Many people visit Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands to climb the volcano in the late afternoon to see the crater and the volcanic explosions close up when it turns dark. This trip, which can only be undertaken with a guide, is of course hugely popular. Where else can you climb an active volcano in (relative) safety, see it in action after dark, and then return to a comfortable hotel room?
For some people, though, climbing a 3000 ft mountain, and then coming down in pitch darkness is just too much.
Fortunately, there are other ways to experience Stromboli’s fireworks. Although less dramatic and exciting, these are still unique and wonderful experiences that make the effort of getting to Stromboli well worthwhile.
The first of these, which I would highly recommend, is to walk to the Osservatorio Ristorante. This is a pleasant restaurant and pizzeria, which has a large outdoor terrace, from where you can see the eruptions at the summit.
It is a really pleasant walk of approx. 4 km from the port area, mostly gently uphill. The first part of the walk is through the bustling Stromboli village, past numerous souvenir shops and pretty whitewashed buildings. After passing the second of two large churches, the road soon becomes a footpath which zigzags and contours upwards to eventually arrive at the ristorante. We did this walk just before dusk, on a beautiful afternoon, and with the sun going down low it was stunningly beautiful. The views out over the sea to the islet of Strombolicchio were really superb, and the walk was one of the highlights of our trip.
Right on cue, as we arrived at the Osservatorio, there was an explosion at the summit. We heard the roar, and saw the smoke and ash billowing upwards, but it was not yet dark enough to see the light from the lava fountains.
We expected to be sitting out on the terrace, and were a little disappointed that the terrace was only open for viewing, not for dining. But inside the restaurant the dining room and table were lovely. There is a big glass roof window, so we could see what was happening at the summit. We both had a pasta starter dish, followed by a pizza, and shared a bottle of wine. It may not have been the best pizza we have ever had, but it certainly was not the worst. And how could there be a better setting?
To be honest we were a little sceptical that we would actually see much. But we needn’t have worried. As it quickly became dark we were soon treated to a natural firework display, as sprays of lava exploded from the top. This happened several times during our meal, and afterwards we sat on the terrace for a while and saw another eruption from there. (Of course the explosions are totally unpredictable and therefore difficult to photograph!) We also watched the lights from the torches of the tourists up at the summit. Although I greatly envied the people higher up, it was still a very special experience that I will never forget.
The walk back down to the village in darkness was also magical. The path is well surfaced and safe as long as you have a good torch with you. If you are really nervous of walking back in the dark, or if the weather is not good, you can arrange a shuttle back to the port area at the restaurant. We intended to do this, but I am so glad we walked instead because it was so nice. The lack of street lights made the stars of the night sky so much clearer. The moon rose just before we got back to the port – perfect!
Nature Trail to the Viewing Area
Stromboli island was actually quite a surprise. I had expected a bleak, ashy landscape without much vegetation. But around the lower slopes the island is actually quite lush and green. The second way to experience the volcano is to follow a path known as the nature trail to a viewing area. This runs parallel to the main street through Stromboli but at a higher level. As we walked on this path I was amazed at the abundance of wild flowers, lizards, huge grasshoppers and butterflies. It was very different to the barren landscape I had envisioned.
The path was steeper and more demanding than I expected, a ‘nature trail’ conjuring up images of a gentle stroll. It climbed steeply and traversed a couple of deep gorges, before eventually emerging onto a path above the Osservatorio. From here we turned left and climbed up to a viewing platform. This is the highest point you can reach on Stromboli without being accompanied by a guide.
This final climb up to the viewing platform was very steep and (to me) quite difficult. But I am glad we persevered, because the viewing platform was the closest we got to the summit crater.
Unfortunately there was no seat, but there are wooden railings you can lean on whilst staring at the crater. We saw a couple of minor emissions from the summit, and were finally rewarded with a large explosion. Although the light from the lava was not visible as it was at night, we could clearly see large rocks (lava bombs) being hurled from the summit. This explained the fountains we had seen the night before. The ash and steam bellowing upwards were very impressive, and we could clearly hear the accompanying roar. Magnificent!
After scrambling back down the steep part of the climb, we rejoined the main route. This becomes a gentle well-surfaced zigzag path leading down to the Osservatorio – a good place to stop for a pasta lunch on the terrace watching for more explosions. Then a gentle stroll back to our hotel for a quick rest before our final adventure on Stromboli.
Evening Boat Trip
That evening we joined a boat trip round to the other side of Stromboli island to view the volcano at night. I was surprised to find that the boat was actually an inflatable dinghy. It is a good job it was a warm evening because I had not taken a windproof jacket! Fortunately I sat between two people who sheltered me from the worst of the wind. Thank goodness I was not at the front! If you go on this trip – go suitably prepared!
We set of at a fast pace, getting a great view of the gorges we had traversed earlier and the Osservatorio lit up ready for the evening. We then came to a stop off the Sciara del Fuoco (the steep slope where lava and ash fall down to the sea). From this angle you can see just how steep and unstable it is – I would not want to be around if there was a landslide!
Frank, our tour leader, produced a bottle of the lovely sweet local Malvasia wine. When we all had a glass we settled back to watch the volcano.
Unfortunately, though, the weather was changing, and the summit was partly obscured by a thick layer of cloud. It did clear briefly, and we saw a couple of very small emissions, before the cloud covered the summit once again. Even when the summit was clear, the volcano seemed to be very quiet, the eruptions we did see being tiny compared to those of the previous evening. We eventually gave up, and headed back. On the way we could see the long lines of torches belonging to the tourists coming down from the summit. I felt rather sorry for them – all that effort to reach the summit just to be disappointed. Especially after the perfect weather and the regular volcanic activity the night before. But that’s nature…..
If like me you do not feel able to do the evening hike to the summit, don’t be put off visiting Stromboli. It is still a very exciting and memorable experience.
To read about the other islands in our island-hopping tour please see Aeolian Islands.
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.