Vulcano Island: the Hike to the Great Crater and the Mud Baths
Milazzo, 11th June 2018.
Tomorrow I have the return flight from Palermo to Barcelona, so today it has been my last day in Sicily. I still haven’t recovered from my hearing infection and I prefer to go to the doctor in my country rather than feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the trip. This situation makes me very upset but health always comes first. The places will never move from where they are, and it is never too late to come back.
The last destination of my trip has been Milazzo, with the intention of visiting Vulcano, one of the seven Aeolian Islands. We would have liked to see them all but due to lack of time we had to choose only one. After our hike to Etna Volcano, we were very keen to see another one, albeit a smaller one. Our two candidates were Vulcano and Stromboli, the two islands with active volcanoes. In the end, for a matter of time and accessibility, we decided to go to Vulcano. Stromboli is much further away and it required an overnight stay, something we could not do.
The Vulcano Island
Vulcano is the first of the Aeolian Islands and it is about 25 km north of Sicily island. It has several volcanic centers, including one of the four active non-submarine volcanoes in Italy. It is linked to another island called Vulcanello that was separated in the past. Since 2000, Vulcano and the other Aeolian Islands are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The last eruption of the volcano was in 1890, more than 100 years ago. Nowadays it is not dangerous to hike up the Great Crater although you have to be careful because toxic gases are still emanating from the fumaroles.
From Giardini Naxos to Milazzo
To go to Vulcano Island first we had to make our way to Milazzo, the village from where the boats to the Aeolian Islands depart. We were coming from Giardini Naxos and there there was no direct connection so we had to take two trains. The first one from Taormina/Giardini to Messina (where we said goodbye to our friend Guido) and the second one from Messina to Milazzo. Guido decided to continue his journey through Messina and Gaël and I would go to the Aeolian Islands.
In this occasion, we booked a night at Regina Aurora B&B. Unlike the previous accommodations, this is a bed & breakfast and the difference is quite evident compared to hostels. For example, here we have a private room for us, breakfast included and the atmosphere is much more family oriented. The good thing about this B&B is that it is located in the middle of the two places that interest us: the port of Milazzo (30 minutes walking) and the train station (15 minutes walking).
From Milazzo to Vulcano Island
Yesterday afternoon we bought the ferry tickets to and from Vulcano Island. The only company that organizes the boat trips to the Aeolian Islands is Liberty Lines. We booked our seats for the 12:15h departure (arrival at 13:05) with return at 18:15 (arrival at 19:05). The ferry goes to all the islands and Vulcano is the first one, with is 50 minutes from Milazzo. The tickets cost us 38€ each. It was the cheapest option – there were more expensive ones depending on the schedule.
At first, we had a hard time finding the port from which the Liberty Lines boats were departing, but we asked at one of the ticket offices and they gave us the directions. Once you get there you can’t really miss it because it seems that all the boats leave from the same place.
Although we had the purchased tickets and the confirmation email with us, before boarding the boat we had to check in at the company’s counter to get the boarding passes. This reminded me to my trip to go from Helsinki to Tallinn by ferry, where I had to do the same.
The seats were not numbered but we could sit wherever we wanted. We chose a spot in the window to see the scenery. We thought there would be an option to go outside but this was not possible.
Hike to the Great Crater in Vulcano Island
When we arrived at Vulcano we had a clear objective: to hike the Great Crater of the active volcano. Getting there from the port was easy because there were signs indicating the path. We basically followed the road until we found a crossroads where the trail to the volcano started. There, there was a huge panel warning of the danger of continuing due to the gases emanating from the volcano.
The hike was easy and the climb was progressive, without any complicated or steep parts. We walked along the sandy path bordering the volcano, stopping every now and then to drink water and take some pictures. Sometimes, our shoes were sinking in the sand and ashes. In fact, they ended up being as gray as when we climbed Mount Etna.
The views became more spectacular as we hiked up, and we could see the whole Vulcano and the other Aeolian Islands (Lipari and Salina right in front of us, and Filicudi and Panarea on the horizon).
It’s worth to mention that the weather today was extremely hot. The sun was shining bright and we had to cover our shoulders with our jackets to avoid getting burned. Not to mention that we smeared ourselves with sunscreen and wore our sun caps all the time.
It took us less than an hour to get to the top of the volcano. However, the last part was a bit different because instead of volcanic sand it was all made of rocks.
Stroll along the top of the Great Crater
When we reached the top, we came across the great 500-metre crater, from which emanated burning vapours and a strong smell of sulphur that would bring us disastrous consequences later in the day…
We bordered the crater following a well-marked path that allowed us to see it from different perspectives. What impressed me most was to see the features of an active volcano: the yellow phosphorite spots, the ashes, the gases coming out of the fumaroles and the strong smell of sulfur. I had never seen anything like that in my life and you could feel that the volcano was alive.
On the left side of the volcano the vapours and sulphur were emanating even more strongly and the smell was becoming unbearable. We even had to put our jackets as a turban to cover our noses.
When we passed by the fumaroles we could feel the heat they gave off so we tried not to get too close so as not to burn ourselves.
It wasn’t possible to go down to the very center of the Great Crater because of the high risk of intoxication. However, more than person has surely done it because there were some words written right in the middle of the hole.
Back to town
From above, the panoramic views of the archipelago were spectacular. In addition to the Aeolian Islands, you could also see Vulcanello, the peninsula that is now joined to Vulcano.
As we could no longer stand the heat and the smell of sulphur, after skirting the Great Crater we started our way back to town again. The first thing we did when we arrived was to get some refreshments in a supermarket since we were completely dehydrated and the water in our bottles was boiling…
Mud bath in Porto di Levante
Although the hike to the Great Crater was very cool, for me the funniest and more memorable moment was when we went to the island’s mud baths. At first I was not very convinced but from outside we saw people bathing or sunbathing in the mud. It caught our attention and, as we still had some time left until we got the ferry back, we decided to try them.
According to the information panel, the mud baths and the steam have therapeutic and medicinal properties and are particularly good for muscle pain. You can also apply mud to the skin as a balm, as if you were in a natural spa. The entrance fee cost 5€.
Structure of the baths
There were several areas in the “retreat”:
- The entrance, which is where you buy the tickets and where the employee explains how the bath session work.
- The private changing rooms, the bathrooms and the showers. If you want to take a shower after the treatment you have to pay 1€ more (we skipped that).
- The mud baths, which are in a small open lake.
- A rocky surface with a path that led to the top of a rock and where you could sunbathe.
- Some stairs that connected directly with the sea.
The first thing we did was go to the changing rooms to put on our swimming suits and find a place to leave our backpacks. Then the moment of truth came…
At first we got into the mud baths without having any idea what the procedure was (or if there was one). However, some ladies who were around saw us quite lost and explained to us the ritual that we had to follow.
First we had to enter the mud bath and stay there for a little while. The waters were giving off fumes that in theory were good for arthritis. Then we had to apply the mud to our skin and wait about half an hour. In this phase, the ideal thing to do was to go to the rocky part and expose your body to the gases that came out of the cracks to complement the treatment.
To finish the session, you had to remove the mud by bathing in the same lake. If you wanted you could also go down to the sea and have a refreshing bath, but you had to remove the mud before.
The experience was something quite unique. As soon as I put a foot in the bath, I felt how hot the water and the ground were. The water was boiling and it was a grayish blue, white and yellow color. The floor was also burning and poor you if you put your foot in an area where the steam was emanating. It was literally burning. There were people who walked around as if nothing was happening but we tried to identify the less hot areas so that we didn’t end up with burnt feet. You could also see the little bubbles on the surface.
If you wanted to catch the fanghi bollenti (that is, the mud) you simply had to submerge your hand in the water and scratch it off the ground. The texture was between soft and sticky and when you applied it in your skin it was as white as the wall. In fact, there was a lady covered with mud on the rock and it looked like she was totally camouflaged. At first we didn’t even notice that she was sitting there…
A few meters from the lake there was a staircase that connected with the sea. You could swim there without problems but first you had to get rid of the mud so as not to leave everything behind and dirty. The funny thing is that the sea water was also “warm” given the fact that it was still close to the volcanic soil.
The return to Milazzo by ferry
At about 5:45 PM we decided to get ready to go to the harbor and take the ferry back to Milazzo. Since we could not take a shower there, we took a bath in the sea and then put on our normal clothes. Oh my God… you can’t imagine how stinky we were. We smelled awful of sulphur, but our swimsuits and backpacks were not far behind. I think that when we were in the baths we were not fully conscious but when we left we realized the unfortunate reality: we would have to stink all the way home.
Next to us in the ferry, we met a girl from Lipari, the busiest and most populated island in the Aeolian Sea. She saw us worried about the smell of sulphur and told us that it would take a week to leave easily. So now we can get ready…
Milazzo Castle and sundown in the town
As we had half an hour to arrive at the B&B we decided to take a walk downtown and have some dinner before taking the expected shower. Our first stop was the Milazzo Castle, a fortification situated on top of a hill from where you could see the whole city. It was closed, but at least we could see something from the outside.
We watched the sunset from a sort of lookout point near the castle, careful not to be attacked by killer seagulls.
Drama of the sulfur smell
We went to a pizzeria to have dinner, then we returned to our accommodation and the critical moment arrived: the shower. I don’t know how many layers of soap I put on my skin, but the smell of sulfur wouldn’t go away, nor would some of the mud. It was too attached and intense. The worst thing is that my hair also smelled really bad and I hadn’t even put my head in the pool. Imagine if I had done it…
We also tried to eliminate the smell of sulfur from our backpacks by letting them air out the window at night. In the same way, we washed our swimsuits with gel in the shower to see if the smell would go away. However, not only did it not go away, but it even got worse, and I think that is because of the mixture of sulfur and soap. It was not a good idea.
Since I have my return flight tomorrow, I’ll just put the stinky clothes in a bag and take them aside. Hopefully, the rest of the clothes and the backpack won’t stink of sulfur. However, I’m afraid that as soon as I get to Barcelona I’ll have to evaluate how the clothes are and take action. One thing is for sure: I have a few washing machines waiting for me…