Stromboli – Discovering the island


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Leaving behind us the beach of Scari, with its fishing boats and the coast road we climb up towards the Church of Saint Vincent. It is a narrow road, very lively in summer. The houses are not close together and you can still see some in old Eolian style: white cubic houses which stand up better to earth tremors.

Architecturally simple and practical with yards and ‘e pulera’, circular columns which supported the trellis-work ‘cannizzi’ used for drying grapes in the sun. The walk is pleasant among palm trees, cacti, caper bushes, geraniums and bougainvillea.

You arrive at the church of Saint Vincent and get a view of the village from its terrace.
It is a small shrine of 1615 which became a church in 1725 and has been enlarged and restored.

Nearby, in the sea, Strombolicchio stands out, a large crag which looks like a fortress. It is part of the internal and modified lava of the oldest volcano in the islands. From the church a track leads, almost straight up, to the top of the volcano. The path climbs from 195 metres at the semaforo San Vincenzo to 450 metres at Prima Rina, without difficulty: there is a beautiful contrast between the green bushes and black sand. The next part, called Liscione, is difficult, rocky and subject to landslides.

Your reward appears as if by magic, after two hours of climbing: the craters. At this point we suggest you continue to the Pizzo and, along a narrow path, to the Vancori. This is the highest point of Stromboli, with a sheer drop down to Ginostra. From here, with good visibility, you can see Etna, Sicily, the Straits of Messina and the Calabrian coast as far as Scalea. From the church of Saint Vincent it is also possible to head for San Bartolo.

During the walk the houses are very scattered, but come closer together around the church, built in 1801. Along the route there are numerous paths which lead down to the shore: peaceful and worth seeing for the colours and smells of the plants and the architecture of the houses.

WHERE TO SWIM

If you haven’t got a boat, there are many lovely little coves.
We recommend three black sandy beaches: the less crowded Forgia Vecchia, 300 metres south of the quay at Scari, in the beautiful setting of the sandy expanses coming from the summit of the volcano down to the sea; Ficogrande, easy to reach, halfway between Scari and Piscità, with bars and restaurants and Strombolicchio very nearby; finally the long sandy beach after Piscità. From here a mule-track takes you, after three hours climbing, to the vulcanological observatory on the ridge opposite the Sciara del Fuoco and the Pizzo (918 metres).

The craters are just 100 metres away and it is a spectacle to watch the explosions, which occur at regular intervals.

DAYTIME EXCURSIONS ON THE ISLAND

Stromboli was already famous in ancient times for its tireless volcano, which provides an unforgettable experience almost every day for the tens of thousands of tourists that climb it every year. Apart from this well known attraction, the island is also blessed with an unspoilt natural environment that is unjustly overlooked, being overshadowed as it is by the ‘giant’ of the volcano. Stromboli is covered by luxuriant vegetation and is a stop off point for hundreds of species of migratory birds that can easily be observed using binoculars. Recently volunteers from the Italian Alpine Club of Naples have restored old pathways that can now be used by walkers in search of unexpected surprises.

CEMETERY PATH

Duration: 1 hour      Difficulty: none
Minimum equipment necessary: sports shoes and water.
This path begins at the church of Saint Vincent and is the easiest of all. It can be used by children and elderly people without any problem.
You first follow via Soldato Francesco Natoli, which leads to the geological station.
After leaving the main road you walk along a path surrounded by thick scented Mediterranean brush: you can see specimens of broom, gorse, white and pink varieties of rockrose, euphorbia, heather, mastic tree and a few secular holm oaks, what remains of the thick woodland that once covered the whole island. The path comes to an end at a picturesque cemetery that has recently been tidied up.
This cemetery dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and you can still see original majolica tiles on some of the tombs.
The route continues towards the new cemetery and, after a long series of steps, comes back onto the main street of the village, which will quickly bring you back to the square in front of the church of Saint Vincent.

MULTIPLE PATH

Duration: 4 hours    Difficulty: moderate
Departure time: early morning (6-7am)
Minimum equipment necessary: hiking boots and water.

This route takes you along a series of paths and lets you see the most interesting and attractive areas around the village without too much effort. You leave from San Vincenzo and head towards Piscità, then, after the bakery, climbing the steps that lead to the cemeteries. The first part of the route is the path described in the first itinerary, which you follow in the opposite direction as far as the turning for the geological station. From this point you take path n° 3, which climbs for a while, among the cane-breaks and the broom, until you come to path n° 14, which goes down into the village, passing by a cave that was once used as a place for producing olive oil. This final stretch of the route follows the edge of the ‘Forgia Vecchia’, a site of lava emission in the ancient structure of the Paleostromboli. The entire route passes through Mediterranean scrub with its various typical species of plant. You will often be able to see Buzzards and Ravens marking out their territory. The final part of the walk is at an altitude of about 100 metres and gives you the chance to enjoy a marvellous view of the sea and the Scari district. You then arrive back on the main street of the village and return to the square of San Vincenzo in about 10 minutes.

PATH TO GINOSTRA

Duration: 5 hours    Difficulty: moderate
Minimum equipment necessary: hiking boots essential, water.

We advise the help of an authorised guide because of particularly demanding route. This is certainly the most attractive path on the island, as it follows the coastline from the village of Stromboli to the village of Ginostra, passing through some wild countryside. Unforgettable. No more than 10 people are allowed on this path at any one time and is advisable only for experienced walkers, since the whole route is o lava rocks and is therefore very tiring, even though it is completely flat. At one point you need to use a rope to get over a rock wall 3 metres high or, alternatively, you can wade through the knee-deep water. This route is not advised for elderly people. You leave from the jetty at Scari and walk along Scari beach as far as Forgia Vecchia, the place from which the incandescent rocks of ancient Paleostromboli once fell. From the end of the pebble beach the path continues at sea level across the pyroclastic rocks of the ancient Stromboli. After passing Punto Omo you come to the beautiful plateau of Lena, where olives and capers were grown up to the middle of the century. You can still see the shelters used by the farmers who had to stay here for several days. These shelters have been restored and are a very rare example of dwellings that integrate perfectly into the natural environment. You can also still see the drystone terraces used for growing olives. During the migration period this plateau is populated by numerous rare species of bird, particularly the Dartford warbler and various wading birds. You can also see Ravens’ nesting along the route (May-August). The path continues across the rocks as far as Punta Lazzaro, which marks the beginning of the village of Ginostra. After stopping off in some natural pools created by lava flows that reached the sea, you take a rural path that brings you to the village of Ginostra in about half an hour. From here the hydrofoil takes you back to Stromboli in 10 minutes.

The excursions are described by Antonino Aquilone of the Italian Alpine Guides Association information office in Piazza San Vincenzo

Over the last seventy years the volcano has emitted 700 cubic metres of lava a day. The volcanic activity is accompanied by a muffled sound like an explosion, caused by the hydrogen present in the mixture of gases that are given off. The inhabitants of the island refer to this phenomenon saying that ‘Iddu parla’ (he speaks).

NOTICE FOR INEXPERT CLIMBERS

The climb to the craters is not a short easy walk for those who are not accustomed to hiking in the mountains. There is a difference in height of 900 metres, often with steep gradients and stretches covered with sand and ash, which make the going hard. It requires a great deal of effort and should only be undertaken in excellent physical condition and with appropriate equipment. It is absolutely inadvisable for people with a heart condition or other health problems (asthma, diabetes, vertigo etc.). During the climb it is better not to wear contact lenses. Basic equipment includes the following: climbing boots, hiking boots or sports shoes with thick socks; torch with spare batteries. It is advisable to wear light clothing for the climb and to take thicker clothes to wear once you arrive at the top, where the wind can be very strong. You should take a spare T-shirt, jumper, wind-cheater and waterproof. As far as food is concerned we suggest a packed lunch with fruit, biscuits, chocolate and, in the summer, lemons and at least a litre of water per person.

CLIMBING TO THE CRATERS

The ascent to the craters of Stromboli takes place along a steep pathway which, from the inhabited area, leads first to Punta Labronzo and then rapidly climbs up to Pizzo sopra la Fossa (918m). It’s a lovely walk in the midst of the extraordinary natural sight of frequent volcanic explosions. These make it possible to think back over the geological history of this island, from its old base, called Paleostromboli, to the present volcano. Coming from Sicily to the Scari quay, the southern coast of the island shows a lot of deep valleys, bordered by steep slopes made of scoriae alternated with lava streams. These are the deeply carved slopes of the old volcano which one hundred thousand years ago emerged from the water and which constitutes the frame of the island. In the northern and western area the most recent material, thrown out in the last twenty-six thousand years, has completely covered the old volcanic structure: in fact the villages of San Vincenzo and San Bartolo and the small pathway leading to Punta Labronzo lie on the sides of the most important among the recent volcanoes, the so-called Neostromboli. It was a very active volcano, whose flows covered the western side of Paleostromboli and are now hidden by the cane-brakes near the sea and by thick Mediterranean bush further up. On the pathway to the Pizzo, about 600 m above sea level, it’s possible to meet thin rust-coloured lava flows which represent the last obstacle you have to overcome in order to catch sight of the most northern among the active volcanoes. The sensation of being on an active volcano is clear while walking along the first bends of the top pathway when below you can see the ‘Sciara del Fuoco’, a vast hollow in which all materials thrown out from the craters are canalised. It is possible to hear simultaneously the echoes of the explosions coming from the top of the volcano and the volcanic bombs on the bottom of the Sciara. After being flung into the air, such materials fall to the ground, roll along the slope and dive into the sea very loudly. When on top of the Pizzo, after about three hours’ walk, the sight you are confronted with at once gives you the sensation of being on ‘living’ ground. The dense smoke, the yellowy colour of the ground and the acrid smell of sulphur give the sensation of approaching hell’s door, but it is the frequent explosions that call the visitor’s attention to what makes this island unique: the crateral terrace which stands 120 m above the Pizzo and which contains the three active craters with their numerous eruptive mouths. The Pizzo is what remains of the border of an ancient crater (that of Neostromboli) whose western part dropped into the sea about five thousand years ago. Its vertical walls are still visible at the sides of the ‘Sciara del Fuoco’. In the hollow, provoked by the vast landslide, the present craters have formed and have only partially filled the old depression with their erupted materials. This geological process is not new to Stromboli: it’s enough, in fact, to take a look southwards and observe the Vancori ridge, which represents the remains of an older volcanic centre, which dropped into the sea about 13,000 years ago. The frequent and rather regular eruptive activity of the volcano is always accompanied by strong explosions and by the emission of bombs and lapilli, which becomes  a firework display in the evening and at night. Observation from the Pizzo proves captivating and the explosions show numerous variations both in intensity and typology. Sometimes they consist of jets of melted lava accompanied by acute hisses, produced by small sharp cones which take the name of ‘hornitos’ (small ovens in Spanish), other times of big explosions which disperse a large quantity of incandescent bombs and lapilli into the air, accompanied by loud, deafening bangs. Southwards you can often observe clouds of black ash coming out of the crater which, after climbing up into the air in the form of columns, drop fine sand onto the visitors’ heads, obliging them to take a dip in the sea at the end of the excursion. This eruptive explosive activity is produced by large bubbles which flow out of the melted magma coming from the eruptive mouths. On the basis of the sizes of bubbles and of the frequency of their appearance, we can have the wide range of eruptive activities mentioned above and which together give birth to that special activity defined as ‘Strombolian’ by vulcanologists. This eruptive behaviour is common to all basaltic volcanoes of the Earth and represents the most frequent type of volcanic activity. The view of this extraordinary geological phenomenon is relatively safe for visitors from the point of observation of Pizzo sopra la Fossa. Such a view may be pleasantly remembered provided you are prudent. The bombs that accompany each explosion can reach the weight of tens of kilos and a temperature of 1,000°C, and their impact with a human body might prove catastrophic. Such protections as crash helmets or heavy clothes are useless. Approaching the mouths in order to take photos or to film is not advisable. We advise visitors not to go too near the small stone barriers (the so-called outposts), unconsciously erected near the southern crater, since no protection from the falling materials is guaranteed. Never descend to the narrow saddle under the Pizzo, near the active craters, because it is a dangerous area where eruptive materials often fall back and the volcanic fumes make breathing difficult. Even if the eruptive materials fall back near the craters, it unwise to stay the night on top of the volcano. Stromboli, in fact, like all active volcanoes, may undergo rapid changes as far as the intensity of eruptions is concerned: they cannot be easily foreseen and can affect the whole summit area, Pizzo included. Stromboli is a mountain and as such it presents some areas with great difficulty of access, especially at night. The unevenness of the ground and the constant eruptive activity make it advisable to seek the help of expert guides who know the volcano well and who are aware of the conditions of the eruptive activity. They can help tourists in their excursion, showing them the natural beauty of the landscapes they see and making the view of the most longed-for spectacle, the ‘firework display’, safe.

Mauro Coltelli

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