Sicily, Volcanoes & the Aeolian Islands

Sicily has it all. It’s Italy’s largest island and the country’s largest wine-producing region, shaped by centuries of volcanic activity and incredibly diverse landscapes.

The varied landscapes are only topped by Sicily’s rich culture—influences can be seen from the Greeks, Romans, French, German, Normans and Moors, making Sicily a world of its own through the architecture, cuisine and dialect found nowhere else in the country.

It’s a feast for the senses, and we couldn’t think of a better way to experience the best of the region on a trip that’s as rich in culture as it is in the incredible sites, hotels and wine.

We chatted with Dana Quinn, Experience Designer for Sicily, about the highlights travellers can expect on our Limited Edition Sicily, Island & Volcanoes trip.

Why a Limited Edition trip in Sicily? What makes this region so special?

While each B&R Limited Edition will have its own special background story, it’s been a dream for me to offer the Aeolian Islands on a Scheduled trip for the first time in over 20 years. My grandparents are also Sicilian and eventually emigrated to AmericaItalian cuisine was such a huge part of my childhood and that special Sicilian hospitality always remains close to my heart. 

Sicily is huge and varied, so on this trip travellers will explore three unique areas: the Baroque southeast corner of Noto, the laidback and spectacular Aeolian Islands, and the neighbours of Taormina and Mount Etna, offering the perfect variety of landscapes and experiences.

Add to the mix a panoramic helicopter ride over Mount Etna, a luxurious private yacht, and differing activities from classic biking and hiking to e-biking or kayaking. 

The 8-day journey also takes a bit of a volcanic theme, which is emblematic of Sicily. Linking hikes and winery visits on Mount Etna and Stromboli volcano is a special combination we don't usually offer. Stromboli’s active volcano produces a dramatic firework show with lava every 20-30 minutes, and we’ll see this from our private boat while enjoying a dinner spread on board. It’s an experience that will remain etched in our travellers' minds long after they’ve returned home.

Stromboli's volcano produces a natural lava firework show every 20-30 minutes. According to our Guide Giorgia, it's been acting up more than usual the past few years

Mount Etna is a huge trip highlight! Can you talk a little bit about the significance of Mount Etna and how our travellers will experience it on trip?

Mount Etna is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, on the east coast of Sicily between Messina and Catania. We choose to visit it two ways for the full Etna experience! First, we enjoy a panoramic helicopter flight, offering a clear view of the craters from above. Then a few days later we return for an emotive hike, where you'll see incredible lunar landscapes of black lava craters and volcanic soil made from centuries of ancient lava flow.

We purposely choose the northern area of Etna to explore, which is an off-the-beaten-track alternative to where most travellers opt to visit. Add that to having our local expert with us, making it a learning experience and a breathtaking hike, with the added momento speciale of a B&R-style lunch right on Etna.

While the thought of hiking up an active volcano may sound intimidating, the conditions are very safe (especially when you’re with a trusted guide!) and we drive up to our point, so this is not a gruelling hike but the perfect offering. Etna is around 3,357 m tall - the height alone means that the lava flow will cool down before reaching any inhabited centre, and even when you’re hiking on the mountain, you can safely gaze at the fiery eruptions in the distance.

What makes the Aeolian Islands different from the rest of Sicily? What makes the area interesting for active travel?

Stepping foot onto the Aeolian Islands is like stepping back in time. Apart from the natural beauty (perfect for hiking and the outdoors), there is something very casual and reminiscent of a past with a slower-paced life, and don’t we all crave that?

The Aeolian archipelago consists of seven UNESCO-protected islands: Lipari, Salina, Stromboli, Vulcano (pictured above), Filicudi, Alicudi & Panarea

Your favourite memory of the Aeolian Islands?

In the early 2000’s B&R was running an Aeolian Islands By Sea trip, where we visited each one. As the researcher, I found many stories exploring this area for the first time. I was staying at one of the few B&Bs on Filicudi and the owner told me to go to Antonio’s for the best almond pasta around (and to get her the recipe!) I went down to the restaurant and took a stroll on the beach while waiting for it to open. A man stops me in my deep thoughts and said

‘Here on Filicudi, we say buongiorno to each other and you are way too deep in thought to say that.’ 

I say ‘buongiorno’ and walk down the beach. An hour passes and I head into the restaurant to discover that the sought-after owner and chef Antonio was the man who stopped me on the beach. Rather than thinking I was rude, he told me that he could see straight through my eyes and into my soul and that there was a connection.

So yes, we got an agreement for our perfect lunch on trips, although I didn’t manage to walk away with the almond pasta recipe.

What hotel highlights can our travellers looks forward to?

We love the Belmond property of Villa Sant'Andrea down on the Taormina beach, with its enchanting setting and high-level service. But there's something special at the Capofaro Locanda & Malvasia on Salina island, with its simplicity and island feel that I love. And not to forget the rooftop terrace of Hotel Gagliardi in Noto with the lovely Corrado as our host.

Belmond Villa Sant'Andrea in Taormina

B&R trips are known for connecting travellers to our worldwide network of local friends, chefs, artisans, and more. Are there any special guests that travellers will be introduced to on this trip?

We love meeting Enzo, who gave up his job to look after the land and grow sesame, keep the trails clear and provide us with a great local lunch. But the special contact we get the most kick out of is definitely Emanuele, our local guide on the island of Salina. He is full of passion, has a great smile and knows all nooks and crannies to explore. All while keeping that laid-back island charming personality. So we just follow him!

Catania: NAPA74 Unsplash