Photos by Joel Richard
You don’t need another Australian telling you about how good their trip to Italy was.
We get it, the pasta was good, the pizza was better and you discovered an absurd orange cocktail called an Aperol Spritz—congratulations, we’re insufferable. Anyway, take a seat because I’m going to tell you about that time I went to Italy and had the best pizza, pasta, and Aperol Spritzes of my life on a small island off the north coast of Sicily.
There’s a few boxes people feel they’ve got to tick on a trip to Italy: Rome for the history, Tuscany for the wine, and Positano for the €15 beach chairs on steaming hot black rocks and ample dick stickers. But if you’re looking for something slightly removed from the mainland crowds, the Aeolian Islands is your ticket. A few hours ferry ride from the north coast of Sicily, you’ll find a group of seven volcanic islands plonked in the middle of deep blue waters. Some are worth a day trip, others are for those who wouldn’t be caught dead in anything but white linen, but Salina, population 4000, is where you should head.
The whole island looks good enough to be the set of a classic Italian film, and that’s because it is. The 1994 Italian film Il Postino was filmed here, in the bay at the far side of the island named Pollara (also the best place to go watch the sunset with a few cold beers at the end of the day, bonus points if you can find the crumbling church on the hill too). The writer and star of the film, Massimo Troisi, put heart surgery on the backburner to finish the film and suffered from a fatal heart attack the day after shooting wrapped up. True story.
There’s Air BnBs, guesthouses and hotels all over the island, but Malfa is the town you want to stay in. It’s a prime spot to explore all sides of the island, close to a lazy town centre and near the bus route if you choose not to equip yourself with a scooter. Get a scooter though, because there’s nothing like driving around skinny roads on a creaky old Vespa with volcanoes above and vineyards stretching down to the cliff’s edge below. Bellisima.
Before eating and drinking yourself into a stupor for the day, find the stony path cut into the cliff that will take you down to Punta di Scario, i.e., the main beach. It ain’t big, and it’s got those pesky black rocks instead of sand, but hire yourself a blow-up mattress from the tanned teenagers at the bottom of the stairs for a few bucks, get a fat sandwich from the family-owned café, and you’re set for the next few hours. If the heat gets too much on the rocks, well, the blow-up mattress floats for a reason. Also, the aforementioned mattress hawkers spend a good portion of the day climbing to neck-break heights up the cliffs before diving into the water below, which helps pass the time.
Then get your scooter and putt around to the small town of Rinella, on the south of the island. But instead of heading to the main beach (Spiaggia di Rinella) head around to Punta di Megna. There’s a path that’ll take you the whole way, where you’ll find a rocky pocket of island that no one bothers to walk to, except some older Italians hell-bent on tanning every nook and cranny of their leathery Mediterranean bodies. They’re happy to share, but.
Do you like salt? You’ll like the food on Salina then. Aside from gigantic, crusty pizzas woodfired to perfection and fresh pasta made by little nonnas they keep in cages in the kitchen out back, the locals love everything salty, or birthed from salt. Capers, olives, pistachios, and seafood rule.
The best pizza joint in Malfa is smack bang in the middle of a tiny main street. It won’t show in Google maps, but if you go to the place that’s pumping right next to Hotel Ravesi, you’re in the right place. We tried to tell the waiter in Italian they had the, “Best tiramisu we’d ever eaten,” but he looked at us as if we’d spat on his loved one’s grave. I think we told him it was shit.
Down the road is your afternoon spot and it’s called Irish Café, for some reason. It’s where all the locals go and talk shit on all the other locals who’re at home that afternoon, or nearby tourists who can’t speak Italian. I don’t know this for sure because I can’t speak any Italian, but I did hear that Francesco’s wife Maria stared a beat too long at Giovanni the mechanic’s glistening torso and Valentina’s not too bloody pleased about it. Mio Dio. Anyway, go here after a full day in the sun and order gelato/granite/coffee/beer, and don’t move for a few hours. You’re welcome.