Some say that without the scandal surrounding the extramarital affair between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman during the filming of Stromboli, the film would have sunk into insignificance. There are many others, though, who claim that this neorealist drama of 1950, the first of several films where the two teamed up, is an unquestionable masterpiece.
It all started with an exchange of letters in which Bergman introduced herself to the director saying, “Dear Mr. Rossellini, I have seen your films Open City and Paisan and I enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, has not forgotten her German, is barely comprehensible in French and who can only say ‘I love you’ in Italian, I am ready to come to Italy to work with you.”
The result was that the man by whom she would have three children offered the Hollywood star the leading role in Stromboli - that of Karen, a young Lithuanian in Italy during the war, who marries a soldier to escape from the refugee camp only to find that his homeland, the island of Stromboli, with its rough and traditional society becomes a new prison; the brooding volcano that dominates the entire island adds a constant menace to the story and even saw fit to erupt during the shoot.
All the elements – fire, wind, earth and water – come together on Stromboli, and the volcanic island is displayed with such force in the film that it becomes another of the characters. A stone's throw from Sicily, the islands of the Aeolian archipelago are like a scattering of embers on the blue water, but the seven tiny islets each have their own personality. Allicudi and Filicudi, with their landscapes of vines, olive trees, prickly pears and capers are the wildest and least spoiled, while the coquettish Panarea, with its whitewashed houses and coves, is the favourite among the jet set, whose expensive yachts can be seen moored here during the summer.
Lipari and Salina, the largest of the islands, are quite busy all year round, and the sparse population is increasingly dependent on tourism rather than agriculture and fishing. There are still two more: Vulcano, where Anna Magnani – the actress who Bergman replaced both on screen and in Rossellini's affections – starred in a film of the same name, and finally Stromboli itself, the island that shares its name with the volcano and the film written originally for Magnani.
The remotest of the Aeolian islands, Stromboli seems like a lump of lava adrift in the Mediterranean, with its perfect volcano cone edged with black beaches and bright little white box-like houses that cling to slopes in ancient fishing villages such as Ficogrande, Scari and Piscita.
Along the tiny roads and paths of Stromboli, there are no cars, just motor cycles and curious electric vehicles, which accentuates the absolute peace, other-worldly charm and rugged essence of the island. As a destination, the island is a sure hit whether you want to relax on the beach or to walk and explore the fascinating geological landscape. The most spectacular excursion is the trail to the crater, led by expert guides for safety reasons; after a gruelling ascent, it culminates at nightfall by the sleeping giant's crater, close enough to see the lava spout from the cone and to feel the behemoth's snores.
The people of Stromboli are attuned to the moods of the volcano, which dominates the island physically and is an ever-present menace. The volcano stirs gently in its sleep, and on some nights becomes a veritable beacon for sailors, illuminating the darkness with fireworks that burst flaming bright from the crater and topple, glowing, down the slopes of the colossus to the sea down the blackened, lunar slope of the Sciara del Fuoco. The spectacle is best seen from the boats that set sail at dusk to get a better view of the show. Cinema fans will also want to visit the village of Ginostra, where much of the movie was filmed, and, of course, the viewpoint in front of the house on Vittorio Emanuele street, where Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini began their real life love story.
The nearest airport is Catania in Sicily, an hour and a half from the port of Milazzo, the departure point for ferries to the Aeolian islands on the northeastern tip of the island. In high season, sailings are frequent with the companies Siremar and Ustica Lines.
Best time to visit
Spring and autumn are the most attracive times as in summer the crowds can be overwhelming on some of the islands, while in winter many facilities are closed.
The islands are well connected by ferries, especially in high season. On land, you can walk or cycle, travel by taxi or hire a motorbike or a car on the largest isles. Some of the islands,such as Stromboli, use electric vehicles as taxis rather than cars, while in Alicudi the usual means of transport is the donkey. Tourist agencies organise boat trips, or you can hire a boat and avoid the crowds.
Where to stay
The web Hotel Isole Eolie offers hotel accommodation options across the seven islands, while Stromboli.net includes rental houses, which can be an attractive option. On Stromboli, the four-star Sirenetta Park and the three-star Ossidiana are both delightful.
Where to eat
Apart from the hotels mentioned above, try the romantic terrace of Punta Lena (Tel. 39 0909 8620 4), overlooking the sea and with views of the islet of Stombolicchio, or the Barbablu (Tel. 39 0909 8611 8).
The film tour
The filming locations on Stromboli, such as the former fishing-village of Ginostra and the Sciara del Fuoco can be visited either as part of a guided tour or independently. Next to the church of San Vincenzo stands the unmistakable red house in which Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman lived 'in sin' during filming.
Make sure you visit some of the other islands in the archipelago, as they all boast an individual character. From Stromboli itself, take a nocturnal boat trip to admire the show put on by the volcano, and also try another nocturnal treat - a trek to the crater, in the company of an expert guide from Magmatrek.