Salina is the final island of our Aeolian Islands adventure. The crossing from Lipari to Salina is only a couple of miles but it is across waters busy with commercial traffic so it is important to be aware of the passage of the ferries and their intended routes. They are fast and frequent so always be aware when crossing possible routes, if in doubt stop and allow them to pass. We did have relatively close encounters with a couple of ferries on our crossing but the main distraction were the dolphins heading south. As a group stay close together, it is easier for you to be seen.
We headed up the west coast in virtually perfect conditions, warm October sunshine and virtually no wind. Stopping for an early lunch on the beach at Rinella, we took advantage of the warm water for a pre-lunch swim. What was surprising was just how many ferries entered the harbour, for such a small town. In little more than an hour this small village saw more ferries visit than Jersey in a whole day.
As we headed up the north west coast of the island we witnessed one of the most memorable bird sights I have seen in a long time. Numerous Eleonora’s Falcons were flying along the towering cliffs. At times we reckoned that there were up to 30 birds flying overhead, and this was a spectacle that lasted for several miles. It was impossible, therefore, to work out just how many of these amazing birds we saw.
The opportunity to watch Eleonora’s Falcons is one of the real pleasures of kayaking around some Mediterranean islands. Nesting on sea cliffs they delay their breeding until the autumn so that they are able to take advantage of the southerly autumn migration. Catching the smaller migrating birds to feed to their young. Eleonora’s Falcons, themselves, then migrate heading across Africa to Madagascar for the winter. Superb fliers, it is always a thrill to see them cruising along the sea cliffs and this day was without doubt the best display I have ever seen.
This was probably the hottest day we spent on the water, whilst in the Aeolian Islands and at times it was refreshing to paddle underneath the cliffs, in search of shade. The paddle around Salina from Lipari also turned into our longest distance, with 17 nautical miles covered. Our destination for the day was the main port on the island, at Santa Marina, as we had a ferry to catch.
Landing on the beach, just north of the harbour, on the east coast of Salina, we could see that we were less than 100 metres from the ferry ramp. A relatively straightforward carry, as we waited for the car ferry, which was going to take us to Stromboli. A relaxing beer and snack were enjoyed, whilst watching over the kayaks. As the ferry approached, it was the large ferry which operates the overnight service to Naples, we moved a couple of the kayaks close to the ferry ramp. My Italian is almost non-existent, but I eventually worked out from some passerby that the ferry was arriving on a different ramp to the one we were standing on.
What followed was the most exhausting 15 minutes of the whole trip, as we had to carry 9 fully loaded kayaks, 8 singles and a double, several hundred metres through the crowds on the waterfront. Alex, in his usual style was not optimistic about making the ferry, Janet was saying that she would stand on the ramp and I was convinced that we would make it, but only just. As it turned out we had plenty of time but it was 10 very sweaty kayakers who eventually settled down in the bar, for the 3 hour crossing to Stromboli. As we sipped our drinks and tried to get our heart rates back to normal we were blissfully unaware that the following day we were going to experience some of the most dramatic sea kayaking of our lives.
The volcanic cone, of Stromboli, rising from the sea floor of the Mediterranean, dominates many of the seascapes of the Aeolian Islands. It is the volcano of children’s picture books. We approached the island on the car ferry from Salina, calling at the small village of Ginsotra before carrying on to the main settlement at San Vincenzo. Today’s population of about 500 is significantly lower than the several thousand people who lived on the island at the end of the 19th century.
After an early breakfast, and a quick glance at the warning signs regarding tsunamis we headed around the island in a clockwise direction. Agnes, our guide and friend from Planete Kayak, knows the area well and proved to be an ideal leader, sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm for the area.
Onto the west coast we reached the small village of Ginostra. About 40 people live year round in this small village with the only reasonable means of access being by boat. The small harbour is supposed to be one of the smallest in the world although a larger one for the ferries was constructed in 2004.
Leaving the harbour we turned north and approached one of the most amazing physical spectacles I have seen anywhere.
We continued our circumnavigation of the Island, landing back at the harbour, prior to catching the early morning car ferry back to Vulcano. What is certain is that Stromboli is one of the most dramatic places that I have ever paddled and feel certain that I will return at some point in the future.
From Vulcano we crossed the narrow channel to Lipari, our plan was to paddle north along the west coast and return south down the east coast later in the week. It seemed like a good plan, which worked, although not in the way that we intended as it actually involved rapid disembarkation from a car ferry.
The channel across from Vulcano is only a few hundred metres wide but does require a degree of caution when crossing. It is regularly used by the high speed ferries which connect the various islands in the group. Both times we crossed we encountered ferries which necessitated in changes in direction. Approaching the south west corner of the island is like paddling onto the pages of a geography textbook. Caves, arches and stacks all positioned in the order, which is depicted in the diagrams shown in geography books.
There is one large beach on the west coast of the island, Spiaggia Valle Muria, with a small bar/cafe in a cave, which appears to have rather erratic opening times. The remainder of the coast is a playground for the sea kayaker. There were numerous geographical features waiting to be explored, which we took full advantage of, whilst en route to Salinas.
The east coast of Lipari, wasn’t necessarily on our agenda but a forecast of particularly strong winds encouraged us to book the ferry from Stromboli back to Vulcano. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than forecast, which prevented the ferry docking at Vulcano. Suddenly we were forced to abandon ship in Lipari Town.
Our unexpected arrival allowed us plenty of time to explore Lipari Town. It is the largest settlement in the Aeolian Islands. We were able to settle into our guest house, the Villa Rosa, a great find right on the waterfront. The citadel proved to be an essential visit. Walking around the narrow lanes and courtyards it was hard to imagine that Mussolini used the area to contain political prisoners.
The forecast for the following day was for lighter winds so we anticipated being able to paddle the east coast before crossing to Vulcano.
Arriving on the ferry, at Vulcano, the first thing to strike you is the sulphurous smell, indicating that you have arrived on a volcanic island. The smoking crater, rising above Porto di Levante provides further evidence of geological activity in the area. The ancient Romans believed that the volcano was the chimney of the fire god, Vulcan.
The crater rises to a height of 391 metres and a walk around its rim should be on the tick list of anybody visiting the island, which is the closest of the Aeolian Islands, to mainland Sicily. Although I am fascinated by physical geography, the reason for our visit was to rent kayaks from Sicily in Kayak at the start of a 7 day paddle around the islands. As we disembarked the owner Eugenio was waiting with his distinctive yellow mini bus to transport us round the start of our journey, just in front of his premises.
After the usual delay as equipment was sorted, kayaks packed and provisions purchased we were were soon heading south along the east coast of the island. Whilst packing we became aware of one of the more intrusive aspects of life on Vulcano, mosquitoes. Some of the group reacting more than others, but everybody was finding them surprisingly active, if visiting be prepared.
The slopes drop steeply into the Mediterranean Sea, although in places there appeared to be signs of some old terracing. Ahead we could see the north coast of Sicily but what was really attracting our attention was the view towards the other islands, particularly Stromboli with a plume of gases rising steadily from its summit. There is virtually no access to the east coast, with the first easy landing being Spiaggia Cannitello, on the south coast. There was a bar, restaurant, sun beds etc but absolutely no sign of human activity.
The were a few people fishing off the jetty at the small port of Gelso then we were on our own again along the west coast of the island. There are a number of amazing caves along this stretch of coast, including the Grotta del Cavallo, which is big enough to accommodate tourist boats. As kayakers we will probably want to explore some of the smaller caves, which are just waiting to be discovered by the inquisitive paddlers.
Just before reaching Vulcanello are the black sands of Spiaggia Sabina Nera, its probably easy to identify because of the number of yachts at anchor in the bay. There is a bar on the beach but it is a relatively short walk across the isthmus to the port area where there are more options for food and drink. The isthmus was created in 1550, the last eruption of Vulcanello, which constitutes the northern part of the island. Vulcanello appeared in 183 B.C. following some underwater eruptions. From the north coast of Vulcanello it is a relatively short crossing to Lipari or you could follow the coast back to harbour and your departure point.
Which ever option you chose you won’t be disappointed Vulcano is a pretty dramatic sea kayaking destination. We were out for 7 days so our interest lay to the north and some truly spectacular kayaking.