The air smells like rotten eggs. You must be starting to by now, too. Your legs ache from the steep hike. Sweat spots have discolored your shirt. Plus only a few precious sips are left in your water bottle. None of this matters, though, because you’re standing atop an active volcano. Droplets of molten sulfur fill its crater. Steam randomly spurts from the surrounding fissures. While you have a panoramic view of the Aeolian Islands and the starting-to-set sun.
Welcome to Vulcano. The eight-square-mile island is the southernmost of the eight Aeolian Islands that lie north of Sicily. A narrow strait separates Vulcano from Lipari. Ferries and hydrofoils connect it to the other islands, Milazzo on Sicily, and the mainland. Mud baths, hot springs, black-sand beaches, and little trattorias aren’t far from the harbor. Vineyards and goats are just a little bit farther. Then there’s the lush, green interior and several volcanic calderas. You just climbed to the top of Gran Cratere.
The ancient Romans named the island after Vulcan, the god of fire, due to all of its volcanoes. The ancient Greeks agreed and believed that it was the foundry of Hephaestus, their own god of fire. Vulcano was exploited, with brief pauses for eruptions, for timber, alum, and, yes, sulfur for centuries. It wasn’t until 1860, when a Brit bought part of the island, that a grand villa was built and vineyards were planted. The Brit only stayed until 1888. He sold his property and never returned when the last major eruption occurred. The villa is still intact. Rich Italians soon built many more.
Most people only spend a day on Vulcano, though. They arrive on the ferry, pick up sandwiches and water near the dock, and head inland to find the Fossa di Vulcano trail. The trail is steep. It gains about 1,300 feet in elevation in only 45 minutes. But hikers are rewarded with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s another 15 minutes to the top of Gran Cratere to stare into the volcano’s wide mouth. Then people cover themselves with mud at Laghetto di Fanghi, bake in the sun on Spiaggia di Sabbia Nera (Black Sand Beach), and eat spaghetti with sea urchin somewhere like Don Piricuddu before reboarding the ferry.
You opted to spend more time on the island. Instead of following the ferry crowd into town, you caught a shuttle to the Therasia Resort. The cliffside resort sits on Vulcanello, a smaller volcano on its own peninsula, which is attached to the rest of the island by a narrow isthmus. The resort has an incredible location. Its rooms and restaurants, pools and gardens overlook Lipari and rock stacks in the azure water. Terraces tumble down to a private beach. Plus the spa uses the island’s black sand and honey in its pampering scrubs. You could have easily relaxed here all day. But you had a volcano to hike.
By the time you started hiking the Fossa di Vulcano trail, most people were long gone. The intense mid-day heat deters many from hiking in the afternoon. The early evening is a different story. Sure, the sun was still hot overhead when you began. But by the time you reach the top of the crater, the sun starts to fall toward the horizon and a sea breeze moves in. So you pull your S’well, filled with a fruity Vulcano Malvasia, out of your bag. This is a sunset you’ll surely never forget.