It’s 5 a.m., a splashy grey dawn, and we’re out of here on easyJet. Palermo is another world of heat and brightness but we’re not stopping; at the port we board a catamaran which churns its way towards the Aeolian islands, the volcanic archipelago off the north-east corner of Sicily.
The islands are named after Aeolus, son of Zeus and god of the four winds, but there was scarcely a whisper of a breeze in the two weeks we were there. We had all sorts of plans, to island-hop, go to the hot mud baths on Vulcano, visit the black sand beaches of Stromboli and climb its volcano by night, perhaps a day on Panarea, Italy’s Ibiza, where glamorous people prowl in bars. A night or so on the rocky outcrops of Alicudi and Filicudi, not forgetting Lipari, the main island, and then since we were going back via Sicily we might as well stop there. We had a long list of restaurants to visit.
But oh dear, when we arrived on Salina and were taken to our little cottage with its semi-tropical garden of hibiscus and jasmine and bougainvillea dangling over the hot terrace, and a tree that looked like a 1920s starlet with absurd pink feathery flowers, and watched the sun plop into the sea, I think we guessed we weren’t going anywhere.
Every so often one of us would say ‘Perhaps we should go to Vulcano tomorrow’ and once we got as far as the ticket booth in the village square that sold boat rides to the other islands, but in the end we couldn’t tear ourselves away. The indolence became a joke: ‘I’m not sure I’ve got the energy for a swim.’
Salina is only ten square miles, but honestly there was plenty to keep a pair of lazy people quite busy. It is a magical place — a two-humped island like a camel, with twin extinct volcanoes making up a verdant interior that is good for hiking (apparently) in cooler seasons. Often a small cloud wrapped the summit of Monte Fossa delle Felci, the larger mountain, which makes it feel like you are in the tropics rather than southern Europe. Monte dei Porri, on the other side, rises steeply into a perfect cone, a textbook volcano with ridged sides.
Around the coast are palm trees, prickly pears, myrtle, the ever-present wild fennel. Pretty creeping capers. Santa Marina, the ‘town’, is almost chic, while at Lingua, in the south-east corner of the island, where you find the salt lake from which the island gets its name, there is a scruffy Caribbean feel. There is also a really excellent cafe, Da Alfredo, which sells supposedly the best granitas in Italy. At least mine was the best I ever expect to have: pure almonds, ground with sugar, churned into ice. A Slush Puppie for the gods.
The food was terrific, as you’d expect. I had to have spaghetti al sarde whenever I saw it: sardines, pine nuts, sultanas, wild fennel, olive oil. Malfa, the village on the north side where we were stationed, had at least four good places to eat, including a basic pizzeria and the restaurant of the four-star hotel Santa Isabel, built into the cliff above the swimming cove at Punta Scario. This was also the place to go for sun-downers of prosecco, accompanied by bruschetta spread with a courgette pesto. The sky would darken, the sea would pulse, Stromboli would puff out its vapours, and we would ponder the question of dinner. And console ourselves with the thought that while today was nearly over, tomorrow would be exactly the same.