Lipari is the name of an island and also the only major town in the archipelago of the Aeolian Islands, off the north coast of Sicily.
It is also the liveliest of the islands, and its attractive harbour area and wide choice of cafes and bars make it a popular base for exploring the islands. Boats between the islands and from Milazzo on north-east Sicily also almost all pass through Lipari harbour (larger boats at Marina Lunga, smaller boats at Marina Corta) so it is easy to reach the other islands if you are based here.
You will arrive on the island of Lipari at the lovely harbour town of the same name. Lipari town has two harbours, separated by a citadel in a clifftop position and the town centre. The citadel is an imposing site since it still retains most of its defensive walls, and the town centre is to the west of the citadel.
Lipari town is quite charming and its narrow streets and alleys are a mixture of elegant town houses and simple dwellings in the charactaristicly square shape of the buildings on the islands. During the summer the balconies are decked out with flowers and many a bougainvillea adds its vibrant colours to the mix.
There are plenty of hotels, appartments, bars and restaurants to help you enjoy your stay but if you come in the summer you will want to have organised your accommodation before arriving. It can get quite busy.
There are a couple of particular highlights in the town. These include the cathedral and the Lipari museum.
The Cathedral of San Bartolo, the patron saint of the Aeolian Islands, was built by the Norman Count Roger. The church only retains the arched vaults of this ancient Norman building because the interior and the façade have been rebuilt since.
Inside the cathedral artworks of interest include a silver statue of Saint Bartholomew and a 17th century picture depicting the "Madonna of the Rosary." There is also a Norman cloister with capitals decorated with animals.
Rebuilt in the second half of the 16th century and completed with a barrel vault, the cathedral is high and rectangular with several chapels to the sides. In the 18th century the cathedral underwent radical changes to its structure and decorations, so the ceiling frescoes depicting biblical scenes date from this period and the silver statue of the Protector and the wooden altar were added. Towards the end of the 18th century the tower was erected.
Nearby is the Church of Our Lady of Grace which has several interesting frescoes to see and the 18th century Bishop's Palace.
Lipari Aeolian Museum
The museum is up above the town in the citadel which is a walk but you get great views as well as the museum! The museum in Lipari holds archaeological remains from the Neolithic age, the bronze age and the Greek and Roman periods. In recent years it has been expanded with a section dedicated to underwater archaeology and volcanology and is now very much a highlight of a trip to Lipari.
The exhibition is carefully laid out to make the visit enjoyable and consists of 27 sections ranging from Neolithic to modern times. Among the highlights are a collection of ceramic statues in terracotta - particularly outstanding is a "deinos", a vessel to pour wine and water, probably made in Attica and with black figures attributed to the so-called “Painter of Antimenes” painted on the outer edge to represent the exploits of Hercules and Theseus.
There is a garden of inscriptions with coffins and funerary stelae carved in lava stone and bearing the names of the dead from the Greek and Roman necropolis.
Another highlight is an impressive collection of items retrieved from shipwrecks in the Aeolian archipelago including the “Ciabatti, Signorini Wreck”, with ceramics of the Early Bronze Age, and black painted pottery probably of Aeolian manufacture from the first half of the 3rd century BC. Bronze coins from the Roman period were also found in the "Alberti Wreck”.
A collection of archaeological objects of obsidian*, which accompany some articles of pottery in the “Stentinello style”, are decorated with engravings of great artistic value. (Obsidian is the natural glass like rock that results from volcanic activity and attracted settlers here over the centuries.)
In the volcanology section of Lipari museum there is an important educational section which introduces the geology of the archipelago and also the other natural resources of the region such as the production of wines and local products.
Next to the Museum you can see the archaeology site of Lipari with ruins spanning several thousands of years.
Be sure also to climb up to the castle at the top of the town. From here you can get some lovely views over the harbour and there is also an area of Greek and Roman tombs.
As well as its charming harbour town Lipari has a beautiful coastline, beaches and beautifully clear blue-green waters. Most beach lovers head a short distance north of Lipari town to the pebble beach at Canneto, and the more intrepid continuing further north to the white sandy beach at Spaiggia Bianca.
Exploring the rest of the island is easy with the buses from Marina Lunga or by renting a bike. You can also organise excursions to the other islands from the harbour, or to other highlights around the coast of Lipari island.
There are also several very scenic walks near Lipari so ask for details in the tourist office on Corso Vittorio Emanuel II in the centre of town. The most popular walks are probably the climb up Monte Sant'Angelo or to the roman ruins at San Calogero, starting from Pianoconte.
Be sure to take a 10 minute bus ride to Quattrocchi viewpoint for wonderful views over the rocky coast of Lipari and out to sea and the island of Vulcano.
Lipari has been occupied for at least 6000 years (see history of Lipari) and it was here that the people of the Neolithic, Bronze and Hellenistic Ages settled.
The ancient tradition of producing liqueurs is carried on today with the production of Grappa, Mandarin, and the “Malvasia di Lipari”, a fortified dessert wine with the color of honey.
Today, the typical Aeolian cuisine is seafood based, with grilled fish, spaghetti "alla Strombolana" with capers, pasta with sea urchins, and also the "Mulincianeddi", a kind of meatball made with eggplant, capers, tomato and red pepper.
How to get to Lipari
The easiest way to get to Lipari is by ferry from Milazzo on the northern coast of Sicily. There are a couple of ferry companies and their fast hydrofoils take about an hour and have regular sailing times. There are also less frequent ferries from Palermo and Messina.
There is also an overnight ferry from Naples and a quicker but more expensive hydrofoil during the day in summer but this still takes around 6 hours.
Once you are at Lipari you can easily get a boat to the other Aeoloian islands and you will find many places to buy tickets at Lipari harbour. You can choose either the regular ferries or private tours which will offer different options including the chance to swim from the boat, be dropped off at various island villages and take the night tour of Stromboli to view the volcanic eruptions.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.