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It is impossible not to visit Panarea if you go to the Aeolian Islands. At least once you shall land on this place, that became very famous after a film explaining all the crazy summer entertainment over there. But you better come to Panarea in the low season. Because then you will “understand” this island and its charming mysteries. To begin with the name: a weird one, latin derived and used since the 7th century. What does it mean? No one knows. Maybe it is connected with the Sicilian word “panaru” (basket) due to the shape of the island.

History of Panarea

A very very old land, Panarea was born as a large volcano. Its crater was enormous, as you can still see from the remains after the explosion that made it collapse under the sea. Panarea itself, plus the other islet crating an archipelago inside the archipelago, is a broken part of that old crater. And it is still active somehow. On the northern coast of the island steam vents are hiding among the rocks.

Panarea was inhabited since prehistoric ages, and it was exploited by Greeks and Romans. Its best period arrived with the Arab era and lasted from the 9th to the 16th century. Also the Normans helped improve the local economy, especially the fishing activities. In 1500, after the cruel attacks of the Turkish pirate Dragut the people left the coast. First they moved to the rocky hill still called “Castle of Salvation”, then they abandoned the island. In the 18th century, some farmers from Lipari decided to settle there again. The 280 inhabitants of today are their descendants. Panarea – as a territory – belongs to

no house numbers, poems instead!

the municipality of Lipari (district of Messina).

What to see in Panarea

Ninety per cent of people arrive in Panarea to enjoy the sea, the sun and the disco. Very few try to see beyond. Certainly the island offers some of the most beautiful beaches of the Aeolian Islands, although the only sandy beach is Cala Zimmari. Romance, beauty and a hint of wild life are also breathed in Cala Junco, with its amphitheater shape, and in Calcara. In this last beach you can see the volcanic steam coming out of the rocks.

As mentioned, however, Panarea was also a prehistoric town as can be seen from the archaeological sites of Cala Junco and Capo Milazzese. And if you go beyond the search for bars and discos, you can admire the beauty of the current modern village. Especially the typical Aeolian architecture of the houses: all white, with light blue or green fixtures, and the domed roof that channels the rainwater towards the gutters. So they collect in the containers the water necessary for drinking and washing. Speaking of houses … as you wander through the alleys and miniature stairways of the village, stop and observe something special. There are no house numbers here. Each house is distinguished from the others by a poetic name, a saying or a real poem!

When to go and how to get there

The advice is to go to Panarea in spring or late autumn. Because the beauty of the island is completely disfigured in the summer, by masses of crowds looking only for alcohol and dance. However, if you come in the summer you will still have the opportunity to visit the island and enjoy its beaches … elbowing a little! If you really like summer, visit Panarea between 25 June and 2 July, when they celebrate  the patron saint St.Peter. A show of colors, fires and devotion that fills the whole island for a week.

Panarea can be reached by hydrofoils and ferries departing from Milazzo or Lipari. The island is also connected to the ports of Messina, Reggio Calabria and – much further away , with a 5 hour journey – Naples. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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