Salina: If It Were Easy To Get To…
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Italian barmaid Beatrice is standing on a deserted Mediterranean beach, gazing at the horizon. As Mario approaches, the gorgeous Beatrice casts him a scathing look of "don't bother me." But a normally tongue-tied Mario, aching with passion, delivers his carefully prepared lines of poetry. Against all odds, the haughty dark-haired siren falls under the spell of the shy, semi-literate postman.
It's a memorable scene from the 1994 movie Il Postino (The Postman)—and it's an even better vacation tip. The film was set on the Aeolian island of Salina, north of Sicily and southwest of Naples. As the 1950s town seemed cut off from the world and lost in time, so remains this volcanic Eden today.
Salina is the greenest and the most fertile of the Aeolian Islands and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other getaways may be more adventurous or steeped in culture. But Salina beats them as a place to reconnect with yourself and empty your mind of noise and clutter.
The global economy has not reached Salina and its 2,300 residents, so it's self-defeating to drag it there. Don't even think of bringing a laptop or a Black- Berry. The foreign newspaper you buy will be two days old—if you find one. Long afternoons on a lounge with a panoramic view are better suited to a novel, anyway.
Arriving by hydrofoil from Palermo at the picturesque harbor at Santa Marina Salina for my fourth visit, I again wonder how I will fill the empty days stretching in front of me. Then I remember that "filling" them isn't the point. Get in sync with the rhythm and beauty of the island, and suddenly you feel like Mario—potent beyond your dreams.
JUST PUTTER AROUND
Those who crave activity can hike through lush island flora up to the 3,166-foot peak of extinct volcano Monte Fossa delle Felci, taste Salina's homegrown wines at a grower such as Caravaglio, rent a boat and stake out a private cove for the afternoon, or visit one of the other six Aeolian islands, such as Stromboli (immortalized in Roberto Rossellini's film of the same name). At sunset, take a dip at Pollara beach on the tip of the island, where Mario wooed Beatrice.
Just puttering around the island on a scooter to neighboring villages is a treat. Lush vineyards flank the road from Malfa as it winds up to the camel-hump summit between the two volcanic peaks, curves along dramatic cliffs, and descends in sweeping switchbacks to the picturesque seaside village of Rinella. Along the way, inhale a bouquet of eucalyptus, wild rosemary, and capers. On a clear day, Mt. Etna in Sicily is visible in the distance, as is Stromboli, Panarea, and Lipari.
The time and effort required to reach the Aeolian Islands is part of what keeps Salina unspoiled. If you begin in northern Europe, count on about 8 to 10 hours of travel, starting with a flight to Palermo or Catania in Sicily. From Palermo you transit by taxi to the main harbor and pick up the Ustica Lines hydrofoil for Salina, which leaves twice a day, at 6:55 a.m. and at 2 p.m., and takes 3 1/2 hours (about $80 roundtrip at the current exchange rate). After Sept. 17 there's one departure a day, at 2 p.m. Pray for calm seas—otherwise, the boat doesn't go. From Catania you have to brave a bus or hire a car to drive the 1.5 hours to the harbor in Milazzo, where hydrofoils leave eight times a day for the 90-minute trip to Salina ($34 roundtrip).
As a dedicated nature reserve, Salina benefits from restricted development. The 10-mile-long island has only two first-rate hotels: Signum in Malfa, and Capofaro. Clara Rametta, a Salina native who studied in Boston, and her husband and hotel chef Michele Caruso run the charming four-star Signum, with 30 attractive rooms that reflect the island's simple beauty. Bougainvillea and jasmine dot the grounds, and panoramic views from the terraces induce zen-like well-being.
Capofaro is a five-star resort owned by Sicilian winemaking family Tasca d'Almerita. Like Signum's low-slung pastel dwellings, Capofaro's white stucco bungalows blend harmoniously into the landscape. Its 20 sleek, designer-furnished rooms and seven suites surrounded by vineyards and pine trees give the feeling of being on the grounds of a large villa. Opened in 2003, Capofaro caters exclusively to adults. Creature comforts abound, and the teak-terraced pool is stunning.
The restaurants at Signum and Capofaro are among the best on the island, and both offer cooking lessons in the off-season. Other good eateries include Porto Bello on the edge of the Santa Marina harbor. On the main street of Santa Marina in a narrow entry is 'Nni Lausta, which has innovative seafood cuisine, good wine, and a garden.
September and October are still ideal months to travel to Salina, with warm days, cool evenings, and few tourists. One delight is taking part in island life, whether it's a colorful procession for a village patron saint or dancing under the stars in the town square with locals of all ages to a band playing Italian hit songs from the 1950s. Enjoy a sweet wine made from local Malvasia grapes, reportedly brought to the island by Greek colonists in 588 B.C. And raise a glass to the virtues of getting lost in time.
By Gail Edmondson