At first glance, you might think “Isla Vulcano” is a pretty uninspired – dare I say obvious – name for a volcanic island.

Not so fast.

You see, this beautiful place in the Tyrrhenian Sea and the first of the Aeolian Islands you encounter as you leave Sicily’s mainland, is actually the original inspiration for the word “volcano”. Etymology home base. Pretty cool.

Vulcano is also one of the two remaining active volcanic islands in Aeolian Islands chain.  The other, Stromboli is the liveliest, and while we were sailing in September it was strictly off limits because of unpredictable eruptions.

at the top of Isla VulcanoVulcano, on the other hand, last erupted in 1890, and while you can observe the puffing fumeroles emitting from the top – a lovely show as a reward for the hike up – it is perfectly safe to climb and explore. Or you can simply admire it from the small marina below which offers a full view of the volcano in addition to the most stunning sunrise I have seen.

The Island of Vulcano was our first and my favorite place of the trip because it offered so much. A sailing trip to the northern coast of Sicily wouldn’t be complete without at least one stop on this island. Here’s why you should go.

The hike to the top of the Volcano

Shoes for sale at Isla VulcanoThere is a well-marked road that will take you to the base of the volcano, and the path up is equally identifiable. You’ll want to wear proper shoes as the ground is sandy and rocky at times. Think hiking or tennis shoes not flip-flops. Fortunately, if you’ve arrived unprepared, there is a small stand of used shoes for you to rent on your way to the hike.

The hike up is steep so plan for 30 minutes to more than an hour to climb depending on breaks and fitness level. It took our over-achieving group 45 minutes from the boat to the top. It can get very warm, so plan your trip for early morning or late afternoon. Be sure to leave time for photos of the terrific views below and admire the rock composition changing from sandy to tan to black.

At the top, there is a resting area and you can look down into the crater and see the gasses rising up. It is well worth the trip, and always good to sneak in a bit of on-land exercise into any sailing adventure.

The marina, Baia Levante

Baia Levante MarinaThe Baia Levante marina is safely tucked into the Northern part of the island, sitting just South of Vulcanello, which is the part of the island that looks a bit like a cabbage. The land hugs this charming marina, keeping it safe and providing a panoramic backdrop of ocean, sea-side shops and stops, and of course Vulcano protectively sheltering the boats that moor on L-shaped dock below. Beautiful photos can be taken from just about anywhere.

When you arrive, the harbor master and a young man that certainly must be his son, will guide you to your slip and ensure safe Mediterranean mooring. No anchoring is allowed, but the mooring here is easy and convenient.

There is a free shower with your mooring fee; however, if you pay two Euro extra you can enjoy an extended shower. Just be sure to turn the water off and on with the easy toggle to make the most of your four-minute-water-time limit. A clothing washer and dryer are also available.

Baia Levante MarinaEasily the best thing about the marina are the sunrises. If you wake up early, head down the dock, and be amazed by the couple of dozen boats silhouetted against the rising sun. The avocado-sized rocks on the beach, the sign welcoming you to the docks, the seafood restaurant waiting for your arrival all make excellent subjects for your orange and pink morning photo shoot.

I can’t think of a marina I’ve loved more. From the top of the volcano, we could see other marinas on the island as well, larger than where we were staying. Maybe one day we’ll see what they have to offer, but I am guessing we’ll always head back to this spot for at least one night on future trips.

The charming tourist but not-too-touristy town

The small town, which is less of a town and more simply a collection of winding roads with dozens of restaurants and small art and tourist shops, makes for a perfect island excursion. An ATM can be found near the post office and while these “big island” offerings are appreciated if you need them, on Vulcano you never feel like you are in a busy place. Rather, it is a bit slower, smaller, and uncomplicated, offering exactly the right balance of civilization and escape.

Seafood is plentiful, and our dinner included swordfish prepared in at least five different ways. I lost count. Pasta naturally was part of the show as well. This would be the case with every subsequent meal we enjoyed in the area. Many courses, a lot of wine.

Hot spring mud baths

This blog would be incomplete without at least mentioning the hot spring mud baths – Laghetto di Fanghi – which is the number one attraction on Vulcano Island. Apparently, the mud is about 82 degrees year-round, making for lots of temperature-friendly mud fun.

Did we roll around in the mud? No. No we did not. Water is a premium on boats as are items of clothing. Mud removal simply seemed too daunting. But if you happen to be there and looking for an unusual spa experience – based on how much fun others were having – I’d recommend diving in. Ok, maybe not “diving”…

The island’s day-time stops

Venus Pool VulcanoThe Island of Vulcano is quite large, and beyond our pleasant nighttime spot in Baia Levante, there are many places to stop and see. On our first day of sailing we anchored at the very southern part of Vulcano to enjoy the black sand beaches and a cocktail at the beach-side bar before swimming back to our boat and heading North. At the end of our trip, heading back to Portorosa Marina, we stopped on the west side of the island to enjoy the must-see caves and clear blue pool of Venus. No doubt there are many more places to explore when we head back for round two in this treasured sailing spot.