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Stromboli Travel Guide

Trapped in Paradise: What’s It Like Being Stuck in an Isolated Italian Town Without Roads?

What if that little slice of heaven turned into a trap?

Who wouldn’t love to live in a stunning fisherman village in Sicily, surrounded by translucent blue waters, great views, bleeding-red sunsets, and the pristine wild of prickly pears, capers, fig, and olive trees? Picture yourself swinging on a hammock while sipping a fennel liqueur as the sound of the waves lulls you into sweet self-oblivion. Sounds like an idyllic retreat great for an unplugged stay in a corner of paradise. But what if that little heaven turned into a trap?

Ginostra is a quaint, sleepy hamlet on a secluded flank of the volcanic island of Stromboli, renowned for frequent eruptions. Only a handful of people live here year-round, and moving around is like “swimming in a glass of water,” as Italians would say. It’s a minuscule village. The unique thing about this hamlet–simultaneously intriguing and terrifying–is there are no roads. No way to escape.

Forget cars and scooters. Ginostra is accessible only by boat, dinghy, or small ferry–or you could try walking through the thick vegetation growing on the dangerous volcano slopes. If you need to carry heavy bags or furniture, you can solely rely on wheeled carts, your own two legs (better if sturdy), or if you’re lucky enough to find one available, a donkey. Donkey taxis are a thing on this “island within an island” featuring the tiniest harbor in the world.

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Silvia Marchetti

Experiencing the hamlet as a tourist during summer is heavenly, but during winter it can be hell. Ferry connections aren’t great, and when it’s windy and cold, the sea can be quite nasty. Sometimes, wave size dictates whether or not boats can approach or dock. And it can be quite dangerous. It’s no coincidence that the top snorkeling spot is called “Lazarus Shallows.”

Summers are fun but winters are dead. When there’s bad weather in Ginostra, you’re practically stuck in paradise for who knows how many days or weeks. The most exciting moments then are when the volcanic crater explodes and bright red lava flows (sciare) run down, forming scars on the land. You can also kill time with some eco-conscious birdwatching. I’d likely go insane.

Rubbing shoulders with donkeys and just a few neighbors could wear you down in the long run. Many locals who were born in Ginostra adore it but admit that they were forced to leave to find a job on other nearby islands. But if you’re a hermit-type longing for peace and quality time meditating on the mysteries of the universe, renting a little cottage in Ginostra is recommended. But forget remote-working: mobile connection isn’t a plus point.

I arrive to Ginostra on a fisherman boat that parks in a small bay. From there, I have to climb up a killer path of ragged step stones all the way to the hamlet perched atop a cliff, under a scorching sun. Breathless, my legs scream and my heart pounds. I imagine climbing up and down the path several times per day–a fantastic workout in a natural gym.

Silvia Marchetti

The first thing that hits me is the blinding white-washed and pastel-colored huts built in typical Aeolian architecture style, with stone columns and panoramic patios for dinner under starry skies. The scent of citrus fruits fills the air. Roofs are used as open-air living rooms. A maze of steps and narrow paths, made from uneven jet-black volcanic stones, connect the dwellings, and the more you go uphill, the closer you get to the crater. Hammocks are tied to each house column, and socks and underwear hung to dry are part of the scenery. Most of the spartan, no-frill accommodations have direct access to the sea cliffs. The morning ritual is in Ginostra is, in fact, stepping out of bed, putting on a swimsuit, and going for a wake-up dip amid sea urchins and starfish.

Bright red and pink bougainvilleas grow on brick walls and climb over the dwellings, cropped around a mesmerizing old chapel with frescoed walls and painted majolicas. The religious spot is the stage of Ginostra’s social buzz: visitors and locals get together for sunset drinks under thatched roofs or sit on stone benches overlooking the sea. They grab a cocktail and some fishy finger foods at the tiny supermarket/bar next door to the chapel and wait for the sun to sink into the pink-purplish sea. When the aperitif has fully tingled the taste buds, they indulge in lavish lobster dishes at the tavern. Delicious homemade ice cream and slushes made with local fruits are served for dessert. Other than these get-together spots, there’s nothing else in the village–no boutiques, no pubs, no postal services, no ATM. Nada. At night, it’s often pitch dark as the electricity is down to a minimum, and you need to carry a flashlight.

I picture what’s it like during the cold months when tourists have long gone. The sea is rough and the ferry boat can’t even get close. One could still walk across the vegetation and embark on a two-hour trek to the other side of the volcano where Stromboli’s main harbor is, but unless you know your way around it there is a chance you could get lost. Islanders call the volcano Iddu, or “Him,” out of fear and respect.

One way to pass time on the lonely island is learning about Ginostra’s fascinating origin tales. Legend has it that stranded fishermen from a shipwreck washed ashore here during a storm. Once they fully recovered, they fell in love with the place and decided to build a hamlet. Other ancient tales suggest primitive men somehow reached this remote spot and built a settlement (there are still some dusty traces of it), or that Greek sailors founded the village. The old Hellenic name of Ginostra is gunaykos, which refers to “women,” and it once served as a prison for Turkish girls.

A paradise-like prison, but still a prison.

fouDor February 3, 2022

One does not think thete are many little islands like this still hiding in the Med...
nice article! thnx!