Gabbana, Diego Della Valle), pretty Panarea is all about barefoot chic. There are no cars on the island, only golf carts and electric scooters, and most people get around on foot. Days are spent bobbing on a “gozzo,” the local word for a little motorboat. (You can rent one with a skipper, who knows all the best beaches and private coves, in the port of San Pietro.) Otherwise, beach chairs and umbrellas are available at the narrow Spiaggia Zimmari for anyone who wants a swim after lunch at Hycesia. The sunset views are spectacular at the Bridge’s sushi bar, but reservations are essential, as it is often fully booked.
With none of the social glamour of Panarea, or the luxury hotels of Salina, unspoiled Filicudi is where arty Italians go to get away from it all. The island has been inhabited intermittently for around 5,000 years, but today, the year-round population is only about 300. On arrival, head to the fishing port of Pecorini a Mare. A pleasant spot for lunch is La Sirena, where you can expect dishes like spaghetti with orange-spiked ragù, spicy tuna sausage with caramelized-onion jam and good local wines. The restaurant also has sun loungers and umbrellas on a pontoon overlooking the sea. If you want to stay on the island overnight, the 14-room Hotel La Canna provides a simple but attractive place to stay, with spectacular views and an excellent restaurant.
With a permanent population of fewer than 100 people, you come to pretty, sleepy Alicudi in search of solitude and serenity. Electricity arrived on the island only 30 years ago, and the primal beauty of this place is mesmerizing. Should you decide to linger, book a room at the friendly but basic 21-room Hotel Ericusa, where reservations include breakfast and dinner.