Art dealer Lorcan O’Neill’s favourite European island

The Irish, Rome-based art dealer goes off the grid – literally – at his home on one of the least visited islands in Sicily’s Aeolian archipelago

Alicudi, in the Aeolian, was once a volcano
Alicudi, in the Aeolian, was once a volcano | Image: Alamy Stock Photo

“Alicudi is the most remote of the inhabited Aeolian Islands; they only recently put in electricity, and there’s still no petrol to be had. The jetty apparently fell into the sea a while back, or so I heard last month. The island is roundish in shape, so there’s no natural harbour, and because Alicudi was once a volcano the shore slopes away fast and the sea gets very deep quite quickly. So good anchorage for large boats isn’t really available.

The art dealer Lorcan O’Neill
The art dealer Lorcan O’Neill

All of which means it attracts a certain kind of person, a person who’s a bit willing to go without. It reminds me of those pilgrimage islands in Ireland where I grew up, the ones where people walk around with bare feet – isolated and a bit severe, but in Alicudi’s case with fabulous warm weather.

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I first came here years ago to visit a friend, who himself had seen the island in the Nanni Moretti film Caro Diario and fallen for it. It’s a perfect place for those, like me, who like to do very little, because there is in fact very little to do. There are only about 80 year-round residents; I think there are just two shops. You never really hear TVs or radios blaring, and there’s no noise of cars or scooters, though sometimes at night you might hear the motor of the odd fishing boat (I keep a canoe, which I think is the best way to explore the shore, and a little wooden gozzo fishing boat). That only changes in the last two weeks of August, when the young Alicudians come home to squeeze their partying in before the end of summer.

There are only about 80 residents living in the island’s small, whitewashed properties
There are only about 80 residents living in the island’s small, whitewashed properties | Image: Getty Images/iStock Photo

All the houses on Alicudi are small, three or four rooms in a row and all facing the sea, with a front terrace that is indented with those bisuolo benches that you see across the Aeolian Islands. They rarely come up for sale, and when they do it’s often very complicated as there can be multiple titles. Houses for rent tend to be by word of mouth, though I know a few people are on Airbnb. 

One of just two churches on the island, the Chiesa di San Bartolo
One of just two churches on the island, the Chiesa di San Bartolo | Image: Getty Images/DeAgostini

There are caper plants all across the island – growing capers, along with fishing, was long one of the two main sources of income until the early 1900s. They no longer grow in neat rows – they’re everywhere – but a caper is one thing no Alicudian will chop down or mess with. They’re like sacred cows in India

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There are two lovely churches, one close to the top of the island where the crater is, and one built later, in the 20th century, when more of the population shifted down to the shore. From the older church, the Chiesa di San Bartolo, you have the most fantastic views. In August they celebrate the festa di San Bartolo – he’s the patron saint of the Islands – with a great traditional procession where a statue of the saint is carried on the shoulders of locals through the town and along the roads. There is also the mercatino di Ferragosto, which is a big outdoor market where you find everything from baskets and lobster nets woven in the old style to biscuits and jams, to walking sticks, vintage clothes and jewellery. Fancy boats from Salina and Panarea, with fancy people on them, come over for that – I’ve run into everyone, from the Bulgaris to Maurizio Cattelan there.

But for me Alicudi is about being able to legitimately cut off from the world. It has mostly attracted people who can put up with a bit of hardship to get on with living their own life, however particular. And there are very few places left, in the Mediterranean or anywhere else, where you can do that.”

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