Aeolian Island of Salina: Hiking a Volcano leads to a Lovely Lunch

In the middle of the Sicilian island of Salina, the ValdiChiesa (Valley of the Church) runs between two volcanoes, “Fossa delle Felci” (3156 ft) and “Monte dei Porri” (2821 feet–pictured here).

As soon as I arrived in the little town of Leni to stay the night, I wanted to climb the big one, Fossa, the highest point in the Aeolians. (Mt. Etna by comparison is almost 11,000 feet.)

I stopped first in the bar in Leni for a caffè granita with brioche (coffee poured over finely crushed ice with cream on top and a warm bun). Invented by the Arabs, who brought ice down from Mt. Etna, this is one of the best treats in Sicily.

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I set off on a well-defined trail with lava rock walls…
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Where the famous Salina capers were growing wild and blooming.
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The volcano I was going to climb, Fossa delle Fulci, was to my right and, the valley vineyards and the other volcano, Monte dei Porri, were to my left (pictured here).
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The path led from Leni up to the Santuario Della Madonna del Terzito at the base of Fossa delle Fulci. Records of the church date back to 657, but this building was begun in 1622 when an islander was clearing the woods, found the ruins of the old church and had a vision of the Madonna.

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Salvatore D’Amico also related the story of a shrine to Madonna dei Terzi built on the island of Ischia off Naples. The shrine was built to commemorate three brothers who sailed from Salina in 1855 carrying sulphur from the volcano to other wine growing regions. The vines on the island of Ischia were being destroyed by a kind of mold and maybe also phylloxera. The brothers offered their magical cure but were denounced by the priests, who said they were heretical. The town made a deal nonetheless to have their vines treated. As payment, they promised half of the harvest.

When time came for the harvest, the priests convinced the townspeople to pay for a huge celebration and festival in celebration of God’s miracle cure of the vines instead of paying the brothers. One of them died, and the other two left poorer than they came. Recognizing their wrong, the townspeople built the shrine. Legend has it that the brothers were the first to recognize sulphur as being a natural antidote to mold, and that they eventually passed the knowledge to the French in Burgundy. In any case, sulphur and copper are the only treatments allowed today in organic grape growing.

I started up the moist path and was enveloped by what is known in wine terroir terminology as macchia mediterraneo, the aromas of herbs, bushes, plants, and trees in the Mediterranean. It was mix of spicy, herbaceous, evergreen, saltiness (from the sea)…

As I gained altitude, a thick (an uncharacteristic for June) fog descended on the mountain.
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I was having trouble reading the map and getting my bearings when Malou and Niclas, a Swedish couple on their honeymoon, emerged. Niclas, navigator of boats in the harbor of Gothenburg, turned out to be an expert mountain map reader as well.
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We fell into silence as we passed through the mossy, mysterious quiet.
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The top of the crater was completely socked in by the fog. Niclas and Milou took a photo of me in front of the place that there would have been a view.
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The fog cleared just as we began our descent.
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We could see the Church of the Madonna dei Terzi and the verdant valley seeming to catapult into the sea.
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And the volcano opposite us.
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Then, after a long traverse across old lava flows,
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We came to a spot where we could see the nearby Stromboli volcano, still active with vapor drifting out of the cone. (There are frequent ferries from Salina to Stromboli and also a special boat tour at night.)

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Walking back to Leni, we ran into Giovanni, Salvatore D’Amico’s cellar assistant. We asked where to go for lunch, and he took us a few steps down the path to his uncle’s, Galletta, a family run B and B with a terrace restaurant overlooking the sea. Aldo Galetta, his uncle, seated us and opened a bottle of local wine.
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He brought plate after plate of homemade, local vegetables (too many to add all the photos here):

Pickled Caper Fruit
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Eggplant Parmesan
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Tempura Veggies
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Then, fresh pasta…
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Dessert
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And Malvasia di Lipari for dipping biscotti
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Niclas, Milou and I left with a sense of the magic of Italy and of this island. For all three of us, the goal of a strenuous hike leading to a summit had morphed into a day of pleasure including new friendship and a completely unexpected, two-hour feast.

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Tags: Hiking, Sicily, volcano
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