White painted houses, blue doors and windows and colorful bougainvillea – that’s what you see when you step on a small dock, after a two-hour hydrofoil ride from Milazzo, Sicily. You immediately know that you have arrived at a piece of earthly paradise. Instead of going to the hotel, it is very likely that the first thing you do will be to sit at a nearby restaurant terrace.
While drinking a cappuccino, the view will take your breathe away – Yachts anchored in front of you, on the left side Stromboli – when you look at it you can never be sure whether the callout stuck to its top or it is ‘spitting’ smoke from its still active volcanic crater.
On the right side – Lisca Bianca (where, in 1960, Michelangelo Antonioni recorded his classic L’Avventura (Adventure). Only a few dozen meters behind your back – Punta del Corvo (highest island peak , 421 meters above sea level).
If you look around, you’ll notice variety of colorful characters: a man rushing around in linen suit with a briefcase in hand that looks like a copy of Marcello Mastroianni from his youth; barefoot, late aged lady with a pile of gold jewelry on her drinking beer at 10 a.m. instead of morning coffee; Carabinieri who are trying to look strictly while driving around the island in the golf cart all day.
Upon one Greek mythology story the Aeolian Islands were named after the Greek god Aeolus, who lived in the cave on the Lipari island and was comanding and managing winds that he imprisoned there. Another legend tells us that the Aeolian archipelago was home to the Greek god Volcano and home to one-eyed giants (Cyclops) tribes.
Nowdays Aeols are on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list, but threatened with ejection from the list because of its still active pumice (volcanic rock) quarries at Lipari. The ten islands archipelago located northwest of Sicily is a popular tourist destination for those with deeper pockets who especially appreciate privacy.
Panarea is the smallest of the inhabited Aeolian islands, only 3.4 square kilometers with barely three hundred permanent residents. The island obtained electricity and running water only in the eighties. But life on this tiny island, where there is no cars, however, is neither modest nor paupers. Not even close. If you forget, for example, flip-flops, prepare the card and take a deep breath – in several island stores you’ll find expensive world-famous brands.
With a sushi bar and a classic Italian cuisine, you can eat a good piece of meat in the restaurant Antonio il Macellaio. The owner of the local is an islander who returned to Panarea after 25 years of living in Argentina and brought along the Argentine way of preparing food on the grill.
Panarea builds its image of unobtainable place by spreading myths. If you want to own some of the prestigious house, your bank account or your known name will not help you. You simply have to know someone who knows. “Wrong people on the island are not allowed.” (Alessandra Borghese for W magazine).
Still, at Panarea everything is relaxed and unconventional, although camping is strictly prohibited. You need only a few hours to cruise through the island on foot and get familiar to it. Every time you sit down for a meal or a drink, be assured that you’ll meet ‘neighbors’ who sit next to you. Completely unknown people will offer you a chair at the table if they notice that all the tables in the restaurant are occupated. But they will not bother you with their stories. They are all generaly just sociable and polite.
As the island is of volcanic origin and drop very steep into the sea , and you think that in heaven sandy beaches are long for miles, maybe this is not a paradise for you. However, amiable locals like Tesoriero brothers (owners of charming dog friendly Tesoriero Hotel) will be happy to refer you to the tiny coves with brown and black sand that are covered by giant cactuses and you will have your own little piece of beach paradise.
Locals have kept the old-fashioned charm so at night there is no lighting in the narrow streets bordered by white houses. A multitude of lanterns and candles will show you the way to a long night in the open shops and restaurants, but if you do not trust in the night sky glow, taxi drivers in the golf carts will transport you to your destination. Besides the golf carts and scooters there are no other ‘motor vehicles’ on the island.
The island trademark are geckos (Gekkonidae) for which local legend says that their presence in the house means that the owner is a good man. It is believed that geckos come only where there is a pleasant and serene atmosphere. And believe me, the Panarea relaxing atmosphere is higly contagious.
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