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55km (34 miles) NW of Milazzo, 18km (11 miles) NW of Lipari.

Vulcano, the ancient Thermessa, figured heavily in the mythologies of the region. The island was thought to be not only the home of Vulcan, the god of fire, but also the gateway to Hades; Ulysses even stopped here in Homer's Odyssey, delaying his return home to Ithaca. Ancient historians Thucydides, Siculus, and Aristotle each recorded eruptions. Other dormant volcanoes (including Vulcano Piano and Vulcanello) exist on the island, but a climb to the rim of the active Gran Cratere (Big Crater), or Vulcano della Fosse, draws the most attention. It hasn't erupted since 1890, but one look inside the sulfur-belching hole makes you understand how it inspired the hellish legends surrounding it. The 418m (1,371-ft.) peak is an easier climb than the one on Stromboli, taking just about an hour -- though it's just as hot, and the same precautions prevail.

For centuries, the island was uninhabited because of fear of the volcano. Today, however, Vulcano is a stamping ground of the party crowd. Rich Italians from the mainland have erected fancy villas here as second homes. Vulcano's thermal baths, known for their curative powers and said to be especially helpful in relieving rheumatic suffering, also draw visitors.

Vulcano is the island closest to the Sicilian mainland. Ferries and hydrofoils stop here before going on to the other islands. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can smell the island's prevalent sulfurous fumes. Vulcano also has the best beaches in the Aeolians, if you don't find black volcanic sands off-putting.