Salina – Island #13

Salina is the friendly and organised one.  Named after the old salt mill (salina) in Lingua, Salina is the second most populated of the Aeolian Islands after Lipari. It was hard to find a precise population figure – somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 – sources varied greatly!  The group of 7 islands are divided into 4 administrative districts – 3 of which are here! Salina has towns; decent, full-width roads (with cars and buses); 2 ports with regular connections to the other islands and mainland Sicily and a half decent bus service connecting all the villages on the island. It even has its own website http://www.lovesalina.it

Salina is UNESCO protected because of its interest to vulcanology – the island covers an area of 27 km² and is made up of 6 volcanoes (none of which have actually erupted for 13,000 years!).  Two of them are almost perfectly preserved and Monte Fossa delle Felci – at 968 metres – is the highest peak in the Aeolian archipelago. There is still some evidence of volcanic activity and hot air vents can still apparently raise the sea bed near Rinella.

The island is beautifully green, covered in typical Mediterranean ‘maquis’ vegetation of olives, figs, prickly pears, vines and – allegedly 400 different types of plants and flowers. Malvasía – the famous wine is made here and the well-organised and well-tended vineyards can be seen everywhere.  Capers, and their relative from the same plant, cucunci (coo-coon-chee) grow here in abundance and, along with those from the island of Pantelleria, are reputed to be the best in the world (I heard this a lot!). Salina even hosts a festival to celebrate the caper plant and all its gastronomic possibilities and glory on the first Sunday of June each year.

One of Salina’s main claims to fame is that much of the famous film ‘Il Postino’ – the story of the exiled poet, Pablo Neruda – was filmed here on Salina (in Pollara on the island’s north east coast).  The road down from the piazza (also the location of the caper festival) to the beach has been renamed after Massimo Troisi the actor who plays the film’s ‘Postino’ and the beach is now known as Troisi beach.

I came to Salina on a day trip from Lipari (it’s the island next door).  It’s a short 20 minute trip by hydrofoil from Lipari Porto to Santa Marina Salina, the closest of Salina’s 2 ports (the other is Rinella).  The town has a promenade with a pebbly/stony beach and views across the water to the islands of Lipari, Panarea and – if you have very good eyesight – to Stromboli in the distance.  In the piazza behind the hydrofoil port is beautiful little church – a wonderfully cool place to hide from the sun in summer – complete with hand-painted ceramic floor tiles and old painted wooden confessional boxes.

The main street of Santa Marina is Via Risorgimento (Rebirth or Renaissance street). Accessed by a fairly steep narrow street from the quayside, this elegant little street runs parallel with the coast but higher up the sloping hillside.  Narrow alleyways and stairways link the main street to the coastal road below and you catch glimpses of the glistening sea as you walk past.  Small and stylish boutique-style tourist shops line Via Risorgimento as well as a couple of bars, the post office (only open twice a week), another huge church and other necessities.  The houses are painted bright colours and everywhere you look are flowers – lots of flowers!

I decided to see as much of Salina as possible by bus and was delighted to see that it was possible to see almost all of the island by strategic use of the various bus services.  I had an hour to kill before the first bus to Malfa (the busiest town on Salina) and so I took myself to the little bakery/coffee shop on the high street to try some Sicilian delicacies. Anyone who has ever read a Commisario Montalbano novel will (Andrea Camilleri) have read about Sicilian cannoli – a kind of sweet pastry stuffed full of creamy ricotta and sprinkled with pistacchio nuts and orange zest.  I tried one here – it was delicious! I also bought two Arancini di riso to take away with me – one with ragù in the middle (like bolognaise sauce) and the other with ‘pesto siciliano’ – a mixture of basil and aubergine paste. The lady in the coffee shop happily talked to me about Sicilian recipes and told me that there is a café in London, run by Sicilian guys, where they make authentic Arancini di riso (www.etnacoffee.net – Victoria Street, SW1).

The buses are small affairs – with seats for about 15 people – all the drivers I met were very friendly and happy to point out different things of interest along the way if you sit near enough the front (not difficult!). I got off at Malfa – the largest town (which is not large by any means). Malfa has a pleasant town centre with a couple of bars with outside tables, a large church (only the front and street side of which are painted – the less visible side having been left untouched) and a large piazza with benches and fabulous views across the water. Malfa is also home to a bank and the Emigration Museum which holds information about the mass exodus of the local people to South America and the Antipodes.

I had a walk around town and a beer at one of the outside tables and enjoyed watching the people of Malfa going about their business.  I ate my Arancini picnic on a stone bench with a fantastic sea view and then took the bus to Pollara.  The road snakes down the side of the mountain with sharp hairpin bends revealing stunning views of the sea and quite a large number of houses nestling in the green hillside that slopes down to the sea. A large rock just off the coast is apparently Lo Scoglio Faraglione – a rock large enough to have a name and be officially mentioned in the administrative title of the island (Salina e Lo Scoglio Faraglione).  The road ends in a large piazza (Piazza Sant’Onofrio) with a charming but fairly unloved-looking church on one side and not much else! A smart looking catering van with a few tables, chairs and stools arranged under umbrellas caters for the many tourists searching for the film location.  I had been trying to decide whether to get off the bus and spend 2 hours here or to go straight back to Malfa so I asked on the bus what there was in Pollara – the four people on the bus and the driver all laughed – in a nice way!

I got off the bus and discovered that this was the departure point for the (long) walk down to Troisi beach of Il Postino fame.  I was still hobbling but the path was a fairly gentle slope so I thought I’d give it a go. It was a boiling hot day and lunchtime by now but the views down over the bay and Lo Scoglio Faraglione were amazing.  The path to the Postino beach was apparently closed but there was another path with steps down to the water’s edge where several small boathouses had been carved into the rock face.

On the way down I met Walter from Heidenheim near Ulm in south German in full walking gear complete with Nordic walking poles.  He’d walked down from the top of the hill at Valdichiesa.  A group of walkers from the North of Italy were soon to join us. Walter and a man from Venice swam while I soaked my feet in the sea and took pictures of them swimming on their phones (at their request!) The water was deliciously refreshing on my hot feet It started to get a bit crowded as the rest of the walking group arrived, so I took a slow stroll back up to the piazza to wait for the bus.

Back at the piazza, I found Luciana and Sandro from the Veneto – an Italian couple who had been doing the same bus route around the island as me – enjoying a beer having scrabbled down the hillside to the Postino beach.  Walter joined us and we had a laugh with a group of cigar-smoking guys from Naples who presented us with a box of enormous lemons they couldn’t take home with them! Speaking languages is very handy at times like these – especially if you are travelling alone.

Back on the bus, I realised I’d broken one of my own golden rules of travel and hadn’t charged my camera the night before and ran out of battery!! After a short stop in Malfa, I said goodbye to my new friends and took the bus across the island to Rinella on the south side of the island. The drive across the island was stunning – the driver pointed out the Malvasía vineyards and other plants and trees on the way.  He complained about the shocking state of the roads (which I thought were looking pretty good). I found the people here really laid back, friendly and helpful and very welcoming to tourists – or to me, at least.

We drove over the top of the island, through Leni on the clifftop and then down the other side to Rinella, Salina’s other port – although the harbour is not much more than a very large slab of concrete jutting into the water.  Fisherman were mending their nets on the boat by the quayside and a few tourists sunbathed on the little black sand beach between the harbour and the caves carved out of the rocks on the other side of the beach.

A short climb up the steps from the harbour takes you up to a small piazza, with ceramic tiled seats under the shade of large trees and stunning views out to sea.  At the back of the piazza is Rinella’s church – without doubt my favourite church of the islands – just beautiful!

I took the last hydrofoil from Rinella back to Lipari along with the cigar-smoking Neapolitans. A lovely day on a sunny, lush and fertile, flower-covered island with friendly, easy-going people, Sicilian food specialities and a great bus service!

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