At the beginning of June I had to fly to Turkey for the wedding of a couple of friends. As I had few air miles accumulated, I decided to make a stopover in Sicily for few days before reaching Izmir. My final destination was Stromboli, a little volcanic island off the northern coast: I come here often, generally in October, when tourists have gone, the weather is still great and the atmosphere is very relaxed. There are three reasons why you want to go to Stromboli: food, sea and the most spectacular volcano in Europe!
Reaching Stromboli is a long – but pleasant – journey: I flew to Catania, took a bus to Milazzo’s harbour (4 hours), then embarked on a ferry to Stromboli (1.5 hours). It is not the kind of place you want to visit for a week end: you need at least 4 days, 2 of which will be mainly spent traveling.
As soon as you arrive on the island, you will see some electric vehicles and “Ape” (Bee) cars, the only means of transportation allowed. Search for a yellow Ape car, that is Pippo’s taxi. Pippo is a tall blond fisherman who spends the morning out in the sea and the rest of the day as a taxi driver. Unless you have a backpack, you’ll probably need a taxi to reach your hotel if this is not located near the harbor. I will provide some organizational details at the end of the post.
Stromboli village is just few houses scattered along the main road, a church, few restaurants, few shops. That’s about what you really need over there. The village is however very well maintained with houses of different bright colors and narrow streets.
Ficogrande: a lazy morning on the beach
Once spent the first night wandering around restaurants and bars, the following morning should be dedicated to some swimming and sunbathing: head for the Ficogrande beach – it is quite large, not many rocks and during high season there are two restaurants and few kiosks. It is not as bad as it may sounds, and if you go in May or October you will have to share the beach with just few locals. When I arrived at the beginning of June there were already some tourists. The peculiarity of this beach (as the others in Stromboli) is that the sand is black. Yes, pure black, from volcanic rocks. In a quiet day, the sea water is completely transparent and that will allow you to see the bottom which is made of black stones! The whole thing is quite surreal but really astonishing. And if you like snorkeling you will be rewarded by colorful fish against a totally black background. Few years ago while I was snorkeling 2omt off the coast, I saw tens of jellyfish coming my way: their electric blue surrounded by black was hypnotizing: I could not stop staring at them, although I knew I should have swam away to avoid any contact. One of the few occasions I really regret not having had a camera with me. Ficogrande beach is also a vantage point to admire and hear the volcano.
Hiking to the top of the volcano
After a lazy morning on the beach, an even more lazy lunch in the village and a regenerating nap, the watch tells 5pm. This is the time when you should start getting ready for the main attraction of Stromboli: watching the lava explosions in the dark. There are two options: the easiest consists in getting a taxi to a restaurant called Osservatorio (Observatory) which has a large terrace with an extraordinary view of the crater. Or there is the adventurous option, that is hiking to the top, sitting above the crater and spending the night there. I always favor this option: the hiking is not very difficult and if you decide to come back before midnight, you can always stop at the Osservatorio on your way down. A lamp, water, food and good hiking boots are paramount for this option.
7pm is about time to start hiking in June.. 6pm or even earlier is better in October. The trail starts from the main square of the village. In the first hour you will walk through the old cemetery, a swamp and old bridge. You will probably encounter lots of people and animals: it is good education to say hello to both. What I really like of this first part of the hike is the view of the island from above. The village with tiny roads will reveal itself for what it really is: a few houses. And Strombolicchio, the volcanic plug in front of the island that you see from the beach or the main square, will show its top and the lighthouse.
Few words about Stromboli volcano As opposed to other types of volcanoes, Stromboli activity mainly consists in small to medium explosions at regular intervals (generally 20-30 minutes). This kind of activity is called “strombolian”. The explosion bursts ashes, incandescent lava and rocks up to a few hundreds meters in height. The summit of the volcano is at 900mt above sea level. The hiking trail takes you at 860mt.
The hike continues until you reach the Sciara del Fuoco (Stream of Fire): this is the slope where lava reaches the sea during a proper eruption. From this point on the noise of the explosions is getting louder and lounder and you start to see the incandescent lava. There is still light though and this ruins a bit the atmosphere. But the hike is not over yet, we are midway!
So ready for the final! This is the most difficult part, steep with sandy ground: I did not have them with me, but I could definitely make use of hiking poles especially for coming down at night. If everything went well, you should arrive on top at dusk: you have time to relax, drink, eat and enjoy the show. Depending on the level of volcano activity, the best point is the summit of the mountain and where you can sit above the crater: this is the best point to admire explosions. However if the volcano is very active – like it was in June – it is recommended not to go further the first panorama point.
I have hiked Etna many times but not a single one was I able to see the crater or the lava: either it was foggy, or cloudy, or too windy.. you name it. Etna in eruption is a unique event to witness on its slopes, but unfortunately that does not work well if you are a traveler – you must be really lucky to have planned a visit on the Etna and found it in eruption in good weather conditions! That is why I love Stromboli. Stromboli is a honest volcano, you have to commit to a long journey and a good hike but it will reward you with something you will hardly forget! I have hiked on this volcano about 15 times in my life and each of them is imprinted in my memory as a unique event and experience.
While waiting till the night falls, surrounded by other travelers and tourists, I embrace my love for volcanoes as a proxy of the land before man.
So the show begins! Don’t forget to check the video below and the organisational details at the end of the page!
Some organisational details
Sleeping: La lampara, EUR 40 per person per night. Website: http://www.lalamparastromboli.com/home.html
My preferred accomodation on the island, a nice B&B outside the center of the village and closer to the Ficogrande beach. This place has also a nice patio restaurant with pizza.