One of the most rarely visited islands in the entire Italian Mediterranean is Lipari, the largest of the so called Aeolian Islands, located just to the north of Sicily. With a population not much in excess of 11,000, Lipari looks- and feels-like something of a one horse town.
And therein lies it’s unique charm. With no pier capable of docking them, most cruise ships simply sail past Lipari, on their way to the ‘greatest hits’ ports along the west coast of Italy. Only a handful of smaller, intimate vessels find their way to the anchorage just offshore, and tender their passengers into what is, quite literally, the centre of town.
Here, dogs sleep in the shade of side streets, while lines of washing hang limp between window shutters in the mid day heat. An occasional motor scooter might splutter into life like a sporadically maddened wasp. Every so often, the ancient church bells peal dolefully across the narrow expanse of the sparkling briny.
Other than that, the loudest sound is usually that of freshly caught fish, sizzling in a restaurant kitchen. Here, the sounds, smells and sheer sense of classic Italian dolce vita conspire to gang up on you and simply mug you. Because Lipari is not only pretty; it is breathtakingly so.
The obvious sense of intimacy lends it a charm often lost in much larger, more tourist orientated spots. You have none of the crowds of a Sorrento summer here, and none of the ghastly souvenir shops that loom like carbuncles at the entrance to seething, petrified Pompeii. No, Lipari is simple, pared down beauty. Here, less is most definitely more.
Of course, there is nothing to stop you taking a languid wander around the town. Up on the hill, you’ll find the silent stone walls of a massive, Spanish built fortress. It was built in 1556, on the site of an ancient Greek acropolis. Back in its day, it was the only truly safe place on the island. Pirates still roamed these waters into the early part of the nineteenth century.
Lipari at one time was also used to confine political prisoners. One of it’s most stellar involuntary residents was Edda Mussolini, daughter of the deposed, royally dismissed former Duce.
You can ponder this history over the rim of your wine glass, as the afternoon sun catches it and throws the whole, dreamy sprawl of the day into a different light and perspective. But Lipari, name and place, is more about indolent, platinum chip hedonism than anything else.