The principal port for ferries and hydrofoils is that of Santa Marina, where there is also a small port for pleasure craft. On the other side of the island you land at Rinella.
A good bus service connects the villages until late in the evening. If you prefer to use a scooter, car or bike you can contact rental services. The roads are narrow but tarmacked. Santa Marina is spread out at the foot of Monte Fossa delle Felci and Monte Rivi. You will immediately notice the characteristic bell-towers of the 18th century Church of Santa Marina. Directly opposite the quayside you will find La Cambusa: a bar, confectioner’s, restaurant, newsagent’s and also a tobacconist’s. The mountains were once a refuge for the inhabitants when Saracen pirate ships arrived. Above Santa Marina a path climbs up from Serro dell’Acqua to the caves dug out of the tuff. Some of them have several chambers that are connected. It is a pleasant walk among olive and fruit orchards and, after a steep climb, you discover some of these refuges are still inhabited today. Two kilometres to the south is Lingua, a small fishing village which offers simple and authentic hospitality. The ethnological museum near Lingua lake is well worth a visit. There are good restaurants serving excellent local fish dishes. Don’t miss Alfredo’s excellent granitas. Before reaching Lingua you can observe an 18th century bridge in the Zappini gorge, near the sea. It is part of an old stone road, no longer used, which local people have recently uncovered. The lake at Lingua is very picturesque, with its lighthouse. This is the greenest island of the archipelago and we recommend, to those who love walking, a day on Monte Fossa delle Felci to admire, from the ‘rooftop of Salina’, the other islands and even Etna.
It is possible to climb up from Santa Marina, Lingua or Valdichiesa. From Lingua it takes 2-3 hours, but is quite a difficult climb. A lot of steps take you to the peak of Menavento and, after having passed vines and uncultivated land on steep paths, you reach the summit at 968 metres. The mountain is more accessible from Valdichiesa. In this case you should pay a visit to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Terzito: it is a place of worship and prayer where first there was a chapel in the 5th century, a church in the 7th century and then a sanctuary in the 17th century. There are some particularly important votive offerings on display in the church, consisting of paintings on glass, representing a valuable example of popular art.
Walking among olive trees
Apart from the memorable excursions to the Fossa delle Felci and Monte Porri, there are numerous other shorter walks you can take on Salina which are equally interesting and surprising.
The uphill walk to Paolonoci can be completed in about 30-40 minutes and can be considered one of the most pleasant excursions on the island.
After passing through the village of Lingua you continue as far as the small piazza of Punta Brigantino, where the paved road comes to an end. From this point you follow a track that leads to the houses at the southern end of the village. The track then narrows and becomes a paved mule-track.
Down to the right you can see the Nero Valley, in which there is a hidden cave that was once home to a legendary elf.
Walking among olive trees and caper bushes and passing through typical Mediterranean scrub you continue to climb until you catch sight, to the south-west, of a small white house with a pretty facade, an arched doorway and two round windows.
You are surrounded by the scent of wild herbs, wormwood bushes and mastic trees.
In front of you stand drystone walls, as imposing as those of a castle. Once this barren landscape was covered by terraces for the growing of olives.
The higher you climb the more impressive are the signs left of the enormous amount of work put in by the islanders in the 19th century; a tremendous work tireless effort and sweat, using lava stone.
You walk alongside the stone walls, which are a warm ochre yellow colour or, in the light of the sunset, of a bright red. You are now nearing the end of the walk and the path continues to climb for a while towards the Fossa delle Felci. It would undoubtedly be interesting to carry on into the unspoilt mountain countryside, but the ground becomes very rough here and it is better to turn back. Particularly adventurous walkers sometimes try, with varying success, the risky hike to Rinella. We prefer to avoid this ‘tour de force’ and turn left once we reach a small hollow. This takes you through a well kept garden of olive trees, vines and citrus fruit trees and then to the bright white house that you had previously seen from a distance.
The owners of this hidden paradise are Peppino Costa, his wife Franchina and their children, typical of the friendly industrious local people. Everyone that visits the Costa family’s land is impressed by how well kept it is all year round. The Costa’s are not only tireless farmers but are also the trustees of the island’s long history of culture and human dignity. The small house at Paolonoci is used by the Costa family as a shelter during storms, but it is always open and can also be used by walkers who are tired or caught in the open in bad weather. There is a homely room and tiny kitchen, modestly but well furnished; grateful visitors should remember to write their names in the visitors book. From the terrace, surrounded by flowers, you can enjoy a splendid view that takes in Panarea, Lipari and Vulcano as well as nearby Sicily, with Etna dominating it. You can rest for a while on the stone seats, marked by the characteristic ‘e pulera’.
Paolonoci is enveloped by an extraordinary silence and sense of peace. The only sound you can hear is that of the wind, which fills your lungs with marvellously clean fresh air. You can hear the distant murmur of the sea and high up, above the slopes of the Fossa, the cries of Eleonora’s falcon. If you are able to fully appreciate the beauty of this place you will have glimpsed the unmistakable heart of the island of Salina.
Adrian Wolfgang Martin
SALINA, TRAVELLING THROUGH TIME
A walk through the places where the remains of ancient civilisations have been found, apart from the natural beauty of the countryside, lets us hear echoes from the past, opening up exciting scenarios.
On Salina a prehistoric settlement has been found bearing witness to the human presence on the island since the last centuries of the 5th millennium BC. The oldest settlement, dating back to that time and similar to the one at Castellaro on Lipari, has recently been found at Rinella, in the district of Leni. There is a hut and a great deal of obsidian splinters, imported from Lipari, and showing that tools were produced for export to the Western Mediterranean. On the summit of Monte Fossa delle Felci and at Brigadiere, apart from obsidian splinters, fragments of Diana style pottery (circa 3000 BC) have been found along with other archaeological artefacts which demonstrate human presence on Salina since Neolithic times. Eneolithic pottery fragments in Pianoconte style (circa 2500 BC) have also come from this dig, as well as the remains of huts of the Piano Quartura culture dating back to the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC. Previously, at Malfa, funeral attire of this culture had been found, at Santa Maria in the locality of Policastro, a cup, probably part of tomb attire and, at Serro dell’Acqua, remains of huts. In the Bronze Age, from the last century of the 3rd millennium BC onwards, Salina was populated by people from mainland Greece, probably the Eoli of ancient legends, and then by people from Sicily, where the civilisation of Thaspos was flourishing. The settlements made by the former group, belonging to the culture of Capo Graziano, and used for more than half a millennium (almost until the end of the 15th century BC), have been discovered in various parts of the island, chosen particularly for reasons of safety. In particular at Megna (early Bronze Age), Serro Brigadiere (Early and Middle Bronze Age) and at Serro dei Cianfi (Middle Bronze Age). The settlement used by populations from Sicily belonged to the Milazzese civilisation (from the second half of the 15th century BC to the first half of the 13th century BC) and was found at Portella. It is believed to have been destroyed by the Ausoni (around 1270 BC), a population from the coast of Campania who are referred to in the legends handed down to us from Diodorus Siculus. After this violent destruction, the island of Salina seems to have been uninhabited until the 50th Olympiad (580/576 BC), when a group of Greeks, of Dorian origin, coming from Cnido, settled on Lipari. The Liparesi, settlers from Cnido, began to cultivate the fertile land of Salina, called Dydime by the Greeks, according to Thucydides, so the island was permanently settled from the beginning of the 4th century BC, like the other islands. The most important settlement developed at Santa Marina and part of the walls of an imperial age house are visible on the beach, at the end of the sea-front. From that time on, for more that a thousand years, there were Greek, Roman and Byzantine settlements, up to the Arab conquest of the islands in 838 AD. From then, until the 16th century, the only evidence of human presence on the island is the late Medieval settlement at Serro Perciato in the district of Santa Marina. In 729 Sir Willibald (brother of Saint Valpurga), returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, stopped at Lipari to venerate the remains of St. Bartholomew. Finding the crater of Monte Pelato in eruption, he had to spend the night on Salina, at that time more heavily populated than Lipari. In Byzantine times the island took its present name because of the presence of a lake of brackish water on the East coast, where a saline was set up in the third century BC. The oldest remains have recently been found above the lake, with fragments of pottery and walls of Roman buildings (‘opus reticulatum’ walls in the lake are represented in a print by Houel). Graeco-Roman and Byzantine remains have been found in various parts of the island: around Santa Marina, pottery fragments of the 5th century BC at Serro dell’Acqua, classical age tombs at Barone, a classical age column re-used in Byzantine times above the sea-front and now kept in the Town Hall, late Roman tombs above the port and at Mastrognoli in the district of Lingua; around Malfa, Hellenistic tombs near the power station (one has been rebuilt in the school yard), a late Hellenistic funeral inscription (now in the Civic Museum of Santa Marina) at Capo Faro, and late Hellenistic and Roman tombs at Capo Gramignazzi; around Leni, terracotta objects of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, Roman pottery and tombs at Valdichiesa (some have been rebuilt next to the art gallery of Valdichiesa and are probably connected to a settlement, situated on the site of the present football pitch). The artefacts discovered are today largely housed in the smaller islands section of the Archaeological Museum of Lipari. On Salina, you can only visit the few ruins we have mentioned, awaiting the activation of a number of archaeological itineraries.
The settlements found have been covered to protect them from further deterioration. Despite the remarkable transformations, the inhabitants of the island haven’t lost their identity and the island hasn’t become an anonymous holiday village, with no cultural background. This is certainly connected to its ancient history that can, in part, be re-lived, visiting the small Civic Museum of Santa Marina, where some objects are displayed.
Climbing Fossa delle Felci
Climbing to the summit of Fossa delle Felci, you can admire the whole of the island of Salina.
The various types of coastline originate from the two, very different volcanoes. Monte Porri is rugged and wild, while Monte Fossa is green and luxuriant. The latter can only be climbed on foot.
Passing the end of the road above Valdichiesa, the air, full of smells of the trees and plants, helps you to forget the hard climb. The countryside and climate change, becoming first like on a hill and then, on top, like a mountain.
To face the three-hour walk, it is better to start off early, before it gets too hot, or, if you intend to stay the night on the mountain, in the late afternoon.
Rich heather, mastic trees and euphorbias welcome you along the path which takes you through the wood, full of chestnut trees, oaks, pines and strawberry trees, which reach a height of seven to eight metres.
In spring the whole ridge is livened by the warm yellow of the broom, a spectacular colour effect, an explosion of nature in the most fertile ground to be found in the archipelago.
The strong scent of flowers accompanies you as you continue on your way and, between the trees, you can’t help glimpsing the sea, always different, and Panarea, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi Vulcano and Lipari, as if it were possible to stretch out a hand and touch them.
On the way, before each bend, there are narrow paths which let you take short cuts.
Across the most rugged part of the mountain, towards the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Terzito, there are paths which were once the only ways of reaching the top, but these are difficult and advisable only for very experienced walkers.
Along the paths there are steps, cut out of the ground.
The steps are made from large stones and old tree trunks, which cover this side of the mountain, and are the only possible things to hold on to.
All around nature invites you to take a closer look at the plant life.
Some rare trees found here are the holm oak, which once formed an impenetrable forest all over the island.
The feeling of peace and tranquillity during the climb is to be relished. In the sight of pines, oaks and so on you should feel part of a complex world, worthy of greater respect.
Almost at the top, a sudden break in the walk, attracts your eyes to the horizon.
This happens because of the fire barrier which rounds the whole of Monte Fossa, taking away part of its green mantle.
The countryside changes continuously. The thick vegetation gives way to steppe and rocks. You can also look up to catch a glimpse of another surprise offered by Monte Fossa.
It is Eleonora’s falcon, the symbol of Salina for naturalists, with spectacular flying techniques and an imposing wing span. It is a very rare bird and looks like a fast black arrow in the bright blue sky.
After the steppe, you find the ferns, a small short group, which increase in number and size as you approach the crater.
Reaching a viewpoint on the edge of the crater, large rocks of white and red colouring appear out of the brush.
From here you just get a glimpse of the seven pearls of the Mediterranean. Stromboli, with its plume of smoke, is the most spectacular.
The perfect cone shape, the crater surrounded by an often menacing cloud, give it a fairy-tale air. Monte Porri is equally spectacular in its impressiveness.
You are on top of the highest volcano of the entire archipelago (968 metres), its crater is 100 metres deep and has a diameter of 600-700 metres.
Here there are more ferns. They border all the paths, invade the crater, more and more numerous, bigger and bigger. They surround you, transporting you into a fantasy world of gnomes, elves, fairies and whatever your imagination creates. It seems as if nature is asking us to forget all our ailments, pain, disappointments, boredom, desperation and sadness and instead to rejoice and celebrate its appearance on the slopes of Monte Fossa.
It doesn’t matter if, instead of a gnome, you meet a dormouse, or, instead of an elf, you see a wild rabbit. These are, in any case, inhabitants of the woodland that are very difficult to see.
Nights on the Fossa are full of magic and romanticism; a warm sleeping bag and a glass of malmsey are all you need, the rest is done by the charm of being in a volcanic crater at night, surrounded by giant chestnut trees.
Between the branches, the stars are like little lights fighting off the dark, while the singing of the crickets counts the seconds, allowing us to forget time and concentrate on infinity.
On awakening, early in the morning, the spell vanishes. Daylight pushes between the leafy branches of the chestnuts and it is almost a duty to go to the edge of the crater to watch the sunrise.
One by one, as if by magic, the other islands appear on the horizon, reminding us that another day has begun and it is time to go down and face new adventures in the Eolian Islands.
MALFA AND POLLARA
A short stretch of road, with a few bends, takes you from Santa Marina to Malfa, on the northern coast, after passing vines and rugged gorges. Malfa is the biggest village on the island and is situated near the Giovi Valley, which goes down to the sea between Monte Porri and Monte Rivi.
Its name probably comes from the Amalfitani who emigrated here in the 12th century, attracted by the incentives offered by the Normans to repopulate the islands.
Malvasia vines are cultivated, as well as capers, and raisins (la passulina) are produced.
Fishing has always been important and now tourism, which increases every year.
The little port, called Scalo Galera, is only suitable for small craft. There is a concrete slipway to pull up fishing boats.
On the night of Saint Lawrence it is lit up by a firework display, in honour of the patron.
Moving on from Malfa the road climbs up the slopes of Monte Porri and, after a final bend, you are on the plateau of Pollara, with its small scattered houses: it is a natural amphitheatre, of volcanic origin, with a sheer drop down to the sea. It is all that remains of the largest crater on the islands, with a diameter of more than 1 km.
A fertile sunny hollow, bordered by Monte Porri.
The principal resource for the 60 inhabitants is the caper picking from May to August.
The bay is closed off to the north by a promontory, ‘Perciato’, worn down by the sea which breaks against it incessantly. You can see the boat shelters dug out of the tuff by fishermen. Out to sea is a crag, left behind by geological subsidence, and, in the distance, Filicudi and Alicudi.
To reach the beach, possibly the loveliest in the islands, you pass behind the church and follow a road, partly in tarmac and partly in cobblestones, for about a kilometre. Malfa district council plans to name the new beach road after Massimo Troisi.
In 1994 the film Il Postino (the Postman), based on a novel by Antonio Skarmeta and inspired by the exile of Pablo Neruda, was set at Pollara.
It was filmed in the house of an artist, Pippo Cafarella, used as the dwelling of the Chilean poet played by Philippe Noiret.
The house is an attraction for many visitors every year, charmed by the film, the rustling of the wind and the peace of this place.
The countryside here is full of broom, heather and caper flowers.
LENI AND RINELLA
The last part of our itinerary takes us to Rinella and Leni. Leni, called Lenoi by the Greeks, comes from the name of the containers for crushing grapes, obviously grown even then.
It is spread out on the plateau between the two volcanoes and enjoys a cooler climate, while allowing summer visitors to reach the beach at Rinella in a few minutes. Today the village of Rinella has grown, but a few decades ago it was just a few fishermen’s cottages, the landing place and boat shelters dug out of the tuff, near the beach.
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