food / travel

Far Off The Beaten Path, The Aeolian Islands' Stunning Volcanoes

En route to the Stromboli
En route to the Stromboli
Martine Picouët

MESSINA — From the moment the plane lands, it seems as if all the beauties of Sicily — its Mediterranean vegetation, its lemon trees loaded with heavy fruits, and its groves of broom and prickly pears — have gathered to welcome you. In the distance, Mount Etna, the "immense volcano" described by French writer Guy de Maupassant in his 1886 book Sicily, seems to mark the gateway to this land formed by centuries of earthquakes and eruptions.

All along the road to Messina, the landscapes are familiar to anybody who has seen The Godfather. Several scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's classic trilogy were filmed in Forza d'Agrò and in Savoca, including that of Michael expand=1] Corleone and Apollonia's wedding.

It's just a few more kilometers past the strait of Messina and into the harbor of Milazzo, in Sicily's northeast. That's where Sicile-Sundial, the 24-meter sailboat that will take us on our seven-day volcanic adventure, awaits.

Lipari and its harbour — Photo: Flrnt

We leave Sicily headed north for an archipelago of seven craggy islands with ragged coastlines and black sand beaches. It's in the shape of a Y in the Tyrrhenian Sea, but our route will only take us to Lipari, Panarea and Stromboli, leaving behind Vulcano, Salina and the islets Filicudi and Alicudi to the west.

As you might expect, the weather is glorious. But the sirocco, a Mediterranean wind from the Sahara that sailors know only too well, threatens. For our sailboat captain Salvatore, it's out of the question to risk being caught by surprise in the archipelago. He urges us to head directly towards Stromboli, the volcano island immortalized in film by director Roberto Rossellini, and save Vulcano for the return trip.

In the distance, between the blue sea and the clear sky, we start to make out Lipari, the biggest island in the archipelago, and its white villages. Its old quarry of pumice stone, closed since 2007, was known to the convicts and outcasts who were sent there as "l’inferno bianco" (the white hell). Mount San Angelo offers a splendid view of the archipelago, and of the island of Salina in particular, where painter and wine maker Carlo Hauner produces one of Lipari's finest Malvasia wines.

Slow discovery

Over the course of just a few years, all of these islands, long ignored by tourists, have become prized little gems, best discovered in the spring or fall. In winter, the blinds are closed and only a couple of hundred inhabitants remain on the island, with no more than a few boats still bringing fresh water and food from the mainland. Houses reopen in April, when the first visitors and sailboats arrive.

We're now en route to the Stromboli. Ancient Greeks used to call it the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean." On the island that shares its name, the volcano has been rumbling, smoking and spitting stones and fire for over 2,000 years. Mount Stromboli's summit is rounded but culminates at 964 meters, with its foot going 2,000 meters down into the sea.

On the way up to the "Sciara del fuoco" (stream of fire) — a large depression down which lava and rocks pour — explosions come regularly one after the other, every seven to 10 minutes. Just above our heads, plumes of smoke rise into the sky. On the volcano's flanks, gas and smoke spurt out of the cracks. We can't go further because ever since the 2003 eruption that caused a small tsunami and destroyed several houses, it is forbidden to climb up on this flank. We must go back to the center of the village, behind San Vincenzo's church, where a guide awaits us with helmets for the traditional excursion to the top. It's a three-hour hike in the wilderness on a rocky and sandy path before arriving on top of the black and smoking crater.

The stream of fire — Gif: Jens Bludau

But the most beautiful sight comes a few hours later, at night, from the boat. Off the coast of Stromboli, the explosions give the dark sky a bright red glow. As the French photographer Arnaud Guérin wrote in his book Destination Volcans, it looks like "the rhythmic respiration of fantastic dragons." He goes on: "Then suddenly, after a few minutes, the energy is liberated in a detonation that fills up the atmosphere of the place." A truly majestic firework that only a seasoned photographer would be able to capture.

After a good night of anchorage, the time has come to make our way back to Sicily, calling on the way at Vulcano, this "fantastic sulfur flower that bloomed in the ocean" that seduced Maupassant all those years ago. "Everything around me, under my feet and on me is yellow, a blinding yellow, a frightening yellow," he wrote as he surveyed the island.

More than a century later, the landscape hasn't changed, and the morning ascent of the “Fossa,” a crater at least 500 meters wide and 200 meters deep, feels like a walk in the park compared to climbing Stromboli. No explosions here, but sulfur fumes still rise from the ground and swing across to the hikers' faces because of the wind, the yellow and white smoke almost choking them. And from the top, the view of Lipari is breathtaking.

Big dark clouds are menacing in the distance, a sign that the weather is changing. The sirocco is about to rise. It's time for us to head back to the boat and sail towards the safety of Milazzo. And prepare tomorrow's hike. This time, we're tackling Mount Etna.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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