I didn’t just get to see a volcano when I hiked Mount Stromboli. I also got to listen to its voice. And it was a thrilling experience.
As a proper volcano and hiking junkie, I could no longer postpone a trip to the Aeolian Islands. I had hiked various active volcanoes in the world. I had gone volcano boarding on Cerro Negro, in Nicaragua. I had looked down the crater of Mount Bromo, in Indonesia. I felt a bit embarrassed that I had been to far away places and had yet to travel to the South of Italy.
It was finally time to fly to Sicily and explore some of the world’s most active volcanoes, which incidentally are at a stone’s throw from where I live.
A one hour flight from Cagliari, Sardinia, to Catania, one of Sicily’s most beautiful cities; then a 2 hour car or bus ride to Milazzo (a small town near Messina); and finally a hydrofoil ride from Milazzo took me to the Aeolian Islands archipelago. Located off the North East coast of Sicily, this is composed of 7 islands, all of them of volcanic origin. It literally is a volcano extravaganza.
In my very brief time there, I had the chance to visit Vulcano (the name says it all!), where I hiked Vulcanello and Gran Cratere, and Stromboli, one of Italy’s most active volcanoes.
Hiking Stromboli was the highlight of my brief time in the Aeolian Islands. In fact, it was one of the best hikes of my life.
A Lovely Island
I fell in love with Stromboli at first sight, as soon as I set foot there after a hydrofoil ride from Vulcano. Come to think of it, I actually fell in love with it as soon as I saw it in the distance, right after sunrise, from the balcony of my room in Vulcano.
The island is tiny – no more than 12 square km and around 600 inhabitants that reside there throughout the year, although the island gets a large influx of tourists during the summer months. There’s hardly any car – just tuc tucs, golf carts and scooters.
I visited in mid October, at the very end of the summer season, when most businesses that cater to tourists have either already closed for the winter or are just about to.
It was great. The weather was sunny and warm (without the terrible heat of the summer months). I got to experience the best of the island – its environment, the narrow alleys of the small village, the food, the locals – without any of the crowds. And, more importantly so, I got to hike an active volcano.
It was a thrilling adventure. One that I recommend to anyone who enjoys hiking, and who wishes to admire one of the most spectacular sunsets in the South of Italy. The following is a recollection of my experience on Mount Stromboli.
Hiking Mount Stromboli
Although I had hiked other active volcanoes in the past and had even seen the lava explosions on Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala, my experience on Mount Stromboli was ten times better.
I can’t quite explain what made it so special to me. It may be because Stromboli itself is an island, and all the time during the hike I enjoyed splendid sea views. It may be the all encompassing experience, where I could see, hear and literally feel the lava explosions. It was simply fantastic.
Mount Stromboli reaches an elevation of 926 meters above sea level. There are three craters at its peak, all of them regularly throwing smoke and lava. The most recent major eruption occurred in April 2009. Indeed, Stromboli is a very active volcano, characterized by what are known as Strombolian eruptions: explosions of lava that occur at more or less regular intervals.
The highlight of a hiking expedition on Mount Stromboli is seeing the lava explosions, and the best time of day to see them is when it is dark and the bright red of the lava strikes against the darkness of the surroundings. As it is easy to imagine, this was a major factor in making me sign up for the hike.
However, I had been warned that there was no guarantee that I’d be able to see the eruptions, as this would depend on the weather conditions. In fact, as I walked out to meet my guide and the rest of the group for the hike, the owners of the hotel where I stayed mentioned that guests who hiked the day before didn’t get to see much, because it was foggy at the top.
Yet, I was optimistic. I always am.
Soon after meeting the guide and the rest of the group, we started walking to Mount Stromboli cutting through the village. The guide led us through the narrow alleys to eventually follow a path that goes all the way to the peak. A few minutes after leaving the centre, it appeared like nature was claiming its place: the vegetation was thick, and the soil dark and sandy, as it often is on volcanoes.
Walking up, the vegetation occasionally opened to reveal the breathtaking views: the intense blue of the Mediterranean sea against the darkness of the volcanic sand of Stromboli beaches and the whitness of the village.
At around 400 meters above sea level, vegetation started becoming sparse. Eventually, getting closer to the crater, the landscape got completely bare and it felt like walking on the moon. That’s when I finally realized that, indeed, it was a volcano I was hiking. That’s also when I noticed the presence of several other guided groups hiking Mount Stromboli. It looked like the few tourists that had remained on the island were all doing the same thing. I could not blame them!
By the time my group reached the top, the sun was setting. The light was simply spectacular. The islands of Alicudi and Filicudi were clearly visible. The sea and the sky looked like one, big, cloud. Our guide led us to a viewpoint where we could literally sit and enjoy the show that was taking place below us.
Finally, the smoke, the fire and the lava explosions on the craters below were visible, and also clearly audible – though I admit at first I didn’t understand what the loud roar I heard was! I even felt the ashes from the explosion on my skin.
We spent round 30 minutes admiring this incredible show of nature before eventually making our way back to the village.
Due to the high activity of the volcano, only guided groups are allowed on Mount Stromboli. Guided hikes are offered between the end of March and the end of October.
There are various companies that offer guided hikes in a variety of languages. Group expeditions of up to 20 people cost around €30 euro per person, though it is also possible to hire a private guide (which is inevitably more expensive).
I walked with Il Vulcano a Piedi and had a good experience.
Hiking expeditions depart directly from the village in the afternoon – depending on the season, between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. The hike lasts around 6 hours, based on the number of breaks and on the time spent at the top of the volcano. The idea is that of getting to the top right in time for sunset and walking down when it is dark already.
The path is mostly sandy: a steady uphill on the way to the craters, and a steep downhill on the way back to the village.
I didn’t find the hike to be difficult nor strenuous, though I suppose that depends on one’s level of fitness and I would recommend to not underestimate that.
Gearing up for the hike
Here’s a short list of what I recommend wearing and carrying for the hike:
- Hiking boots are vital: the soil is very sandy and good ankle support makes it much easier to walk. The good news is that all companies that offer guided hikes also rent boots and other gear, and there’s plenty of shops in the village where it is possible to buy them too.
- Wear layers, and carry at least one extra t-shirt: I recommend wearing a thermal, quick dry t-shirtand to carry an extra one to get changed during one of the breaks. Long hiking pantsare necessary, as it gets cold at the top, especially as the sun goes down. Also take a good wind jacket, a fleece sweater, a scarf and if possible also a hat and gloves. I hiked in mid October and I wished I had gloves, as my hands almost froze. I am not exaggerating!
- A head lamp or torch is necessary: the walk back down to the village is all done in the dark, and a light comes in handy. Companies usually provide that too, along with a helmet that must be worn once near the crater.
- Wear sunglasses: most of the walk is actually done in the shade or in the dark, but there is a lot of dust.
- Bring a small daypack: that can be used to carry extra clothes, plenty of water, and some snacks.
- Carry a camera: the views along the hike and from the top are simply stunning.
Where to stay and eat in Stromboli
Though the island is small, there are plenty of accommodation options and places to eat in Stromboli. I only spent one night there, and opted to stay at Hotel Miramare. Rooms there are plain but comfortable, and they all have a large balcony with incredible views of the sea. The owners are two lovely, incredibly sweet and kind ladies. There’s a bunch of friendly cats hanging around – they are all rescues. That added to the relaxed atmosphere to me! Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Another option, if staying longer, is that of renting one of the many villas in Sicily by the sea. I have seen several walking around the narrow alleys of Stromboli. They all have beautiful gardens and the benefit of having a kitchen to enjoy cooking using fresh local produce.
A good place to eat is Pizzeria Da Luciano. Pizza is perfect: a delicious, soft and crispy crust and some great fresh toppings; but there’s also other great options, which include fish and seafood, lots of pasta dishes, salads and a great, creamy tiramisu.
The best gelato is that of Lapillo, which also makes the freshest typical Sicilian granita.
Getting to and from Stromboli
Stromboli can be easily reached via hydrofoil. There’s three leaving daily from Milazzo, near Messina, to Stromboli. Two of them are direct, while one stops in Vulcano, Lipari, Salina and Ginostra islands before reaching Stromboli.
There’s 4 daily hydrofoils leaving from Stromboli and going to Milazzo. Keep in mind that if the sea conditions are too rough the connections are stopped. That happens regularly in the winter months.
Legal disclaimer: I was a guest of Imperatore Travel during my visit to the Aeolian Islands and wish to thank them for putting together an incredible itinerary. All the views and opinions expressed are my own and based on my personal experience. The views expressed are honest and factual without any bias.
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