Thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud, travelers to Europe would probably rather not think of volcanoes at the moment. But with the dust finally settling and travel schedules back to normal, there's a great volcanic experience awaiting on the Aeolian Islands, north of Sicily. Stromboli is one of seven islands in the chain and home to an eponymous volcano that has been in near continuous eruption for at least 20,000 years. A dramatic cone rising over 900 meters, it emits smoke and lava fragments about every 20 to 40 minutes. There are only two villages on the island, one also called Stromboli and the other Ginostra. They are separated by the Sciara del Fuoco (Street of Fire) down which lava and rocks occasionally tumble to the sea. Burning up for an extraordinary break? Here are five reasons to choose Stromboli.
1 The volcano
If your heart and knees are good, then a nocturnal hike to the top of the volcano is a must. Tour guides Magmatrek, tel: (39-90) 986 5768, can be found near a shop that rents out flashlights, boots and helmets. Rumbles, bangs, all-natural pyrotechnics: you're never sure what the churning vents have in store.
If you can't make it to the crater, l'Osservatorio restaurant, tel: (39-90) 986 360, also offers a view of the evening fireworks. Reachable by a pleasant, two-kilometer walk up an old mule path from Stromboli village's Piscità quarter (do take a flashlight), it offers fresh fish, excellent pizza and spaghetti with anchovies and Aeolian capers alla Strombolana.
3 Spiaggia Lunga
Stromboli has unspoiled beaches of sparkling black sand. The central beaches are wide but shadeless, so head for one most recommended by the Stromboliani themselves. On peaceful Spiaggia Lunga, at the far end of Piscità, you can hunker down between boulders with a lush hillside at your back. If you venture down the paths between the nearby houses, you'll find small bays where you can clamber among dark crags or cool your toes in the crashing surf.
While most accommodation is at Stromboli village, be sure to visit Ginostra (pop: 30), which is only reachable by boat. Wander up paths between cacti and wild flowers, splash among rocks in Caribbean-blue water and gaze at the other Aeolians on the horizon. Contact l'Incontro restaurant and bed-and-breakfast, tel: (39-90) 981 2305, for overnight stays. Or you can hire a boat in Stromboli to take you to Ginostra for dinner only, passing the Sciara del Fuoco on the return journey to show you the sputtering volcano from the moonlit sea.
Her shop's name is French, but Maria Luisa Nicotera's paintings on glass are inspired by Sicilian votive images and are the island's loveliest souvenirs. Timeless scenes of the village of Stromboli, appearing almost sheltered rather than threatened by the cheerfully spewing volcano, perfectly reflect the islanders' affection for their restless mountain. Pictures cost $45 or $90. Via Vittorio Emanuele, tel: (39) 276 618 11.
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