The Procrastinator’s Perfect Summer Vacation:
If you book now, you’re golden
It’s August 1st. Since June, your Instagram feed has been a scrolling slideshow of friends’ overly saturated travel photos. And you’re bracing for a final, frenzied hurrah this month. Sunsets. Seascapes. Clinking glasses of wine. Above-the-table food shots. You’ve seen it all and heart these photos reluctantly, mostly feeling sorry for yourself that you missed the boat (pun intended) again this year: You “forgot” to book vacation.
Maybe you got too busy with with work or life. Maybe terrorism or Zika (or both) scared you off. Maybe you checked flights only to be shocked by high prices. Whatever your reason, here’s the secret: You’ve played the game well my friend and now you will be rewarded.
There is a perfect place for you and it’s not too late to get there. Remote enough to provide some buffer against the world and best visited in September, when the weather is warm and prices are palatable. Book now, and you’re right on time.
Meet the Aeolian islands. They’re big on Pinterest but, unless you socialize with in-the-know Europeans (and if you do, I’m jealous), you may not recognize the name. Off the coast of Sicily, this archipelago of romantic volcanic rocks is — trust me — not an oxymoron. Here is a hidden land of delicious food, dramatic views, relative privacy and great adventure. It also comes with bragging rights, since few Americans visit.
Intrigued? Without further ado, here’s the how, what, where and when of saving your summer:
Volcano Hopping: Located in the Tyrrhenian Sea lie seven inhabited Aeolian islands, each with a style of its own. Lipari is the largest. Salina the most verdant. Stromboli the feistiest (it’s still an active volcano). Vulcano the earthiest (famous for its mud baths). Filicudi the artsiest. Alicudi the most empty. Panarea the smallest and most chic. Ferries zip daily between them, making it easy to split time between two or three. Or go the relaxing route and stake your claim to one (like we did, not budging from Panarea). Planning a few days in Sicily or Rome on the way home may isn’t a bad idea — is it ever? Plus, it helps break up travel time.
Timing is Everything: There’s a sweet spot between the Aeolians’ August madness and October desolation. These islands have a short season that’s best visited between mid-May and mid-September. We traveled at the end of that time frame, in a climate that could only be described as perfectly lovely. The sea was an ideal swimming temperature, days were balmy (not brutal), hotel rooms were half what they cost two weeks prior and it wasn’t hard to find bathing and boating spots without another soul around. Restaurants and stores were still open at this time, ensuring no activities were limited.
Planes, Trains + Automobiles: Had you booked your trip a month ago, you’d probably have overpaid. We witnessed plane fares drop in August, so now’s a great time to look (our deal came via Skiplagged). Getting here is, admittedly, a triathlon — requiring long hours and multiple means of transportation. But with great effort comes great reward. The Aeolians are only accessible by boat, so you must find your way to a port in Sicily (Milazzo, Palermo) or mainland Italy (Naples, Reggio Calabria). Ferry schedules are less frequent in mid-September, making logistics more challenging — OK Ferry is an indispensable and easy-to-use resource for navigating timetables and buying tickets in advance (essential).
Planning is Overrated: The best part about a trip like this is that (save for the above headache over logistics and the short work of finding a place to stay), you don’t have to plan anything. Small islands in almost-off-season mean no need for dinner reservations, no lists of must-see sites to hit, no hiring of cars, chartering boats, or arranging tour guides. Panarea is actually even car free. You can wander down to the port to find transportation or simply ask your hotel for anything you need (it won’t be much). So pack a carry-on (yes, a carry-on) and just show up. Whichever island you choose, you need little more than a few bathing suits and sandals. Cover-ups and breezy dresses for the girls; shorts and Italian-inspired button-downs for the guys. Bring a book, a pack of cards, sunscreen and bug spray (sure, there are mosquitos here, but at time of writing they’re Zika-free).
The Price is Right: Dreaming of a luxurious Mediterranean vacation for half the price? Who isn’t. In this, September in the Aeolian islands proves surprisingly savvy. Our seaview suite on chic Panarea clocked in at $150 a night and — with its waterside balcony, in-town location and beautifully tiled floors — could easily have charged twice that. We enjoyed the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and a simple, affordable picnic for lunch each day (all hail the Italian bakery). When boating, we opted for the simplest skiff; it was more than enough and decently priced, although did benefit from some haggling. When shopping, I scored with finds ranging from $10 sarongs to $60 personally handmade for you leather sandals. The most genius way to save came in the form pre-dinner drinks, which arrived with so much antipasti, we could easily have skipped dinner. (We didn’t).
Fantasy Island: Here’s what you’ll be posting on your Instagram: Blue blue sea, blue blue sky, crazy rock formations, volcanic smoke shows and, yes, plenty of beautifully plated seafood and clinking glasses of Sicilian wine. Your time here will be spent, at all hours, savoring the view. Days will be divided between the beach, the boat and wandering through picturesque streets past colorful doorways and dripping greenery. You’ll swim. You’ll nap. You’ll read. You’ll play cards and have a picnic. You’ll find each sea cove more stunning than the last. You’ll jump in the water whenever you can. You’ll make sure to never miss a sunset — or the hour of aperitifs. You’ll people watch. You’ll eat (a lot). You’ll drink (a lot too). You’ll stargaze. And at night, you’ll leave your windows open and fall asleep to the sea.
Then, one moment, when you’re dancing on the edge of a volcano in the Mediterranean, you’ll laugh at all those fools who planned their trip in June. How do I know? I get you. I AM you. At least I was last summer.