Photo courtesy of Manfredi Gioacchini
Peripatetic Rudston Steward, founder of Maremma Safari Club and our all-time favourite person to explore Italy, shares his experienced guide to walking the Aeolian islands in Sicily.
The way we travel these days tends to reflect the world we live in: fast-paced, cosmopolitan, compulsive, all-consuming. Travel is our irresistible urge. But Sicily poses a bit of a problem to the modern traveller: it is a destination too large, too fascinating, altogether too beautiful and delicious to properly take in on one trip. In planning a journey to Sicily we inevitably bite off more than we can chew, attempting to see too much too fast…we insist on trying to “do Sicily”. But the fact is Sicily takes time, it remains elusive—just ask the Sikels, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Arabs, Normans, French and Spaniards, all of whom tried unsuccessfully, over the last three thousand years, to grasp and hang on to Sicily. It turns out Sicily is infinite; it is never done.
So how, then, should one travel to Sicily? The answer, in my opinion, is simple: just head to Salina in the Aeolian Islands for a week. Instead of spreading yourself thinner than a carpaccio di pesce spada, go deep and take it slow—it makes for a more meaningful experience. Rather than rushing around the Sicilian circuit from Palermo to Agrigento to Taormina and back, or trying to visit all seven islands in the Aeolian archipelago in as many days, I recommend hopping on a boat (or helicopter if you prefer) from Milazzo to Salina, and then spending six days circumambulating the island on foot.
Our Aeolian Safari follows a continuous walking path around Salina, from Rinella to Pollara to Malfa to Santa Marina over five days, climbing both the island’s twin volcanic peaks (Monte Fossa delle Felci and Monte dei Porri) in the process. Here’s how we roll: start at sea level; walk up a mountain; picnic with a killer view on the summit; then walk down the other side, back down to the water; now jump into the sea. Swim, snorkel, drip-dry; eat a fresh fish (ideally garnished with Salina’s Slow Food capers); drink some crisp local Malvasia wine. Sleep. Wake up and repeat—for five days.
The trip unfolds like a dance: as we walk the other six Aeolian Islands that lie scattered in couplets around Salina appear and disappear in rhythmic sequence. At first only Filicudi and Alicudi are visible, guardians of the distant western front. They slide slowly out of sight, step by step, as we arabesque up and around Monte dei Porri’s cone. Later squat Stromboli and the fishy form of Panarea float into view on the north-eastern horizon. They too soon exit stage left. Onwards we go, until golden-green Lipari and the amber lump of Vulcano emerge before us. And beyond: the faint outline of the Sicilian mainland, pale and dreamy, overshadowed by Etna’s smoking silhouette.
When you walk for days your pace and mindset allow you to immerse yourself fully in your surroundings: on Salina you are in fact walking through a microcosm of all of Sicily. We gather the elements as we go: pirates and myths, lava and pumice, stunning sea-and-landscapes, Bronze Age settlements and Roman ruins, a Michelin-starred restaurant and a superb Spa, falcons and flamingos, lentisk and artemisia, Anna Magnani and Ingrid Bergman, Scylla and Charybdis, caves and craters, capers and Malvasia, pane cunzatu and the best granitas on the planet.
Sicily is a world apart, one that, as one guidebook aptly puts it, provides “a straight shot of sensuality to the brain.” On our Aeolian Safari we slowly but surely and sensually taste Sicily—primarily with our feet.