Stromboli is the northern-most island of the Aeolians and one of Italy’s three live volcanoes (along with Vesuvius and Mount Etna). It has three crater peaks and erupts approximately every 20 minutes. Seen from afar, Stromboli is instantly recognisable – it looks just like you imagine a volcano to look! Its conical shape rises 926 ms above the deep blue sea usually with a small cloud of smoke billowing out of one of the craters. After a few days in the islands it becomes like an old friend appearing on the horizon and I really enjoyed spotting it from wherever I was. The most recent major eruption was on 13 April 2009.
Once home to several thousand people, mass emigration has left Stromboli with only 4-500 year-round inhabitants. Small settlements can be found on two opposite sides of the island and are only accessible to each other by boat as the volcano is so huge there are no roads between the two. Tiny Ginostra on the west side has only 50 inhabitants. In spite of the roaring and rumbling noises made by the volcano, the island has a mellow and elegant atmosphere and was definitely one of my favourites.
Most visitors these days come to trek to the peak of the crater and witness for themselves the amazing spectacle that is Stromboli erupting. Whilst you can walk freely to an observation point, the number of visitors allowed above 400ms and to the summit is carefully controlled and you must go as part of an organised tour. Local companies hire out all the necessary equipment and there is no shortage of tour companies to escort you. Groups depart daily from the large square in front of San Vincenzo church and there is a lot of kerfuffle and people bustling about around late afternoon as the visitors muster for the walk and then head off through town for the climb to the top.
If you don’t wish to make the trek, Stromboli is still a beautiful island to visit. There are beautiful black sandy beaches, narrow alley-like streets, little white houses, enormous churches, beautiful flowers and trees and everywhere you look the brooding presence of the smoking and rumbling Stromboli. There are no cars or buses on Stromboli – transport is by 3-wheeler ‘APE’, little electric golf carts, mopeds or boats – or you can just walk!
The day I arrived from Lipari, the weather was not good and the hydrofoil bounced its way across the Tyrrhenian sea with waves crashing across its bows. Unusually on a hydrofoil, several passengers were seasick and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the huge silhouette of Stromboli getting closer. We arrived first at Ginostra, on the west coast, with the volcano looming up in front of us. I got off at Stromboli town or San Vincenzo, the hydrofoil’s second stop. The hydrofoil dock is in between two black sandy beaches with small and colourful fishing boats dragged up onto the shore. There is a large car park where golf carts from various hotels are waiting to take their guests and/or their luggage up the sloping hillside to their destinations.
Unfortunately I had overdone the walking the previous day on the the mule trails of Filicudi and was hobbling along quite badly when I arrived here – no trek to the summit for me! I walked to my accommodation – La Locanda del Barbablù – with the help of google maps. The walk took me up a small alley-width ‘road’ which wound its way past little shops, snack bars and cafes to a huge square with an enormous church (San Vincenzo) and a balcony-style piazza with sweeping views of the black-sanded beaches, the port and Strombolicchio.The official title of this island is Stromboli and Strombolicchio. Strombolicchio is the volcanic plug or neck situated just off the north eastern shore. It is uninhabited but an unmanned, automatic lighthouse perches on top of it and it is a well-known landmark. I had an amazing view of it from my bed!
If you visit Stromboli, La Locanda del Barbablù is the only place to stay. Run by two friends, the elegant and sophisticated Andrea and his cheerful and energetic companion Neva, this beautiful little guest house is stylish and timelessly wonderful. Here you will find old-school hospitality; a beautiful building full of fascinating paintings and artefacts – lovingly and artfully displayed; comfortable and spacious rooms with stunning views of the sea and the town (or the garden and the volcano); a fabulous terrace outside the rooms that wraps around the whole building and, literally, a volcano in the back garden! From the deck chair on my terrace, I had a magnificent and uninterrupted view of smoking Stromboli and from my bed a view across the sea to Strombolicchio.
I prefer not to eat dinner alone in Italy as eating alone is generally considered to be very sad indeed and I can do without the pitying looks of my fellow diners! So, if travelling by myself, I tend to go out for lunch and have a snack for dinner. As I couldn’t walk, I thought I’d treat myself to a nice lunch. Lovely Andrea recommended a restaurant ‘Da Zurro’ run by his friend Franco and rang to say I would be coming even though there was little chance of it being busy! Franco met me at the door, knew exactly who I was and welcomed me. (Andrea had warned me he was a bit of a ladies’ man.) Luckily there were two other customers, the friendly and lovely Virginie + Cyrile from l’Haute Savoie in France. We had a chat in French and they told me of their plans to climb the volcano that evening.
‘Da Zurro’ has about 8 tables and is practically on the beach. The kitchen is open at the back so you can see what is happening. There is no menu. Franco comes and sits down at your table and basically ‘suggests’ what you will have for lunch – which I love. I had a huge plate of antipasti made up of super fresh fish and seafood, a side plate of (‘very special’) raw baby prawns straight from the sea, and a prawn and pea lasagne with fresh pasta washed down with some white wine. Food and drink in Stromboli is expensive as it must all be imported – even water is brought in by ship. Franco gave me a good price and invited me back later for ‘dessert’. (I didn’t go!)
A famous film starring Ingrid Bergman and directed and produced by Roberto Rossellini was made here. Stromboli, Terra di Dio (Stromboli, Land of God), made in 1950, was particularly famous because of the scandalous affair which took place between Bergman and Rossellini (both married to other people at the time). The Red House where they stayed during filming is situated just opposite La Locanda del Barbablù and has been converted into a little museum and cinema where they show the film every day, twice a day with various sub-titles.
In the afternoon, I walked past Barbablù and onto Piscità – the last settlement on this side of the island. You can’t really call these collections of houses towns or even villages as they are literally a gathering of houses with a church that constitutes a different community to the last one but there is only one ‘road’ and each settlement basically runs into the next. I walked the first part of the way to the volcano but stopped at the point where the path turns inland and starts to head upwards.
After the sun set, I returned to Barbablù to find Andrea, Neva and a few friends gathered in the bar drinking wine and having a chat. As I walked in they shouted ‘e nostro ospite’ (It’s our guest!) so I think I was the only person there in early May! They found me a chair and a glass of wine and we had a lovely chat about the island and how it had changed. According to guide books, this used to be ‘the’ fashionable place to gather for an ‘aperitivo’ and visitors to the island used to meet on the ground floor garden terrace to chat over drinks and nibbles. They told me that they have stopped doing this in the past couple of years as the standard of tourist is no longer the same – the elegant, artistic and well-to-do crowd of yesteryear having been replaced by a ‘cheaper’ lot only interested in trekking the volcano and nothing else. Sad.
I took a glass of wine up to my room and sat outside on my deckchair. From this prime position on the terrace, I could clearly see the trekkers and their head torches snaking their way up the side of the volcano. I wasn’t at all sad not to be up there with them! The next day I met Virginie and Cyrile who told me they had walked up to the summit but that it had been cold and windy and they had seen nothing in the way of eruptions. Sadly, a 65 year old man had died of a heart attack half way up. They were going to do it again that night and were hoping for better results. As I didn’t make the climb myself, these photos from the summit are courtesy of Walter as previously mentioned.
Over a delicious breakfast, Neva told me how she escaped the island in winter and went to Venice to stay with her daughter so she could stock up on theatre visits and other cultural activities. ‘What should I do here in winter?’ she asked. Andrea, on the other hand, stays put and lives a quieter winter life socialising with the other islanders. Neva talked about the major eruption in 2009 and how despite having lived on the island since the 1980s had never made the trek to the summit. They very politely declined my invitation to have their photo taken! Meeting these lovely people and their friends completely made my trip to Stromboli. I would definitely stay here again. I left Stromboli smiling and wishing I could stay longer.