A couple months ago, I'd never heard of the Aeolian Islands off the northeast coast of Sicily. It's a bit of a schlep from Paris -- a flight to Milan, another to Catania, overland to Milazza, and then hydrofoil to the main island of Lipari and more boats if you wish to press on to the others. But having made the trip last Monday and back again on Friday with three days of hiking wedged between, it's a destination that I'm not going to forget anytime soon.
It was great to get out of the city, better yet to enjoy blue skies and crystal clear seas with a circle of Parisian friends, an old college pal, and an extended network of other women who flew in from London, the U.S., Norway, and Kazahkstan. Our hikes in Lipari afforded ocean views and craggy vistas. The morning in Vulcano (above) took us up a steep trail to the lip of a volcano dormant since the end of the 19th century although still venting sulfuruous steam. In between, there was pasta, gelato, prosciutto, melon, and good red wine; fields of wildflowers and hillsides of prickly pear, musings about why we passed so many houses adorned with small statues of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, and lots of laughs.
And then there was the trek up Stromboli, seemingly straight up a sheer rock cliff for three hours to the edge of an active crater, arriving just as the sun set. Bracing ourselves against 80 km/hour winds, we looked down as the volcano shot off clouds of sand and hot red rocks and then descended the mountain in darkness, following our guide Carmello across a field of lava dust by the light of flashlights and headlamps.
Late that night, eating trail mix on the boat headed back to Lipari, splashed by sea water and still gritty from the mountain, we asked each other just what we'd been thinking. Not much it seems. But do the math. Ticket for the boat ride, guide's fee, and helmet rental: 70 euros. Sharing the experience with friends: priceless.
And if you'd like another perspective on the hike up Stromboli, take a look at what one of the other women on the trip had to say about it: http://outwalkingaround.blogspot.com/2011/04/hiking-stromboli.html