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Royal Clipper anchored off Panarea

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Nothing could have prepared me for the two last ports of call on this unique Clipper cruise. Although very different in many respects, Panarea and Ventotene both exude that ultimate "island feeling". Early on Thursday, Royal Clipper anchors off the town of Lipari to get clearance from the local authorities before setting a course amongst the Aeolian Islands towards Panarea. Some guide books state that there is nothing much to see and do here. With only 300 inhabitants you should not expect a thriving tourist industry here and yes, the only beach on the island is smallish and black.  Still, the village of San Pietro enters high in my personal top five of cruise ports. Serene, utterly beautiful and unspoilt, Panarea comes close to my idea of heaven on earth.

Lipari First look at Panarea Panarea still life The town of San Pietro, Panarea
The town of San Pietro, Panarea Panarea still life Royal Clipper anchored off Panarea Panarea housing ... not bad!

Located to the northeast of Sicily, the Aeolian Islands are a group of volcanic islands that are truly unique. Largest island is Lipari; smallest is Panarea. In summer, the islands are jam packed with tourist that come to the islands to dive in the crystal clear waters, to climb active volcanoes, immerge in natural mud baths, walk and sail. On Panarea, most visitors come to wind down as there is not much to do, apart from the archeological remains of a Neolithic village and the lures of the warm sea. There is a regular ferry service that docks at the jetty in San Pietro, one of only three villages on the island. As we arrive by tender from Royal Clipper, we see a truck parked on the jetty, unloading timber. We soon find out that this small jetty is the only place to park cars and trucks, as the roads on the island are not wide enough to allow cars. 

Panarea main street Panarea still life Panarea Panarea
Panarea Panarea Royal Clipper anchored off Panarea All Aboard!

The village of San Pietro is all you would imagine of a storybook Italian hideaway. The feeling of "La Dolce Vita" hovers over the whitewashed town, looking picture perfect with its blue and pink shutters, blossoming bougainvillea and oleander. It is all too obvious that the rich & famous have already discovered Panarea and we are in awe at some of the immaculately kept houses that we discover on our walking tour of San Pietro. It is quiet here, except for the sound of the remarkable three-wheeled scooters that we see carrying everything from refrigerators to people. It is also very hot and after climbing up the hill and getting lost in the maze of alleyways we are happy to find a tiny supermarket laden with ice cream. After some serious souvenir shopping in a local boutique we make our way back to the tiny port, where Royal Clipper's tender is waiting for us and where we see the empty timber truck maneuvering on the jetty to be ready to be shipped back to the mainland. Ecstatic about all we have seen today we rejoin our clipper, knowing the evening will be unforgettable too.

Moonlight sailing Stromboli Stromboli Stromboli

After we set sail at 6:00 pm, Royal Clipper leisurely drifts northward and while we are enjoying another excellent shipboard dinner in the Clipper Restaurant with newfound friends, the island of Stromboli comes into view. For more than twenty centuries travelers have written about the active crater on this island, and rightfully so. When we get out on deck, we are literally speechless by the sight of the full moon shining over the inhospitable, barren island. There, flowing from the mountain top towards the glass-like waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea is an orange path of lava. In the warm evening, Royal Clipper's passengers gaze at this natural phenomena. Can anything top this?

Ventotene Ventotene Porto Romano, Ventotene Ventotene still life

Well, Ventotene comes close! The island is part of the Ponte Archipelago, roughly located to the northwest of Naples. With its 750 inhabitants and a regular car ferry service to the mainland, Ventotene is a little larger and far busier than Panarea, although both island share a steady influx of divers that discover the clear waters. From the tender dock at Porto Romano we immediately stumble into the hustle and bustle of the main town, perched on a limestone cliff, with dive shops and small restaurants lining the marina. This the place to "Think Pink", as most houses are painted either yellow or ... bright pink. The result is a photographer's dream; we wander through the pretty town square with its tall palm trees, through narrow cobblestone streets surrounded by rambling buildings. On the black sandy beach in town, "La Dolce Vita" comes to life under colorful umbrellas, while up on the cliffs people sip another cappuccino on a shady terrace. How Italian!

Ventotene Ventotene Beach at Ventotene Ventotene still life
Porto Romano, Ventotene Ventotene Ventotene still life Ventotene

That evening, all sails are hoisted as Royal Clipper sets course for her summer home base of Civitavecchia. When the sounds of Vangelis die down, the Cruise Director proudly announces that the engines are shut down and we are actually sailing, making a speed of 9 knots. Seeing the sun slowly set over distant lands with the sound of the wind in the sails I stand at the railing and make a solemn promise to return to one of the Star Clippers soon. This company must be one of the best kept secrets in the cruise industry! So if you are looking for an utterly relaxing week in casual comfort, visiting uncrowded ports of call on a magnificent sailing ship, I can only very highly recommend to go "Clippering", too!


Photos and text: 2003 Bart de Boer - www.ShipParade.com

First published on August 30, 2003

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