Sicily is a stalwart in the affections of yacht charterers wishing to combine history, culture, and art, with a pleasant climate, beautiful mooring spots and stunning beaches. Yet if you venture to the north of the island, there lies the volcanic archipelago of the Aeolian Islands – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remarkable grouping of fascinating landscapes, whitewashed villages perched on rocky outcrops, and a sporadic spattering of ancient buildings. An Aeolian Islands yacht charter is the ideal way to spend a summer on the water. Best accessible by the sea, the archipelago boasts many impressive approaches. Start off with the capital of Sicily, Syracuse, before travelling through the Straits of Messina to reach the mystical Aeolian Islands.
Route: Syracuse > Vulcano
Distance: 250 nm
The second Sicilian city to be colonised by the Greeks in the C8th BCE, Syracuse became (and remains) the capital of the island. Her status as one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world has led the city to retain much of her historic character. Syracuse can be thought of as Sicily’s Athens: her ancient governmental structure and attitudes towards the arts and culture very much echo those of mainland Greece. Indeed, the great mathematician and engineer Archimedes was born on the island.
Later becoming part of the Roman Republic, Syracuse was transformed during the Byzantine period, eventually falling to Muslim conquest, before enjoying a prosperous medieval period. This has led to the city being a patchwork of architectural wonders. The Cathedral of Syracuse can be considered a physical manifestation of the city’s history: built on the foundations of the C5th BCE Temple to Athena, the cathedral began to take shape during the Byzantine C7th AD and was continuously developed until the C18th, when local architect Andrea Palma rebuilt the façade.
The Baroque period saw many Palazzos built throughout the city, each rich with incredible sculptures and painted frescos. Palazzo Bellamo must not be missed, for it houses the utterly exquisite Annunciation, painted by Antonello da Messina (1474).
After a day of exploring Syracuse’s ancient streets, stop off at Ristorante Regina Lucia in Piazzo Duomo by the Cathedral to dine on traditional and award-winning pasta.
For the history lovers on board, a quick visit to Messina is worthwhile, even just to claim that you have survived an encounter with the ancient monster, Scylla, who called the Straits home. Since the days of Homer, the ‘doorway to Sicily’ has long captured travellers’ imaginations with her imposing scenery and fascinating history: it is claimed that it was here that the Black Death passed into Europe during the C17th; Shakespeare chose the city as the setting for ‘Much Ado About Nothing;’ famed Renaissance painter, Antonello da Messina, was born here; and it was to provide a safe haven for the on-the-run artist, Caravaggio, who painted one of his most beloved works – the ‘Resurrection of Lazarus’ – in the region.
The town is awash with an array of historic churches, forts, and ancient foundations. The Old Town is surrounded by impressive monuments, such as the Fountain of Neptune, and is centered on the Piazza del Duomo – a perfect place for a quick espresso before heading onwards on your Aeolian Islands yacht charter.
Head to the northern most part of the Aeolian Islands and reach Stromboli, the absolute epitome of dramatic. Considered by many to be the most beautiful island of the Aeolian archipelago, it was nicknamed the ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ by the Romans – an understandable appellation, since the island is still very much an active volcano (the only in Europe to remain continuously so).
Adventurers can take a tour of the island with a guide to see close up the effects of a millennia of constant eruptions. Black-sanded beaches now punctuate the island’s coastline. The island is best experienced, however, by night from the sea, where the bright sparks of this fire mountain can be seen to explode from the peak.
Head south, towards the main cluster of islands, to Panarea, an island so small that there are no official roads or cars here; the only permitted form of transport is golf cart-style taxis. A day on the beach is well recommended. When snorkelling round the island, it is still possible to witness small underwater volcanic activity.
For a breathtaking sunset, hike up the hill to the pre-historic ruins on the southern tip of the island, and watch as the sun disappears into the sea.
Bypassing the island of Salina, Lipari is the largest island of the archipelago. Although formed by an ancient volcano, the island last experienced volcanic activity 1,400 years ago. While it may have destroyed the island’s main settlement, many archaeological artefacts survived, and are on display in the magnificent Lipari Archaeological Museum.
The harbour is impossibly picturesque when approached from the sea, and is lined with traditional seafood houses and pizzerias. The Old Town is fantastic for exploring: the cobbled streets are edged with charming town houses. A walk through the park is inimitably beautiful, with Greek and Roman tombs showcasing the island’s historic wealth. Ristorante Al Tramonto is a hidden gem, overlooking the coast and the Aeolian archipelago. Admire your yacht, and the view of the sun setting behind the volcanic islands, from the terrace, while dining on a varied and impressive menu.
Named after the Roman god, Vulcan, and defining the etymology of the term ‘volcano,’ Vulcano can be smelt before it can be seen. Pockets of Sulphur emit the recognisable scent of volcanic activity around the harbour, while also hissing out of the pavements as a local phenomenon. Bathe in the volcanic mud for an exfoliating experience like no other – this product, which has been refined by thousands of years of volcanic activity, makes for a wonderful purification product for the skin. Clean off in the natural hot Jacuzzi-like sea, which bubbles with hot gases from the volcano.
M/Y LA MASCARADE is the perfect vessel on which to explore the historic region of the Aeolian Islands. Built by the powerhouse Feadship, the 30.00m superyacht has all the features one would expect to find on a much larger vessel. Having undergone a full refit in 2014, her sumptuous interior is filled with exotic materials, such as silver leaf, lacquer, oak, and apricot silk, and evokes the feel of quality and elegance. Up to eight guests can enjoy the sites of these volcanic islands while dining al fresco on the impressive sun deck, or from a more formal celebration in the private dining salon. The Master suite enjoys ensuite facilities and a Jacuzzi bath, while one VIP double stateroom and two further double staterooms also enjoying beautiful interiors and ensuite bathrooms. M/Y LA MASCARADE enjoys an impressive list of water toys, and her Castoldi JET tender is perfect for trips to shore. She can be chartered this summer from EUR 55,000 per week.