Only accessible by boat: Italy’s Aeolian islands are truly off the beaten track

Sunset lover: A boat sails near Stromboli, Aeolian islands
Sunset lover: A boat sails near Stromboli, Aeolian islands Copyright Dušan Veverkolog via Unsplash
Copyright Dušan Veverkolog via Unsplash
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The archipelago off the coast of Sicily is relatively undiscovered thanks to its lack of transport links - now is the time to visit before it gets too popular.


With new airports and improved transport links popping up Europe-wide to make travelling ever easier, it’s rare to find destinations truly off the beaten track.

Enter: the Aeolian islands. Off the north east coast of Sicily, the group is made up of Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Panarea, alongside a set of minor islands and rocks.

A long time favourite destination of adventurous Italians, they’re becoming ever more accessible to foreign tourists, despite the fact they’re not easy to reach.

In fact, these sublime islands are only accessible by boat, making them far more effort to reach than the majority of Italian destinations. It’s rare to hear a single complaint about them from those who have visited, though. Instead, it’s widely agreed that the extra effort to get to them is absolutely worth it.

With the help of sailing companies helping tourists reach these unspoiled gems, here’s everything you need to know about the Aeolian islands.

What makes the island group so special?

“The Aeolian islands seamlessly blend trendy towns with ancient harbour villages, each surrounded by untamed volcanic beauty. From lovely green hills to seething craters, you will find a wide variety of unique natural landscapes in a very small space,” Laura Griffiths of VentureSail tells Euronews Travel.

The seven main islands and their smaller neighbours are all entirely unique, but recognised for their collective beauty. In fact, the archipelago has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.

Offering frequent volcanic eruptions, Stromboli is a must visit, to see the truly unusual natural phenomenon. Griffiths explains the eruptions are best seen from a boat rather than on the island itself.

“From the safety of a boat”, she says, “you can marvel at the giant plumes of volcanic smoke and ash which shoot up into the skies above.”

The island group is known for its frequent volcanic eruptions
The island group is known for its frequent volcanic eruptionsEco Sailors

Eva de Wilde has recently launched Eco Sailors with her partner Pietro.

The pair met in the archipelago and want to share the destination with guests on their classic, 1977 wooden ketch, a Beaufort 16 named Luna.

Eva won’t be drawn, though, when we ask for details of her favourite of the islands.

“Choosing a favourite island is very difficult because all of the islands are so different from each other and characteristic in their own way, which is one of the reasons that make them so impressive,” she tells Euronews Travel.

“The water in this part of the Mediterranean is uniquely deep blue and clear. There is also a lot of history and mythology. Every village is as different as all of the islands,” she adds, “It’s impossible for us to choose a favourite activity or island because you can not compare them, each has its own special beauty and activities.”

Pietro of Eco Sailors aboard Luna, the company's sailing boat
Pietro of Eco Sailors aboard Luna, the company's sailing boatEco Sailors

Which destinations on the islands are absolute ‘must sees’?

Luckily, there are no end of activities to occupy any visitor to the Aeolian islands.

Aboard the tall ship Florette, VentureSail offers day trips to the islands, including the remote Salina - known as the home of some of the best capers on the planet.

Laura Griffiths also recommends an excursion to Vulcano “where visitors can wallow in sulphur mud before dipping into the bubbling sea.”

Across the entire archipelago, there are also chances, she explains, to “swim, snorkel and kayak in secluded bays with crystal-clear water and dark beaches made of fine, black lava sand where you won’t see another soul.”


Lipari is also a favourite of the VentureSail team. They say it’s “a traditional Sicilian island where obsidian and pumice stone can be found in abundance”.

While not easily accessible to tourists, guests of the company can hire a traditional Italian Vespa and explore the ancient island and its friendly community.

What is the best way to access the Aeolian islands?

It’s not just the islands which all, individually, offer something different.

VentureSail offers a traditional sailing experience around the islands and Eco Sailors have launched a unique boating adventure.

Eva and Pietro have spent just over a year refurbishing their boat, Luna, to make it more modern and, crucially for them, eco-friendly.

Luna, Eco Sailor's sailing boat, from above in the archipelago
Luna, Eco Sailor's sailing boat, from above in the archipelagoWilliam Woodward Photography/Eco Sailors

“We produce all the electricity we need with the use of solar panels,” Eva tells Euronews Travel, “What makes us different from other trips is that we live aboard and know everything about our vessel.”

They serve vegan food onboard and don’t fish the surrounding waters - a practice unusual in all of Italy - but explain, “we want to attract all kinds of people, doesn’t matter if you are vegan or not, we want to show that it’s possible to enjoy local delicacies without harming the environment.”

"You reach the islands only by boat. You can bring a car/bicycle/other on the ferry and stay in a hotel or b&b. From our point of view, the best way to see the islands is by boat.There are plenty of bays, caves and smaller islands of the archipelago which are only accessible from the water."
Eva de Wilde
Eco Sailors

Regardless of what kind of experience you’re looking for, one thing is clear, according to Laura Griffiths: “sailing in the Aeolian islands is truly the best way to see these untamed isles, soaking up the sights from the water whilst accessing harder to reach places and off-the-beaten-track destinations.”

“Sailing here provides the chance to travel in a way like no other, island hopping where the winds and tides take, calling in at secluded coves for swimming, anchoring near sheltered beaches and dining in small traditional towns, far from the busy tourist spots,” she adds.

Visitors marvel at the volcanic explosions from the summit of Stromboli
Visitors marvel at the volcanic explosions from the summit of StromboliSergio Cima via Unsplash

With their popularity increasing, though, now is the time to book a trip to the archipelago.


“We chose to charter the Aeolian Islands not only because they are impressive but it’s a place not many people know about. We [Eva and Pietro] met each other there and they will always have a special place in our hearts,” Eva tells Euronews Travel, “we want to share the love for these islands with other people and show there are more places to visit than the usual destinations of Italy.”

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