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An uncompromisingly rugged cone -- so textbook "volcano"-looking and surrounded by water so gorgeously blue as to seem almost fake -- at the western-most reaches of the archipelago, Alicudi makes sleepy Filicudi look like New York City. Thirty-four nautical miles separate the island from Lipari, but the feel is light years away. A hundred or so inhabitants live year-round on the 5-sq.-km (2-sq.-mile) island, served by just one hotel/restaurant, and one road, which runs the short distance between the helipad (for emergencies) and the pier. Not a single motorized vehicle or bicycle is on Alicudi. If you do not lug your bags up the steep steps cut into the lavic rock yourself, chances are one of the island's mules will do the job for you.

The island was formed about 150,000 years ago by the long extinct, and almost perfectly round, Montagnola volcano. Inhabited since the 17th century B.C., the modern name comes from the Greek Ericusa, meaning "rich in heather" -- which still proliferates on the slopes of the island. Alicudi's fertile soil is today chiefly exploited for the cultivation of olives and vines, and is reflected in the colorful bougainvillea and prickly pears that soften the island's inhospitable slopes. Alicudi reaches a height of 675m (2,215 ft.), about a quarter of the volcano's total height, which plunges to a depth of 1,500m (4,921 ft.) below sea level. The steepness with which the shore drops away makes the deep waters close to the island ideal for pulling in sea creatures usually found in open water; ricciola (the greater amberjack), cernia (grouper), and even lobster are harvested in these waters. Divers can enjoy the fauna, or even a spot of underwater fishing near the rock of Jalera.