Panarea is the smallest of the Aeolian islands (only 3.4 km²) and the pretty, chic and sophisticated one. Much derided by the inhabitants of its more rugged sister islands for having sold its soul to the rich jetsetters who keep summer houses here, Panarea is a beautiful, well-kept, blue, green and white tiny jewel of an island, very popular with the super-yacht crowd. Apparently the Belgian royal family keep a house here and Princess Diana was a famous visitor. The islanders are proud of their beautiful island and its visitors. Only about 300 people live here year round with the numbers swelling to several times that amount in high season as the summer residents and boats start to arrive. It’s pictoresque and photogenic but perhaps lacking in character compared to the others.
The smallest of the inhabited islands, Panarea is made up of the remains of an extinct volcano and has its own set of islets which are part of a micro-archipelago that runs between Lipari and Stromboli. They are Basiluzzo (sometimes called the eighth Aeolian island), the islets Spinazzola, Lisca Bianca, Dattilo, Bottaro, Lisca Nera and the rocks Panarelli and delle Formiche – all are clearly visible from the little towns on Panarea. Everyone has their favourite islet and I was told that Princess Diana liked one of them (Scoglio Spinazzola) so much that the locals renamed it after her. Some of the islands have their own little beaches only accessible by boat and a shipwreck off the coast attracts divers. The islands change according to the time of day and the way the light shines on them.
If, like me, you are travelling on a budget, come in April or May when you will have the opportunity to stay somewhere that, during the main summer months, would be much too costly. Panarea is exclusive and expensive and early in the season most restaurants and lots of the houses are closed. Workmen can be seen (and heard!) from early morning painting and repairing houses in preparation for the arrival of their summer residents.
Like Stromboli, there are no cars on Panarea – just golf carts, APE and scooters. In summer the harbour apparently fills up with luxury yachts and floating craft. My host, Luca (of B+B Luca) kindly collected me from the port and drove me to his beautifully kept B+B a few minutes away in Dattila. The tiny streets are rarely more than a couple of metres wide in town and peter out to the mule trails they originally were at either end of town. If you’re walking, you have to keep your ears open to make sure you don’t get mowed down by a scooter or three-wheeler.
The little port town of San Pietro and Dattila, although officially two little towns, converge seamlessly and it is not apparent where one ends and the other starts. For an island with no natural sources of water, it is very green with lush plants and flowers everywhere – bougainvillea, prickly pears, pine and eucalyptus trees, small palms, blue plumbago and citrus . B+B Luca even has a lawn which Luca watered very carefully. He told me that water is delivered by ship so must be used very sensibly.
The island is so small that it is easy to walk everywhere and, with the exception of some fairly steep steps up from the port to the path above, its easy walking. The walk north from the port takes you along the narrow ‘road’ past olive trees and an ancient church and winds around white houses with blue and green gates and flowers cascading over the walls – it reminded me of a Greek island. Once a bit further out of town into Dattila the road opens up and you have stunning views out to sea and to the islets. The path narrows and winds up through large pine trees to a headland with amazing views of smoking Stromboli across the water. There is a path leading down to a rocky beach which I didn’t risk but which is apparently packed in high summer.
Walk the other way, through San Pietro and the path takes you up the hill and out the other side of town past another church looking out to sea to stunning views of Lipari and Salina and the remains of a pre-historic village on the other side. I did this walk in the early morning and hardly saw a soul!
At the beginning of May when I visited Panarea, very little was open and the only area that could be considered lively in any way was the area immediately around the port where a couple of little bar/restaurants were busy with locals, visitors and people waiting to catch the hydrofoil. A few fishing boats were lying around on the rocky beach next to the harbour and I saw a couple of fishing boats. The only shop I saw was the bakery – no idea where the locals buy their food as I didn’t see any other shops! Panarea is popular with day trippers and every day a boat brings a huge crowd of visitors, dumps them on the quayside and then picked them up again 2 hours later to go on to the next island.
If you do visit Panarea, B+B Luca is a fantastic place to stay. Within easy walking distance of everything but set back from the main ‘road’, there are fabulous views from the garden out to sea, the small but beautiful and spotlessly clean rooms all have their own little shady terraces and both Luca and his Mum, Angela, are lovely hosts. They even have a tortoise! (http://www.bed-breakfast-panarea.it/en/) Breakfast is buffet style and guests sit together at an enormous polished wood table in the outdoor kitchen with stunning views out to sea. I had breakfast with Uwe and Annette from Germany – the only other guests. We chatted in German about Brexit, the forthcoming German elections and our island experiences as we enjoyed delicious coffee and homemade cakes & pastries made by Luca’s wife. Angela made sure we were well looked after and chatted to me about the island and Princess Diana’s favourite islet.
There is not much to do in Panarea except walk, sunbathe and, in summer, mess around in boats and people watch but it’s a very pretty place in which to do nothing. I might come back one day……in my yacht!