Is Filicudi the hottest Sicilian Island?
Looks like we just visited a real a hotspot, with Filicudi the hottest Sicilian Island or at least a contender, travel restrictions and all. This year, we were happy to realise just the one holiday, a week in Sicily.
A few days after returning from our trip, I read in my news feed that Filicudi and Stromboli are an incredibly sexy destination.
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What makes Filicudi the hottest Sicilian island?
These islands who are part of the Aeolian Islands archipelago are indeed of volcanic origin and contain one of Italy’s three active volcanoes, Stromboli. I think the story originated on CNN Travel and was quickly picked up by countless publications – okay, a lot of them tabloid newspapers. Good thing we had already been – otherwise these articles might have painted a picture of sex-crazed visitors clambering a volcano naked and procreating in sea caves instead of hotel bed rooms.
Fancy knowing that now.
So t when I blithedly booked our flights to Catania and looked for some nice hotels in the Aeolian Islands, little did I know that I’d be travelling to an erotic hotspot. When I appreciated the quiet, then empty pebbled beaches and half-empty cafes, that really, this was some place for hot action?
So, before you book your hot love action break – or shy away from booking because of the association – let me tell you about Filicudi.
I would love to tell you about Stromboli too. But the only hot action I saw of it was some minor eruptions at night. Which do occur a lot. Our hotel in Salina had a roof terrace where you could observe that spectacle nightly.
Visiting the Aeolian Islands
To be honest, I had been drawn by the islands remoteness and this article in the Conde Nast Traveller. It contained a lot of fresh simple food, existentialist French authors and artfully spartan expensive hotel rooms. As the virus decimated many potential holiday destinations this summer, Italy seemed a stable and very pleasant option. I knew the Aeolian Islands were a bit above our usual budget. Just a bit. But they also provided a relatively safe option – a small archipelago with few inhabitants, relatively few visitors. No big resorts or a club scene to speak of. Sounded perfect.
We landed in Salina first, with all the bare-ness and isolation of Filicudi, Alicudi and Stromboli perhaps being a bit much for the bog standard European leisure traveller.
But within two hours, we had crisscrossed Santa Marina di Salina, swum off the pebble beach, tried all harbourside cafes and were pondering over riding the very infrequent bus to a more remote village, a water taxi into Rinella, or visiting another island. I talked by beloved into a trip to Filicudi and Alicudi. Interestingly, the other option would have been a day trip to Panarea and the other “love island”, Stromboli.
The next morning, we hopped on the souped-up cutter whose sole job it is to take tourists around the archipelago for the past decade or so, and greet our exclusively Italian fellow travellers, all of whom look like the nice, well adjusted professionals that we are. We headed off with a surprising speed under the care of an elderly rotund captain and three very young, very good looking employees whom we shall call the First Officers.
Being not the trekking kind, I thought we had made the right decision viewing Salina Island mostly from the sea.
Filicudi is best seen from a small boat
The first leg to Filicudi was bumpy and splashy and I loved it. I hadn’t been on the open sea in an open vessel for years. Although there is much talk about Filicudi being remote and isolated, a hydrofoil can make the journey from Milazzo in just under two hours, and our M/N Glentor took about an hour from Santa Marina di Salina.
We barely had time to inspect the Eastern Coast of Filicudi when we anchored in Le Punte. the First Officer dropped the ladder and invited us into the deep clear seas with “Bagno, prego”. Having never been one for organised boat tours and having sailed in the wrong climate zone, diving off our small boat was simply wonderful. We swam around the boat a few times, the constant mild current warning us to maybe not move too far from the boat. And oh yeah, did I feel my arms in the evening! Now, that’s the kind of sport I could play every day – swimming in clean deep waters!
Having swum on the narrow strip of pebbles and concrete breakers outside our hotel, where the pebbles could be surprisingly pokey and our descent into the shallow waters a slow and mildly painful one, this was luxurious. Made even more luxurious by the simple outdoor shower on the boat. It dawned on me that we had essentially booked a fancy swimming trip, and for the first time in ages, I was quite happy there would be minimal sightseeing and specialist dining.
While we clambered back ont he boat, one of the First Officers set about browning some onions in a huge pan in the tiny galley. It took us another hour to motor to Alicudi.
Of enormous sea stacks and mysterious caves
On our return from Alicudi, it was time to take a closer look at Filicudi. A tiny road connects its three tiny villages. Its coast is accessible by boat only. A few houses cling to the steep hillside, leaving me wondering how to access them – probably mule paths, impossible to see from the boat.
First, “La Canna” which you can imagine draws comparisons to a male organ. If you touch it, you will be blessed with a man, marriage and many children. I already have the first two, and I guess at pushing fifty not even a genital-shaped sea stack will work a treat.
I am somewhat relieved none of the rather well adjusted looking people strips off naked as we near La Canna and Grotto del bue Marino, the “Sea Ox” grotto. There is a bit of stripping but only to the swimming costumes we have conveniently kept on under our clothes.
The swimming was great, water at least five metres deep with excellent visibility. And you may ask yourself… can you swim into the grotto? You probably can, bus a you can see they aren’t terribly keen on boats entering the grotto. There was a bit of a swell though, so boring old me stayed meekly at the barrier. I had tripped and fallen onto the pier the day before, sporting a collection of grazes and bruises and didn’t fancy any further adventure markings, especially not with any traumatology unit some hours away.
Our last stop was Filicudi Porto, a sleepy hamlet with a few neglected houses, a shut-down hotel and one cavernous cafe. Honestly, I love myself a low-key island, but Filicudi may have been… a little much low key. Especially with just one food shop and one restaurant having the monopoly, this does not make for culinary heaven. And who would not come to Italy to eat well, would they?
By the way, the boat pasta, eaten between swimming off the steep slopes of Alicudi and postprandial strolling around Alicudi Porto, washed down casually with a beaker of white wine, was good! The First Officer really is a cook cook, cooking up a feat for twenty on a camping cooker in relatively bouncy seas. Definitely food for thought and an inspiration to cook a different pasta rather than walnut pesto spaghetti!
Just a few bits and bobs and lace curtains from our walk through Filicudi Porto.
The day we visited, there was just one yacht anchored in the bay, but I have seen pictures from summer/other years when this walkway was full of visitors and at least twenty yachts.
After swimming and walking, a second granita was called for. Both were okay, but I found the best granite were to be had in areas with very few tourists. As I said… this scenic place has the cafe monopoly in Filicudi Porto. A great place to hang around as most people will pass here at some point – and a great place to wait for the twice-daily hydrofoil back to “mainland” Sicily
Small island snacks – perfectly fine but no match on smaller random places back on “mainland” Sicily.
Returning to Salina
In the late afternoon, we headed back towards Salina. The captain left the wheel to one of his officers and watched the sea pensively, while most of us spread over the outside benches to catch a last bit of sun.
One last view of Pollara before we began to drop off in Malfa and headed back to Santa Marina di Salina. Just seeing the yachts here and there gives me ideas to return on a sailing holiday but I think for this region I better save a lot of money first. Other than that, this looks like ideal sailing territory – close enough to the coast, some very diverse islands, and the beaches of Calabria not too far, either.
So… Is Filicudi the hottest Sicilian island?
Well, in terms of “what happens when you take a middle aged married couple and let them be bog standard tourists in times when you got to keep at least 1,5metres distance” I must disappoint you reader. There were no activities whatsoever on our jolly boat that would do justice to the more colourful descriptions of Filicudi vacation activities.
Filicudi remains a remote rugged small island, despite potential visits from singles looking to couple up and procreate. It certainly offers the seclusion and lack of activities that are conductive to spending some time very close together. The lack of large hotels, big bars or any kind of organised entertainment bar a diving base mean there are none of the usual holiday distractions. It also has walking paths, great swimming in crystal-clear waters and good mobile reception and WiFi so anyone else does not need to feel excluded.
I wouldn’t go there on honeymoon as I am not massively into hiking. Also, I found the restaurant scene somewhat lacking. If I had plenty of food supplies and a kitchen I would happily spend a week there. Then I could swim every day and finally find time to photograph lots of leaves and small details, as well as read a few books and sit on a terrace for a day without doing much else.
So, dear CNN, all this hot love action might be very well, but the way I experienced it, Filicudi was pretty much a sedate quiet islands perfect for swimmers and nature lovers, and I hope the love seekers move on quickly.
Getting to the Aeolian islands
We flew to Catania. From there, there are at least five daily buses directly to the Port of Milazzo. Unfortunately, they are not very well publicized online. Giuntabus has the most frequent routes and a ticket booth just outside the airport. Otherwise, take a coach to Messina (last stop is the train station) and a train from Messina. Ultimately, the direct coach is better as it takes you directly to the centre of Milazzo and its small port. The train station is a ew kilometres from town and you basically need a taxi.
From Milazzo, you can take one of the frequent hydrofoils operated by Liberty Lines to any of the Aeolian islands. The larger islands of Vulcano, Lipari and Salina are serviced 10-12 times daily. Smaller islands like Filicudi or Stromboli two to three times a day. The journey will take 60-120 minutes
The other boat service is Siremar. They operate large ferries and is significantly slower and insignificantly cheaper, taking up to six hours.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Santa Marina di Salina, the main village and port on Salina Island. Not only does it have frequent boats, but also a wider choice of restaurants, accommodation and safe places to swim. Some other villages such as Malfa and Pollara may be more picturesque but they are definitely steeper and swimming can be marred by falling rocks.
We stayed at the Santa Marina Antica Forestiera Hotel. Another place I checked out and can recommend is the Cinque Balconi Hotel. Altogether, the more into the village you stay, the higher up it will be.
In Filicudi and Alicudi, accommodation options are very limited. There are also quite a few private rooms to rent.
Where to Eat
As for food and drink… the First Officer cooked pasta on the boat and I was grateful for it. I would only attempt Filicudi and Alicudi with a bag full of groceries and a kitchen in my accommodation. There are a couple cafes in both ports. And what I tried was okay but was not on par with Sicily’s other gastronomic delights.
Where to book a boat trip
We did our boat trip with Glentor. They are a small operation with just one boat, but super friendly and reliable. I felt really safe on the boat. Even with just a handful people on board, captain and officers observed carefully during swimming and land breaks. This is not a traditional cruise boat with running commentary multilingual guide, but a much more rugged experience. Someone on the boat will usually speak English. They also have a small both in the port of Santa Marina di Salina.