16 June 2021 | Porto di Ponente, Vulcano - Aeolian Islands (position:38 25.221'N 14 57.182'E)
Words can't express how excited we are to be visiting the Aeolian Islands located north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian sea. The archipelago comprises of seven islands - Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi and Alicudi. All of them are in various stages of dormancy. The islands take their name from Aeolus, God of the winds. There are suggestions that they even have their own weather system dubbed the 'Aeolian Triangle' similar to the Bermuda Triangle in the Caribbean so if we disappear under mysterious circumstances send help! The triangle is formed between Ustica off the coast of Sicily, the Aeolian islands across to the mainland, and the Straits of Messina. With that in mind we assume that weather and swell will determine our itinerary. However the forecast for the next week or so is good so needless to say our first island is Volcano which happens to be the closest from Milazzo and also the most touristy island offering us the chance to walk up to the crater, wallow in a mud pool, relax in thermal baths and walk barefoot on black sandy beaches.
The stretch of water between Milazzo and the islands is really busy with constant ferry movement between the main ports and smaller islands along with day tripper boats of varying sizes. Keeping watch certainly kept us focused. The visibility was fantastic so we could see the island of Vulcano ahead of us slowly increasing in size as we motored towards it. Over to our right side we could clearly see a couple of the other islands - Lipari, Panarea and Stromboli who at that moment in time sent a puff of smoke into the air. Fantastic!
Vulcano has two anchorages that are within easy reach of the crater, mud pool and thermal baths etc. On the NW side is Porto di Ponente and on the NE side, the main port of Porto di Levante depending on wind direction. We ended up anchored in Porto di Ponente which was perfect for admiring one of the most beautiful Aeolian sunsets and offered great protection from the wind and more importantly the swell.
view across to the anchorage of Porto di Ponente
Vulcano was last active in 1890 and is now reported to be in its smoking phase of its life but the subterranean activity is still monitored around the clock as its felt to be potentially more dangerous than the constant activity on nearby Stromboli. To get to the crater there's 90 minutes or so steep walking on varying terrain, it's dusty and gravelly in places with little shade and worth every effort to get there. It's a surreal moment to stand on top of a volcano with a landscape of barren rock and to be able to walk the ridge and gaze down into the crater with its smoking fumaroles sending the occasional whiff of rotten egg sulphuric gas into our direction as the wind shifted momentarily.
The following day we visited the 'Fanghi' or mud pool comprising of a gloopy, foul smelling natural pool. It is rumoured to have therapeutic qualities if you can ignore the pungent smell of sulphur being emitted into the air. There were a few others already bathing, otherwise it wasn't busy so we had plenty of room to choose a suitable spot. As soon as our nostrils were accustomed to the smell we took the plunge taking care on where to tread before submerging as the temperature varied around the pool. However ten minutes later two police officers appeared and asked us all to leave. We found out later that the area was shut either due to covid or renovation work. In our haste we didn't wash off the yellow slime so we had no choice but to temporarily pollute the seawaters of the thermal baths that also had several fumeroles bubbling away like a jacuzzi allowing us to again decide on how hot we wanted to be. It would have been easy to have scalded our feet but we wore our crocs having read various reviews and online comments beforehand... 'Be prepared' is the scout and girl guide motto! RIP the founder, Baden Powell. Despite being warned, we weren't fully prepared for our skin to continue to smell of rotten eggs for three days. It didn't make any difference on how many showers or dips we had. Yuk!
mud, mud glorious mud!
With all the day trippers taking tours around the island we too decided to do the same but in Flirtie. A four hour circumnavigation around Vulcano gave us a glimpse of how sparse and rugged Vulcano actually is. Rock pinnacles jut out from the seabed, there's a lone unused lighthouse, the occasional small beach with bar. Simple grasses have just started to take root on the upper reaches of the mountainsides otherwise it's pretty sparse. Even the main town is small consisting of a couple of streets lined with whitewashed buildings that house restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. There's even a laundrette! Saying that, we found it perfectly sufficient to be able to re-provision including a daily visit around the anchorage from a local fisherman.
This was a definite highlight of this seasons cruise. Excellent.
Total distance from Milazzo to Vulcano (excl. island tour): 21.91 nautical miles
Total distance this season: 192.97 nautical miles