Charming Milazzo – the underrated Gateway to the Aeolian Islands
My Milazzo – the underrated Gateway to the Aeolian Islands post came about for practical reasons. Not trusting our budget flight plus a 200km road/rail trip to take us to the Aeolian ferry port on time, we decided to have a short stopover in Milazzo.
Late last summer, I made a return trip to Sicily, to a destination that has long been on my wish list, but was always pushed back because it was too expensive, or too unadventurous.
Then, the pandemic came and in late summer 2020, Italy looked like a safe bet on every count: low infection rates, good weather, minimal travel restrictions, and… well, it’s Italy. Some very cheap flights to Catania were booked, and after a quick flight and a bumpy bis ride, we found ourselves in Milazzo, a small town on the northern Coast of Sicily, which is the starting-off point for most boats and ferries to the Aeolian Islands.
Our trip from Catania Airport to Milazzo
We took a low-cost flight from Berlin to Catania. Very cheap, pain-free, and with Catania being a decent airport with good transport connections, we had a relatively smooth trip.
In Catania, I got held up a bit because I was asked to provide medical assistance on our flight again – nothing life threatening this time, but I accompanied the other passenger to the First Aid Point in the Airport, before quickly buying tickets for the next coach to Messina.
As Catania Airport has some excellent bus connections to pretty much anywhere in Sicily, there is no need going to the city centre. Just ask at one of the ticket kiosks as you leave the airports. The coach ride was pretty bumpy, despite being ona motorway and our brief stop in Messina unspectacular. Once we arrived by train in Milazzo, miles from the centre, we hired a taxi with a few other travellers to take us to the port area, another unspectacular place at first sight.
And so it would have gone on – our B&B, in an unspectacular narrow residential street just behind the port, chosen for convenience, turned out a super friendly, super comfortable place to sleep and rest. It was just about 300 metres from the passenger port, which, compared to many other European port areas, is actually quite pleasant, with a tourist information and plenty of cafes and restaurants
It was just getting dark, so we went on a little walk into town. Firstly, the number of patisseries and coffee roasters we passed en route to the main pedestrian zone was baffling. Secondly, Milazzo got more charming as we walked on, with plenty of old building,s many in great conditions, and people strolling outside in the evening – a really pleasant place to be.
Our host told us later that Milazzo has always been relatively wealthy due to a lot of industry settled here. You will see one when you enter the town – a huge oil refinery, which leaves a somewhat unappealing impression to tourists. It can look a bit rough round the edges but the centre is very pretty and the town is actually part of an association of the “Most Attractive Towns in Italy”.
Eating in Milazzo – Cheap, cheerful and excellent
My Milazzo – the underrated Gateway to the Aeolian Islands guide would not be complete without some great food options! That first night in Milazzo, we just walked along the pedestrian promenade, looking for “typical Sicilian food”. The pedestrianized centre is hard to miss. Just follow the roundabout by the passenger port heading towards the Castle, then you will find an increasing number of shops and cafes, and most of it is pedestrianized.
After getting acquainted with the town centre, we settled for a hole-in-the wall “Friggitoria”, a place for… well.. fried food. Common in Sourthern Italy, and with a cone of excellent deep-fried seafood with a side of veggie rice balls for under 15 Euro, this was an extremely cheap yet satifying meal.
Leaving room for dessert, we had a piece of cake at the Scotch Bar – one of many cafe-patisseries in town. Quality was excellent and prices good.
Turns out you can barely go wrong with food in Milazzo. Usually you are advised to avoid the port area, but to our great surprise, we found some great places to eat – and people watch! The port is also the central transport stop, with buses and coaches arriving and leaving, and therefore there are many cafes in the area
When we returned from Salina, we had two hour wait for our coach to Catania Airport. Wanting to load up on lunch, we visited a cheap and cheerful Sicilian “Street food” place called Rusticando, about 100m from the passenger terminal, right on the main street along the bay. It is a self-service place with basic tables, and great for extremely fresh and tasty arancini and some local specialty, tuns in tomato sauce embedded in dough, a bit like an empanada. I think they are called “scacce” or “‘mpanate” in Sicily, and the friendly chatty person at the counter told us in Milazzo, they are typically filled with fish and tomato.
The arancini were vegetarian, and were really good, too. The whole meal cost maybe 10 Euro, a total snip, which included sitting down in the simple restaurant.
Then we returned to our previous breakfast cafe the Bar DiamonD, for some excellent dessert. These tiny ice cream cones are available almost anywhere in Sicily – they contain some hefty ice cream, usually chocolate, vanilla or pistachio. They are extremely rich – one is sometimes enough!
Time at the beach in Milazzo
With the wonderful Aeolian Islands so close, you might think Milazzo is inferior when it comes to beaches but… think again. To be honest, swimming off the Aeolian Islands is great. The water is clear, with great visibility, but all this comes at a price – there are almost no sandy beaches. Swimming near our hotel in Salina required some pretty good foot callus and no fear of prickly stones or sea urchins- or reef shoes.
The best swimming I had was actually off the boat on our Filicudi and Alicudi Trip – jumping right into 10m+ deep water off the boat. A few exceptions aside,m the Aeolian Islands are not exactly known for their beaches, so if you like a gentle sandy beach and slow inclines into the sea, Milazzo might be a better choice. All beaches are to the west of town, a
Spiaggia di Ponente north of the town is one of the best beaches – coarse sand, gentle entry into the sea, beach facilities… a fair walk from town.
Much closer is the Lido la Fenice, which occupies a chunk of a long coarse sand beach. It is more like a beach club with a restaurant and a pool, but it is common in Italy to charge entry for the beach, and the restaurant on site is said to be decent.
Milazzo – the underrated Gateway to the Aeolian Islands…Or just use Milazzo as a base!
This is a great money-saving tip… you can find some very good accommodation in Milazzo for as little as 50 Euro a double, which is unheard of in the Aeolian Islands. As all Aeolian Islands are served by hydrofoil, you can easily plan a few day tripos seeing all of the Aeolian Islands, and return to Milazzo in the evenings.
Day trips ( see below) cost pretty much the same as trips to neighbouring islands from the Aeolian Islands, you you will save tons of money here by making a base in Milazzo. Sitting on a terrace in little-populated Alicudi or a smart restaurant in Salina is undeniably charming, but we made a big dent into our travel funds by spending some night on Salina, where hotel prices are roughly double what they are on the mainland, and restaurants are either very basic and not exactly culinary highlights, or very upmarket, typically catering to travellers on bigger budgets.
If you are on a smaller budget but wish to eat and sleep well, then staying in Milazzo most of the time makes great financial sense.
There is very little published on practical Milazzo information and although our visit was brief, here are a few tips.
How to get to Milazzo
It is poorly publicised, but there are several buses a day from Catania Airport to Milazzo, dropping off right by the hydrofoil port. There are some services you can find online that need to be pre-booked and charge about 25Euro per person, but a lot of bus companies to the trip for about half the price.
Stupidly, I deleted the photo I took of the timetable… but if you arrive in Catania before 14.00, chances are you catch one of the regular buses – just ask at the bus kiosks. They are located outside the Catania Airport building, turn right as you exit the terminal.
One of the carriers that makes the regular journey is Giuntabus. They have a ticket office in Catania Airport. In Milazzo, you can just buy tickets from the driver, or pre-purchase online. Journey time is about 2,5hours and a ticket costs about 15 Euro single, 26 Euro return.
Another company, Alibrando, offers minibuses and is marginally faster – but at 25 Euro single trip, a lot more expensive.
If you search online, most searches will turn out a journey by bus from Catania Airport to Messina Centrale, continued by train from Messina. This is somewhat slower, leaving you with a taxi journey from Milazzo Station at the end, so it is better to enquire about direct buses, which run frequently in summer and in shoulder season.
Similarly, there are buses from Palermo and Palermo Airport.
If you are travelling Italy by train, Messina will be your arrival point, from where it is very easy to catch a local train, roughly every hour, which stops in Milazzo. I would not attempt the journey from one of the major international airports, like Milano Malpensa or Fiumicino, though – you will get as far as Napoli or Salerno fast and expensively on high-speed train, but from there it is a very slow journey to Messina, taling about 12 hours from Milan, for example. Better to fly into Catania or Palermo.
Where to stay in Milazzo
We had only planned to spend one night in Milazzo, using it as a jumping-off point to the Aeolian Islands, and stayed at the Milazzo Aeolian Sea Port B&B for one night. The B&B is basically a very large apartment in a featureless central apartment building, with a modern tidy decor and extremely comfortable newly furnished rooms. We paid 63Euro in September, which I thought reasonable, and if you are lucky, room prices can be as low as 50 Euro. The hydrofoil passenger port is 2 minutes walk from the guesthouse, and the owners super friendly and full of good advice.
This was just a comfortable place to rest and sleep., If you want something with a bit more… pedigree, try the Liberty Palace. A slightly larger B&B in a period building in central Milazzo, with prices as low as 60 Euro per room per night.
Milazzo might not be the most obvious place for a beach holiday, but once you pass the huge oil refinery in the bay and enter the peninsula, you will find some decent sandy beaches. There are no big resorts in Milazzo but penty of smaller guest houses by the beach, such as Blu Mare, offering tidy rooms starting at about 60 Euro. The postr and city centre are still a comfortable 10-minute walk away.
How to get to the Aeolian Islands
The fastest way to get to all of the Aeolian Islands is by hydrofoil, operated by Liberty Lines. It is possible to pre-book online, or just go to the passenger port the day before travel. As the Aeolian Islands are not exactly a mass tourism destination, it should be possible to purchase tickets on the day of travel although I would not bank on that.
If all fails, there is a much slower car ferry operated by Siremar several times a day, which take at least three times as long to reach the larger islands of Vulcano, Lipari and Salina.
Day Trips to the Aeolian Islands from Milazzo
There are several operators who offer day trips to the Aeolian Islands from Milazzo, ranging from 40 Euro for a trip to Lipari and Vulcano to about 90 Euro for the much longer Filicudi-Alicudi trip.
The Small Print
We visited Milazzo and the islands of Salina, Filicudi and Alicudi on a self-organised independent Sicily trip in September 2020. We chose Sicily because of frequent flights and low incidences during the short window of almost unrestricted travel in summer 2020 – and I have always had a soft spot for Italy, and the Aeolian Islands had long been on my wish list.
We paid full price for all accommodation and services, so this review is completely unbiased. This post contains some affiliate links to Booking.com, including the guesthouse where we stayed in Milazzo. If you make a booking through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to yourself.