Lipari is the largest and most populated of the Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie or Isole Lipari in Italian), a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily. We anchored offshore and were transported to the port by the ships tenders. The island has the biggest town of the archipelago, also called Lipari; a lively busy place with picturesque streets, an attractive harbour and a historic castle-citadel. Like its island neighbours, Lipari has volcanic origins. The last eruption on the island took place around 1,400 years ago, and there are currently no signs of volcanic activity other than thermal springs and fumaroles. The island’s geology is the most visible reminder of Lipari’s origins; until recently one of its main industries was extraction of pumice, created by past eruptions. The island’s population is around 10,000.
Lipari is the most practical base for visiting the Aeolian Islands. Fast ferry connections from Sicily all stop here, and there are plenty of boats and hydrofoils to the other islands. Outside the main Italian tourist season (late July – August) Lipari town is large enough not to feel overwhelmed by tourism. It also has a good choice of accommodation for different budgets, a supermarket, bars, restaurants, shops and other services.
You can easily spend a day pottering around Lipari and touring the museum, with a leisurely lunch and an afternoon drink by the harbour. If you have longer, you could make the interesting and scenic journey around the island on its principal circular road, with breaks at viewpoints and ruins (see below). Lipari’s second town, Canneto, is not particularly interesting, but you can stroll along the seafront and sunbathe, swim or boat from its long pebble beach (there is a better beach, with sand, just past Canneto). When the temperature isn’t too hot, walking is a good activity on the Aeolian islands, and there is a panoramic headland walk possible from Lipari town, which I’ve described below.
Lipari has a very long and distinguished history. The Aeolian Islands have a place in mythology, and certainly they were inhabited as far back as 5,000 BC. The ruins of Bronze Age settlements can be visited on Filicudi and Panarea. Lipari’s position has always made it important for maritime trade, and the island has a rare and valuable resource: black volcanic obsidian, used for knives and sharp implements. The natural harbour of Lipari town is dominated by a convenient rock outcrop, and this was the obvious place for early settlers to build their homes and fortifications. Walking up to the town’s citadel now, visitors can see excavations revealing many levels of history. When Sicily and southern Italy were colonised by Ancient Greeks, Lipari was an important and well-off town, as is demonstrated by the extensive necropoli and high quality of grave goods found on the island, many examples of which can be seen in the town museum.
Over the centuries Lipari was besieged, conquered and taken over many times, by Carthaginians, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Spanish and finally by a united Italy. The worst attack on record was that by the Turkish corsair Barbarossa, who savaged the island in the sixteenth century, and transported almost the entire population into slavery. Afterwards, Lipari was re-settled by the Spanish rulers of Sicily, who built new fortifications on top of the Greek acropolis. In recent centuries, like the other Aeolian Islands, Lipari’s fortunes have gone up and down. Some of the population emigrated to the New World, but as tourism began playing a larger role, the islands’ star has risen. As well as being a popular holiday destination for Italians, the volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands attract adventure-seekers from around the world, and Lipari profits from being the best base for an island-hopping holiday.
Lipari town is a very pleasant place, with pretty streets and lanes perfect for wandering around. There are some elegant historic town-houses as well as plenty of more humble island-dwellings, with balconies bedecked with flowers, washing, onions and peppers. The town has a very cheery atmosphere, and although tourists must get used to touts offering boat trips, the local people in Lipari are all very friendly and welcoming. There are a lot of appealing shops selling souvenirs and good-quality local food and drink; including huge quantities of the local capers and Malvasia wine.
Lipari has two harbours, situated on either side of the castle headland. To the north is Marina Lunga, a functional port where both large ferries and fast hydrofoils dock. At the time of writing there is talk of shifting hydrofoil services back to their original port, but until this is done, Marina Lunga will be the arrival point for most passengers visiting Lipari. There’s a ticket office with desks for both the principal ferry companies, Siremar and Ustica Lines, by the jetty. Marina Corta, to the south of the citadel, is a much more charming historic harbour, colourful with fishing boats. This was the former drop-off point for hydrofoils.
The harbour is a wonderfully picturesque spot, with children splashing in the water, fishermen playing cards in the piazza, a lazy stray dog dozing, and the sun illuminating a little church out on the jetty. The atmosphere was very peaceful . Late in the afternoon we caught the tender back to the ship and set sail north to Naples.