Lipari - at the heart of the Aeolian Islands


Villas on Lipari and the other Aeolian Islands >>

Leaving behind the sulphurous air of Vulcano, the mother of all volcanoes, and sailing due north, one soon comes to Lipari, the largest of the seven inhabited Aeolian Islands. Translucent waters give way to green hills and the ancient fortified walls of Lipari Town rise protectively above its two ports.

Lipari, apart from being the largest and most populated of the Aeolian Islands, is also the archipelago’s hydrofoil hub, meaning that anyone wishing to island hop a little should consider staying there as a base.

Before setting off to explore other islands, however, there is plenty for visitors to discover on Lipari itself. 


Lipari boasts a rich history that has seen the island pass under the control of numerous Mediterranean powers, including the Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Angevins, and the Aragonese. Many millennia before the arrival of these colonists, however, Lipari was already an important trading centre specialising in the commerce of obsidian, a hard black volcanic glass used for making tools and weapons.

The Greeks arrived in the early 6th century BC and remained for several hundred years. In the 4th century BC the island became a strategic ally of Dionysius, the immensely powerful Tyrant of Siracusa, and prospered as a result. As Greek influence eventually waned, however, Lipari passed under the control of ancient Rome. It became embroiled in the First Punic War, being captured and transformed into a naval base by the Carthaginians before falling once more into Roman hands in 251 BC. Then, in 36BC, Lipari found itself once more at the epicentre of world events as Agrippa, using the island as a naval base, defeated Sextus Pompeius in the Battle of Naulochus off Sicily's north coast. This historic victory was a major step in the transformation of Octavian from a power-sharing triumvir into Rome's first Emperor, the omnipotent Augustus, in 27BC. After Naulochus, Lipari became something of a holiday resort for wealthy Romans in need of some R&R.

Many centuries of relative obscurity passed, Lipari following the general flow of Sicilian history as Arabs and Normans came and went, until 1544 when Barbarossa, the Ottoman Admiral, attacked Lipari and cast the entire population into slavery. Charles V, the Aragonese Holy Roman Emperor, quickly took back the island, resettled it with Spanish subjects and built imposing fortified walls on the site of the Greek acropolis, thus securing the town from future incursions. It is these walls that today enclose Lipari Town’s castle, its cathedral and its world class archaeological museum, whose rooms contain a vast array of artefacts documenting Lipari’s long, dramatic and varied history.

In the 1920s and 30s, Lipari, like several other Italian islands, was used as a detention centre for critics of Mussolini’s regime. Ironically, when his daughter, Edda Mussolini, returned to Italy from Switzerland after the end of the war, she herself was detained in Lipari while awaiting trial for her Fascist past. 

A stay in Lipari would not be complete, however, if you didn’t take to the sea to discover the island from the water, stopping off for swims in otherwise inaccessible coves.

Lipari Town

Lipari Town centres around the café, bar and restaurant flanked Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, which runs from north to south between the two harbours - Marina Lunga, where hydrofoils and ferries dock, and Marina Corta, the picturesque old port, home to a splendid piazza offering splendid views of bobbing fishing boats, the sailors’ Church of the Anime del Purgatorioto and the sea. High above, on the eastern extremity of the town and enclosed by the 16th century fortified walls, is the castle, the archaeological museum, the Cathedral of San Bartolomeo, some ancient Greek ruins and a couple of panoramic viewing points. The town is great fun to wander round and has a buzzing atmosphere in the summer months.

Around the island: beaches and other sights

At just 9km long and 7km wide, discovering Lipari is easily done in a week and the panoramic road that circles the island provides great driving, whether by car or moped. Heading north up the east coast from Lipari Town one soon comes to Canneto, a fishing village with a long pebbly beach and plenty of lidos for the summer. Further up the east coast, passing a couple of shingle bays, are the old pumice quarries, whose bright white stone gives the sea an extraordinarily tempting crystal turquoise colour. A swim here is something to remember.

On the northern coast of the island is the long lava pebble beach of Acquacalda, a small village whose name derives from the hot volcanic springs that drew pleasure seekers here in antiquity. From the northeastern tip of the island, the road heads inland and south through the foothills of the mountainous interior, whose peaks rise to 600m. While not the best island for hikers (Stromboli, Vulcano and Salina may be considered better), Lipari does offer some lovely walks.

A stay in Lipari would not be complete, however, if you didn’t take to the sea to discover the island from the water, stopping off for swims in otherwise inaccessible coves.

Villas on Lipari and the other Aeolian Islands >>
Getting to the Aeolian Islands >>

Mouse X
Mouse Y
Mouse Speed
Mouse Direction