The rest is easy

Hang out and be happy in the Ae­o­lian Is­lands off Si­cily

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays For Seniors - VIC­TO­RIA LANE

PALERMO is an­other world of heat and bright­ness, but we were not stop­ping; at the port we boarded a cata­ma­ran that churned its way to­wards the Ae­o­lian Is­lands, the vol­canic ar­chi­pel­ago off the north­east cor­ner of Si­cily.

The is­lands are named af­ter Aeolus, son of Zeus and god of the four winds, but there was scarcely a whis­per of a breeze in the two weeks we were there. We had all sorts of plans: to is­land- hop, go to the hot mud baths on Vul­cano, visit the black-sand beaches of Stromboli and climb its vol­cano by night, per­haps a day on Panarea, Italy’s Ibiza, where glam­orous peo­ple prowl in bars.

Then a night or so on the rocky out­crops of Alicudi and Filicudi, not for­get­ting Li­pari, the main is­land, and then since we were go­ing back via Si­cily we might as well stop there. We had a long list of restau­rants to visit.

But oh dear, when we ar­rived on Salina and were taken to our lit­tle cot­tage with its semi-trop­i­cal garden of hi­bis­cus and jas­mine and bougainvil­lea dan­gling over the hot ter­race, and a tree that looked like a 1920s star­let with ab­surd pink feath­ery flow­ers, and we watched the sun plop into the sea, I think we guessed we weren’t go­ing any­where.

Ev­ery so of­ten one of us would say: ‘‘Per­haps we should go to Vul­cano to­mor­row?’’ And once we got as far as the ticket booth in the vil­lage square that sold boat rides to the other is­lands, but in the end we couldn’t tear our­selves away. The in­do­lence be­came a joke. ‘‘I am not sure I’ve got the en­ergy for a swim.’’

Salina is only 25sq km but, hon­estly, there was plenty to keep a pair of lazy peo­ple busy enough. It is a mag­i­cal place — a two-humped is­land like a camel, with twin ex­tinct vol­ca­noes mak­ing up a ver­dant in­te­rior that is (ap­par­ently) good for hik­ing in cooler sea­sons. Of­ten a small cloud wrapped the sum­mit of Monte Fossa delle Felci, the larger moun­tain, which makes it feel as if you are in the trop­ics rather than south­ern Europe. Monte dei Porri, on the other side, rises steeply into a per­fect cone, a text­book vol­cano with ridged sides.

Around the coast are palm trees, prickly pears, myr­tle, the ever-present wild fen­nel and pretty, creep­ing ca­pers. Santa Ma­rina, the town, is al­most chic, while at Lin­gua, in the south­east cor­ner of the is­land, where you find the salt lake from which the is­land gets its name, there is a scruffy Caribbean feel.

There is also an ex­cel­lent cafe, Da Al­fredo, that sells sup­pos­edly the best gran­i­tas in Italy. At least mine was the best I ex­pect to have: pure al­monds, ground with sugar, churned into ice. A Slush Pup­pie for the gods. The food was ter­rific, and I had to have spaghetti al sarde when­ever I saw it on a menu — sar­dines, pine nuts, sul­tanas, wild fen­nel, olive oil.

Malfa, the vil­lage on the north side where we were sta­tioned, has at least four good places to eat, in­clud­ing a ba­sic pizze­ria and the restau­rant of the four-star ho­tel Santa Is­abel, built into the cliff above the swim­ming cove at Punta Scario. This is also the place to go for sun­down­ers of prosecco, ac­com­pa­nied by br­uschetta spread with a zuc­chini pesto.

The sky would darken, the sea would pulse, Stromboli would puff out its vapours, and we would pon­der the ques­tion of din­ner. And con­sole our­selves with the thought that while to­day was nearly over, to­mor­row would be ex­actly the same.

ALAMY

Santa Is­abel ho­tel on Salina, a 25sq km is­land with twin ex­tinct vol­ca­noes

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