Filicudi Stories - Part 1

A travel story about the Sicilian island in the Aeolian archipelago

by Abigail Lewis

Filicudi is not for everyone. There are no nightclubs throbbing with techno, no 5-star hotels, no silky, white sand beaches. Alternatively, you can enjoy an evening of dancing at mother and daughter run Villa La Rosa’s disco; you can stay in one of Pepe’s vacation rentals, sans air-conditioning and equipped with an outdoor kitchen and hammock; you can lay a towel down—preferably a thick one—on Pecorini a Mare’s rocky beach. Tip for swimmers: keep an eye out for the jellyfish.

But do not be discouraged, for whatever Filicudi may lack in comfort, it makes up for in authenticity: nowadays such a rare, covetable luxury.

My trip to Filicudi began with a 5 a.m. alarm in Rome, and upon arrival at 5 p.m., I had traveled by taxi, train, plane, bus, ferry, and mini-van, respectively. Part of the charm of the island is that it takes a deliberate effort to get there. It is not a place where people go on an absent-minded whim.

On the way, my head was full of stories I’d been told by my Roman friends about the volcanic island. In particular, a story that my former boss, Valerio, once told me that had captivated my imagination with its folkloric quality, and gave me my first impression of Filicudi as an abstract and magical place.

That is the story of Gisbert, a sixty-something-year-old German ex-officer of luxury cruise ships, who lives entirely off-grid in a remote grotta he carved into the island’s rocky surface. He fell in love with Filicudi when sailing through the Aeolian islands in ’68 at only twenty years old and decided to abandon everything in order to make it his home. He learned to live a sustainable lifestyle according to ancient traditions passed on to him by the elderly natives; traditions that are swiftly dwindling in the memories of the island’s roughly 200 inhabitants due to the effects of modernization and tourism.

When I heard this story, I knew that one day I would go to Filicudi. Like Gisbert, I felt myself being pulled in by a primal, magnetic thread.

The island continues to attract a distinguished and eccentric crowd. In the lopsided piazzetta of Pecorini a Mare I met artists, entrepreneurs, professors, an Afghani princess, and jewelry designer, characters from Rome and Milan's social elite, etc., most of whom have been coming to Filicudi every summer for years and who have made the island a sort of second home.

One night after a couple of cocktails while lounging in the piazzetta with new friends, a young Apulian fellow disclosed to the group what he claimed to be la tradizione dell'isola (the island tradition): skinny dipping. “A Filicudi si fa il bagno nudi (In Filicudi you swim naked),” he explained in rhyme. 

And so, animated by our buzz with the sweet taste of Malvasia lingering on our lips, we sauntered down to the water to fulfill the tradition, stumbling over the rocks, carelessly hoping not to step on an urchin or to be stung by a jelly.

It was there, in that great expanse, naked in the dark sea with the Milky Way over head, that I got a taste of what I believe the people who come here seek, and of what Gisbert had made his reality.

Suspended in nature’s blackness, I felt it.