Rocks stars: An Eden of exotic vegetation on the Aeolian Islands

 

It had to be an island, but what we really wanted was Italy. The food, the heat, the Spirito di Punto. But Sicily and Sardinia were too big; Capri too crowded. And then I remembered the Aeolian Islands: eight specks of volcanic rock adrift in the Tyrrhenian Sea; often read about, but always just beyond reach.

There are no direct flights from Stansted, and you can't add a hotel room to your easyJet cart. In fact, there are no flights from anywhere, so getting here is a process of ratcheting down the pace. Not that that's a problem: a bus takes you from Palermo airport to the harbour, then it's a three-hour chug out to sea, the one boat calling at each island.

The plan was to see them all, of course. But first we needed a holiday: beach, book, ice-cold Peroni. Salina is right in the middle, and all the guidebooks said it was the greenest; there was also mention of its "slow pace". Well, the Aeolians were never going to be hectic, though Lipari attracts more tourists, and Panarea apparently does the glamour.

I say apparently because, once we docked at Salina, I'm afraid we didn't go anywhere else. Volcanic islands have a reputation for black austerity, but here we found an Eden of exotic vegetation. Salina is the only one of the eight to boast natural springs, and it was bursting with wild flowers, caper bushes, prickly pears and gorse.

From the air, it must look like Madonna's bullet bra, as the twin peaks of Monte Fossa delle Felci and Monte dei Porri rise up into the clouds. Salina takes its name from the salt-works, saline, at Lingua (or Tongue) in the south-east. Nowadays, the main attraction here is the café serving possibly the finest granitas in the world: peach, almond, cherry – you name it, crushed with ice and sugar.

On the other side of the island, our rented cottage halfway up a hill presented us with three choices every day. We could take the steps down to the rocky little beach at Punta Scario, and bob about in the bay like sea-otters. From here, you can watch Stromboli puffing away across the water – the perfect cartoon volcano with a wisp of cigarette smoke on top.

Or we could climb up, to the village of Malfa, with its three good restaurants and two wedding-cake churches. The parmigiana melanzane was as rich and gooey as any you'll find this side of Rome, and the spaghetti al sarde was a revelation: pine nuts, sultanas, sardines and fennel leaves, simply tossed about with a bit of oil (it's dead easy to make at home). As for the churches, I can't say: they were permanently chiuso, even on Sundays.

The third option was to go neither up nor down, but to slump beneath our bougainvillea trellis, gazing out at sea. Perhaps it was our mistake to come in June, when day after day, the thermometer would hover in the thirties, and it took all our energy to decide whether to eat out or in. But once you allow yourself the luxury of switching off, a gecko on a hot wall is really all the entertainment you need.

Scilly season: Tresco is more reminiscent of the Caribbean than Cornwall
Surf's up: Catching the waves on the Severn Bore
Turkey's finest: Istanbul is the most popular kid on the global block
A taste of India: Learning to cook in Kerala
Fired up: Festival nirvana at Burning Man
Take the scenic route: A long weekend on Australia's Great Ocean Road
Balearic bliss: Majorca is the perfect destination for a family holiday
Splendid isolation: A creative writing course in the shadow of Sylvia Plath
Skiing in Switzerland: Going off-piste in Grimentz

We did once take the bus to Pollara, the fisherman's cove made famous by Il Postino. This is where, in Michael Radford's 1994 film, the poet Neruda holes up in a farmhouse in political exile, and strikes up a friendship with the simple fisherman's son who brings him his post. That film could have ruined Salina, given how many dewy-eyed romantics must have come away vowing to set up as exiled poets on outcrops. But Pollara remains perfectly intact, even if the stripey stratified cliffs are quietly eroding into the sea. Steep steps still lead to a tiny harbour where cage-fronted caves, where the fishermen lock their kit, are carved into the rock. Only here were we aware of other tourists, though none British.

In a cooler month, I would have liked to explore the ferny valley of the Fossa delle Felci, and to trek into the mountains. I'd have taken a boat round Alicudi and Filicudi, and had a mudbath on Lipari, and downed a cocktail on Panarea. I would even have climbed Stromboli at night, and seen the flowing lava, as everyone says you must. But when you can admire them all from the leafy comfort of paradise, it hardly seems worth the bother.

More Med secrets

1. Follow the Italians to Favignana, a teeny sun-baked outpost of Sicily complete with cacti, craggy coves and one whitewash town (thinksicily.com)

2. Explore the hilltop villages of Murter and rock-hop along the Pakleni archipelago on a walking tour of Croatia’s Dalmation Islands and coast (inntravel.co.uk)

3. Kerkennah, otherwise known as the dual Tunisian islands of Gharbi and Chergu, are joined by a bridge and have more date trees than hotels, plus a smattering of rental options (homeaway.co.uk)

4. The wild 12-island chain of Fourni in the eastern Aegean has pristine beaches, stark, barren mountains and little in the way of hotels beyond the main island, so hire a local fisherman as a guide (cachet-travel.co.uk)

5 . Go off the beaten track in Turkey’s Bozburun Peninsula to stay in the little-known village of Selimye, soon to be put on the map by new boutique hotel Badem Tatil Ev (exclusiveescapes.co.uk)

6. Take a horse-back conservation holiday in Spain’s Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, an hour from Marbella. Learn about forest and mountain ecology, then break for the beach (tcv.org.uk)

7. Go to Comino, set in the translucent waters off the coast of Malta. The smallest of Malta’s inhabited isles, it has but a handful of hotels and two crystal-clear lagoons (maltadirect.com)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
news
Environment
Fungi pose the biggest threat globally and in the UK, where they threaten the country’s wheat and potato harvests
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone