Filicudi – Island #14

Filicudi is the rugged one.  At first sight, it has a strange and rather deserted feeling to it. The hydrofoil arrives in the so-called main town of Filicudi Porto which looks as though everyone has packed up and gone somewhere else.  The buildings seem neglected and uncared for and, with the exception of those meeting the hydrofoil, there just isn’t anyone around. That said, Filicudi is a stunning islalnd. Steep vegetation-covered slopes rise out of crystal clear waters to towering volcanic peaks above.  The fifth largest of the Aeolian islands, it now has a very civilized ashpalt road that links the several very small settlements. Before the road was built islanders made use of the extensive network of mule trails that criss-cross the island, or they went by boat!

Filicudi is a small island – only 9.5 km² and has a year round population of only 200 people. That number swells to over 2,000 in the height of summer and – as is the case with all of the Aeolian islands – many of the houses are owned by summer-time visitors. Electricity has only been available on the island since 1986 when a diesel powered generator was installed.  Since then tourism has taken off and the locals have imported all sorts of domestic appliances.  The arrival of electricity has also facilitated electrical water pumps for well water as there is no natural water source here – the running water found in houses and hotels is imported by ship and distributed through an irrigation pipe network.  There is talk of a de-salination plant being built but no sign of it yet.

I visited Filicudi for the day from Lipari – it’s about an hour on the hydrofoil which stops at both the ferry stops on Salina on the way.  On the hydrofoil, I met up with Walter from Germany – who I had met the previous day – who was travelling from Rinella to spend the night in Filicudi.  Walter’s hotel had sent someone in a car to collect him so I hitched a lift with them up to Hotel La Canna – one of the few (and apparently the best) hotels on Filicudi.  The hotel is family run and we were warmly welcomed by the daughter of the family who, having told us unapologetically that she spoke only Italian, brought us coffee and home-made cake. The hotel has terraces overlooking the sea and reminded me of a Greek island with white and blue terraces, fabulous views and a steep drop down the mountainside to the sea.

I chatted to the elderly proprietor as he shelled his home-grown, enormous beans.  He told me how he had started the business with his recently departed wife over 40 years ago and how they had built everything themselves.  It’s a stunning place and, if you stay there, dinner is included in the room rate.  Walter later told me that the dinner was a multi-course, delicious feast of fresh and local ingredients washed down with local wine and liqueurs. In the unlikely event that you find yourself in Filicudi overnight, this is the place to stay! (www.lacannahotel.it/en)

After coffee and cake, and reassuring ourselves that the bar was open at the bottom, we slapped on some sun cream and began our walk down the fairly steep mule trail to Pecorini A Mare, a small village on the island’s south coast, the other side of the Capo Graziano peninsular. The mule trails are well-maintained but are mostly made up of large flat stones laid into the earth and aren’t smooth.  There are also lots of steps – so it’s not an easy walk! Wild flowers grow everywhere and the views of the island sloping down to sea from the path were breathtaking.  It took us about half an hour to get down to Pecorini A Mare where, happily, La Sirena bar and restaurant had some very nice cold beers and a welcoming terrace with multi-coloured chairs overlooking the sea and an enormous, friendly dog called Blue lying on the cold floor tiles.

We asked the friendly proprietor of La Sirena about the possibility of hiring a boat or doing some sort of boat trip.  He made a call and 10 minutes later Capitano Nino appeared and proposed a 2 hour long, round-island tour for €50.  So off we went! Capitano Nino is a (60-year old) ‘bit-of-a-lad’, originally from Stromboli, who owns a company called I Delfini Filicudi (Filicudi dolphins) http://www.idelfinifilicudi.com which rents boats and scooters and provides diving trips and other tourist services in the summer. In the winter they paint boats and ‘fare l’amore’ – apparently! Nino, a batchelor, had once spent a month in London with an English woman called Shirley(!) who he’d met on holiday in Filicudi – sadly she never returned to the island and they never saw each other again.

He and his young team were busy painting the boats and preparing for the forthcoming tourist season.  Nino has a fleet of 10 boats – all named after fish – ours was called Manta. He accompanied us personally on our boat tour and did his best to show us his adopted island. He told us that Filicudi had once been home to 3,000 inhabitants many of whom lived high up on the top of the hills. The women were apparently famous in the islands for their beauty and their fantastic Tarantella dancing ability (A traditional, upbeat courtship dance popular in Southern Italy accompanied by mandolin, guitar and/or tambourines). So much so that men from the neighbouring islands of Alicudi and Salina used to row all the way over to spend time with them! It’s a long way in a rowing boat!

We went around the whole island in a clockwise direction and the boat trip was €50 well spent – the volcanic rock formations, caves and views up to the top of the volcanic slopes visible from the sea were amazing and it meant I didn’t have to walk! Captain Nino was an amusing enough guide although having to translate his every word (at his insistence) for the benefit of Walter became a bit tiring after 2 hours!

Walter went from being seasick and wary of boats to actually driving the boat and standing up to take photos.  All went smoothly apart from when Capitano Nino got so involved in telling me a story that he took his eyes off the way ahead and nearly drove us into a rock – luckily he spotted it at the last minute and we narrowly missed it. He was very embarrassed and said his reputation would have been ruined had he hit it! He dropped us back at Pecorini A Mare and we enjoyed some (outrageously expensive) fresh fish and a glass of wine for lunch at La Sirena before embarking on the long and arduous uphill trek along the mule track back to Hotel La Canna.

Filicudi’s highest point is Monte dei Felci, an extinct volcano, 773 ms high. The island has a stunning rugged, volcanic coastline including the beautiful Grotta del Bue Marino on the east coast and, like some of the other islands, some rocks large enough to have names. The most famous one here being ‘La Canna’ a 71 metre high rock emerging from the sea like a needle off the north east coast – evidence of ancient volcanic activity. The ruins of a Bronze Age village dating back to 1700 BC can be found on the South Eastern point of Capo Graziano – the ruins of 27 huts on the hillside testifying to a once-flourishing trade in obsidian. The island is covered in typical Mediterranean ‘maquis’ vegetation and produces mainly capers and figs. Filicudi is also home to Peregrine Falcons and other rare birds who nest here.

From Hotel La Canna we took the steep and fairly unkempt mule trail down the other side back to Filicudi Porto. For the first time I understood the benefit of Nordic walking poles as I had a lot of trouble walking down the mule trail with my swollen feet and was in danger of losing my sense of humour! The locals tell you it is a 10 minute walk but it actually took (me) more like half an hour! On all the islands, there is a Liberty Lines office which opens to sell tickets for the hydrofoil in good time for every departure. There were more people in the ticket office than I’d seen on Filicudi all day! I said goodbye to Walter and headed back to Lipari.

Filicudi is the perfect place to go to get away from it all or write a book, paint a picture or think – away from too many people.  It is ruggedly beautiful, peaceful and down-to-earth with crystal clear water and friendly, relaxed, kind people. If you’re looking for night life or even a choice of bars – this is not your island!

After I left, Walter walked up to the village of Valdichiesa and sent me some photographs. Some of the other pictures of our boat trip were also taken by Walter and are reproduced here with his permission.  Vielen Dank Walter! The sunrise and distance pictures were taken from the neighbouring island of Alicudi (island #18).

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