Lipari is the bustling one. Of the 7 main Aeolian islands by far the most populated is Lipari. With approximately 11,000 year round inhabitants, it is considered the main island and the only one that has what we would consider to be a proper ‘town’ – also called Lipari – with shops and bars and restaurants. There’s even a supermarket! When you arrive, it seems cute and quaint and small. By the time you have visited the other islands and you return to Lipari, it’s a teeming metropolis!
Coming from mainland Sicily, the hydrofoil makes a quick stop in Vulcano – the closest island – and then nips around the corner to the bay of Lipari porto. The large natural bay is dominated by a huge walled citadel and the impressive 17th century San Bartolomeo cathedral. A row of pastel-coloured houses run along the back of the road and sea gulls gather on the huge grey rocks that line the water’s edge.
The city was fortified after Barbarossa’s memorable visit in 1544 when he visited the islands on his way to help the Spanish. He ransacked the island, burnt Lipari to the ground, murdered the men and took most of the women with him! Understandably wary as a result, the islanders moved into a fortified and safer part of town.
These days the town has spread out on either side of the citadel and is a warren of interesting little streets and alleyways, staircases and paths. Balconies are overflowing with flowers and plants; houses are painted in pink and peach and pale yellow, proudly displaying rows of colourful washing, and it smells of orange blossom – my favourite fragrance in the whole world!
The main street, Corso Vittorio Emanuele runs along the promenade past the port and heads off south bypassing the citadel. It’s a lively street full of open-air cafés and restaurants, bakeries selling Sicilian delicacies, colourful displays of fruit, vegetables, chillies and capers, travel agencies selling excursions to the other islands and more than a handful of tourist shops selling beach paraphernalia, postcards, sea shells and chunks of obsidian and pumice to take home as souvenirs. The street is closed to traffic in the early evening to allow locals and tourists to participate in the famous ‘passeggiata’ or stroll around town – one of Italy’s great activities.
I rented a small, one-room apartment over-looking a little square just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele with a balcony just big enough to fit a chair on and really more designed to hang your washing out on than to sit. It was perfect for me. I still couldn’t walk very well at this point so I hobbled to the supermarket and stocked up on food and wine for my 5 day stay. I figured that even if I couldn’t go anywhere I could at least eat and drink nice things! Wandering around this little supermarket was fun. Even in a small supermarket like this, there was still a real butcher and an amazing cheese counter. I asked a staff member about the local wine which, at €1.89 for a litre (!), seemed too good to be true. He told me it was the same wine you would get in any bar or restaurant if you asked for the house wine and that it was actually OK so I bought a bottle of white and a bottle of red – just to try! – and they were both remarkably ‘acceptable’.
My favourite part of Lipari is Marina Corta – a narrow street lined with tiny boutiques slopes down to the sea and opens out onto a huge piazza fringed with bars and restaurants all with outside terrace tables under large umbrellas. The view from the bars is of an extremely picturesque two-sided harbour with a church on either side and a little beach in the middle covered with a collection of colourful boats. One side of the harbour is home to the fishing boats, the other to small yachts and excursion boats.
In the afternoon the crystal clear turquoise water reflects off the side of the boats and you can stroll along the quayside and watch the tanned and weather-beaten fishermen sitting on their boats, mending their nets and cleaning their vessels ready to go out again that night. (I didn’t want to offend by asking for a photo!) The walls of the citadel over-shadow the little harbour and the whole place is picture-postcard beautiful and the perfect place to sit and put your feet up and enjoy a coffee or a spritz! One of the many great things about anywhere in Italy is that you are never rushed from your bar table and you can sit for hours, nursing your drink and enjoying the view.
Some enterprising local kids had decided to set up a fresh juice stall on the harbourside. They had all brought some oranges and lemons from home and had set up their juice-making equipment on a little table. They were running up to tourists asking if they would like ‘oran joo-eece’. I bought an orange juice for €1.50 and had a laugh with them and taught them how to pronounce juice properly. Buying and selling things from little vans/stalls on wheels or from boats is popular here. One of my favourite Lipari characters is ‘Rei della Frutta’ (King of Fruit) whose little van I saw all over the place – dispensing Malvasia (Mal-va-SEE-a), a local fortified wine, as well as oranges and lemons. Buying fish straight from the boat or a van is also popular and the locals queue up to buy the day’s catch.
I spent my first full day in Lipari exploring – in short bursts because of the fat feet – in the morning I made it to Marina Corta for a long and relaxing aperitif and people watching session in Bar della Chitarra by the water. After lunch I wondered slowly up to the citadel to see the cathedral, ancient ruins and the amazing views over the town and the sea. Unfortunately, I picked 25th April to visit – Festa della Liberazione (liberation day) when Italy celebrates being liberated from Nazi rule. It is a bank holiday and all the museums and the cathedral were closed! The views were amazing though! In the evening I joined the locals for the passeggiata – an evening stroll around town and watched people scurrying home to cook dinner.
I decided to check out the rest of the island by trying the local bus service. Buses leave from Liparti porto by the Liberty Lines office. Some head around the island to Quatrocchi (four eyes – a panoramic view point), Pianoconte and Quattropani, others head in the opposite direction to the beach at Canneto. The road around the island shows you some good views looking back at Lipari and the citadel from above but also makes you realise that, outside of Lipari, there is little in the way of towns or villages. At Quattropani the bus comes to the end of the line and there is not so much as a bar so I stayed on it and went back to Lipari.
A short trip around the headland from Lipari town is Canneto Beach – a long strip of pumice pebble beach with a small town running along the back of the beach. At the far end of the beach are a few bars, a church, a children’s playground, a boatyard and a small jetty. Buses run up and down throughout the day and it’s actually quite lively with Mums and their children out strolling, people fishing, fixing boats and sunbathing. You can see Panarea in the distance across the sea and, if your eyesight is very good, Stomboli behind it. The water is crystal clear and people were already swimming. You would not come here for a beach holiday but it’s nice enough to swim from and sit in the sun for a few hours.
Lipari far exceeded my expectations – it has everything. It is a beautiful, bustling little town with great café culture, fantastic food, stunning scenery, heaps of history and people watching galore. The thing that stays with you long after you leave are the colours – the blue of the sea, the green of the trees and the faded peach and pink of the houses. I absolutely loved it here and will be back!