Climbing live volcanoes on Vulanco Island
26 September 2008
The Aeolian Islands, also called the Lipari Islands, lie 35 miles off the north coast of Sicily. The seven islands are peaks of volcanoes and two remain active. The islands have been inhabited from early times and have been the prey of pirates and colonisers from the Carthaginians through to the Spanish.
After waiting for a few days in Sicily for the weather to pick up, we arrived at Isola Vulcano, the southernmost of the group just 4 miles long and anchored in Porto di Levante, under the smoking volcano. The island is composed of extinct craters and one active one, Gran Cratere, that last erupted in 1890. From the anchorage, you can see and smell the sulphuric gases escaping from the top and sides of the volcano. The smell isn't too bad but is ever present. Wearing sturdy shoes, we climbed the 390 metres to the top on a path crossing now solid black lava that then changed at a higher level to red, almost sand and clay. Once at the top, we found ourselves standing on the edge of the crater itself and could see up close the gases that we being emitted and which had coloured the rock yellow. The views of the islands from the top were magnificent.
After our climb, we decided to try out a Sicilian speciality that had been recommended to us - Granita Fragole con Brioche. It was a small glass of strawberry sorbet that you could either sip or eat with a teaspoon and served with a sweet bread that we dipped in. The sorbet was cram packed with strawberries and tasted just like eating iced strawberries. Sounds like a strange combination but it was absolutely delicious.
The island is also famous for its therapeutic mud baths where day-trippers arrive to submerge themselves in the muddy waters that are reported to help relieve skin complaints and rheumatism. The mud baths are right next to the volcanic black sand beach where hot mineral springs bubble up and you can select the sea temperature that you want by simply moving nearer to the mineral springs.
We are planning to visit the main island, just 5 miles long, of Lipari tomorrow.