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Volcanoes, beaches and pasta

Delicious Italian food, beautiful nature areas and wide sandy beaches: just north of Sicily lie the volcanic Aeolian islands, each of them charmingly unique. They owe their name to Aiolos, the Greek god of the wind. Sabine Boerema spent a week with Boat Bike Tours on board the Sundial, a wooden sailing ship built in Turkey using ancient shipbuilding techniques. She visited no fewer than five islands: the spa island of Vulcano; hip Panarea; green Salina; historic Lipari; and Stromboli, with its active volcano, also known as the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean.”

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What was it like boarding the Sundial?

“Very special. The boat belongs to a Sicilian family from Milazzo, the historic port city where the trip begins. The father sails; the daughter, Vanessa, cooks; and the son, Angelo, takes care of the guests: he is truly an angel, very caring and friendly. The first meal was prepared by the mother: caponata, a stew with vegetables. There were so many delicious things to taste: cheeses, sausages, artichokes, olives, mozzarella, tuna, prawns and, of course, cannoli, a Sicilian specialty: crispy tubes filled with sweet ricotta cream. The ship is made entirely of wood and decorated with love: lace curtains, small tiles painted with fruits on every door. Very Italian.”

You first sailed to Vulcano, the ‘spa island’…

“Such a beautiful island! On Vulcano the volcanic activity is very clearly visible. When you arrive at the port, you immediately see the fumaroles: holes in the earth’s crust from which warm sulfur fumes escape. The rocks have turned yellow and smell like rotten eggs. At the Spiaggia delle Acque Calde beach you can swim among the gas bubbles! Unfortunately, the mud baths have been closed since 2019. But we took a beautiful walk to the crater of the volcano in the evening sun. So magical: the colors, the smoke from the fumaroles, and the beautiful view over the Tyrrhenian Sea, dotted with the other Aeolian Islands. I once climbed Mount Etna, which was a six-hour slog in volcanic sand, but this walk was more doable for me, and even more beautiful.”

Then on to Panarea, Salina and Lipari: what are they like?

“Every island is different; that’s what makes it so much fun. Panarea is a bit hip. You walk through very narrow, steep streets past whitewashed houses with flowers. Very small cars drive through the streets, and we saw an ambulance half as wide as ours in the Netherlands! At the garden gates there are ceramic pine cones, which are said to bring prosperity to the house. In Salina, we took a nice bike ride. It was quite tough – the first few kilometers you only cycle uphill – but luckily I had an e-bike. The island is very green. Il Postino was shot there: one of my favorite films. You cycle past cacti and vineyards, where Malvasia, a special dessert wine, is made. Lipari is the largest island. There’s a beautiful fortified town there, with an archaeological museum. Plenty of sidewalk cafés, very atmospheric.”

Stromboli has an active volcano, which erupts every fifteen minutes.

“The tour leader compared Stromboli to a sleeping cat, which wakes up a little every fifteen minutes and stretches. We had to wait until evening to see the eruptions. After dinner we sailed around the bend and saw all kinds of ships there; everyone was on board looking at the volcano. You can almost set the clock by it: every fifteen minutes you see lava shooting into the air, so spectacular! Stromboli is inhabited, and nowadays scientists can accurately measure the volcano’s activity. So I definitely felt safe there. The best view of the eruptions is from a ship. In the dark, the glowing lava flow slides down the mountain. Truly a natural wonder.”

The trip doesn’t just involve cycling, but also walking?

“Yes, there’s a lot of variety. I thought that was wonderful. Not every island is suitable for cycling, so you do something different every time. Cycling one day, climbing a volcano the next, or strolling through a town. It’s nice if you’re athletic, but you don’t have to be in great shape. I loved the daily rhythm. We often set sail around seven in the morning. Then breakfast was ready. Then we’d go for a swim, go sailing for a while, swim again, have lunch, then walk or cycle – a full-day program every time. And don’t forget, the delicious Italian food counts as an activity too!”

Was it difficult to leave after a week?

“Yes, I would go again in a heartbeat! Italy is fantastic anyway; but the Aeolian Islands felt like a dream. The landscape is so diverse, with plenty of flowers, cacti and plants. It’s great to be on such a beautiful sailing ship, with a very nice family who will spoil you completely. I ate so much fresh fish: delicious! It’s an Italian trip through and through; you’ll see hardly any foreign tourists on the islands. My daughter came along, and we also spent a week in Sicily: a very nice combination. All those beautiful towns, with all those churches, wow! Another tip: if you fly into Catania, take the train to Milazzo, where the trip begins. It’s a beautiful ride!”

Travel with Boat Bike Tours

Would you like to explore the Aeolian Islands? Then sign up for the Boat Bike Tours trip! Start the tour in the historic town of Milazzo, on the north coast of Sicily, and sail to the five islands of Vulcano, Panarea, Stromboli, Salina and Lipari. The bike rides are about 20 to 25 kilometers (12-15 miles), while the walks take 2.5 to 3.5 hours. You’ll visit the most beautiful sights accompanied by an experienced tour leader. You can also choose to do the bike tours and walks independently, with the help of the free Ride with GPS app and the Boat Bike Tours cycling map.

Extend the trip, adding three days in Sicily

You can extend the trip afterwards by adding three days in Sicily. After breakfast you’ll depart by minibus from the port of Milazzo to Villafranca Tirrena, and from there you’ll cycle (with the help of the app) along the northeast coast to the center of Messina. You’ll pass through the pine forest of Calamona, taste granita (a semi-frozen sweet drink) in the village of Torre Faro, and pass Lake Ganzirri. The next day, a minibus will take you to Giampilieri Marina and you’ll cycle along the east coast towards the coastal town of Taormina. On day 3 you’ll continue to the beautiful Alcantara gorge, where you can take a swim, and on to the coastal town of Riposto. You can return to Catania by private transfer.

Our travel experts would be happy to help you book your dream tour. Just contact us online or call us at +31 20 72 35 400 so that we can help you!

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