NEW YORK -- If you have not heard of Italy's Aeolian Islands, perhaps it is because a secret is sometimes too good to share.

There are seven islands in the group -- Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Vulcano and Lipari -- all clustered a dozen or so miles off the coast of northwest Sicily.

But despite their unspoiled beauty and their appearance in a number of motion pictures, the islands are not as well known to Americans as some other European hot spots.

Movies such as Roberto Rossellini's "Stromboli" in the early 1950s and the more recent "Il Postino" have brought some fame to the islands, "but the scenery and nature have been left untouched and uncontaminated," Michele Giacomantonio, director of tourism for the Aeolian Islands, said.

Giacomantonio was in New York with a contingent of tourism officials from the islands and Sicily to promote the destination in the U.S.

"What we would like to do is let the world know about the beauty and activities in the Aeolians," he said. "The seven sister islands share similarities but also have their differences."

Alicudi and Salina, for example, grow masses of purple heather and leafy green trees, whereas Lipari's volcanic history is evident in its black lava and white pumice.

Because the Aeolian group was a popular intersection for early traders, the region is rich in clay and terra-cotta handicrafts, spearheads and other artifacts tracing about 6,000 years of history, Giacomantonio said.

"The islands represent a bottomless mine of art and art history, including ruins from the Roman era," he said.

The Aeolian Archeological Museum in Lipari, located on Lipari's Acropolis, offers a glimpse of the region's past back to prehistoric times.

Nature buffs might also enjoy studying the islands' volcanic history by exploring the craters on Stromboli, which rival some of those seen in Hawaii, according to Giacomantonio.

A marine museum showcasing the history of the Mediterranean region is in the works, he said.

The downside of all this unspoiled beauty is a tourism infrastructure that is ill-equipped to handle a huge influx of visitors.

"Transportation, especially in the winter months, is a problem, and it is the same with the hotels," Giacomantonio said. "But these problems are being confronted, and solutions are being sought and implemented.

"I don't believe that the infrastructure has to be in place for tourism to bloom."

Specifically, there is no airport in the islands; the nearest are located in Naples and in Catania and Palermo, both on Sicily.

To reach the Aeolians, visitors can opt for a four-hour hydrofoil journey from Mergellina port in Naples. The trip operates daily from June to September.

A ship makes the all-night journey year-round from Molo Angioino, also in Naples.

From Sicily, hydrofoils and boats depart several times daily from Milazzo and Messina.

From Palermo, Sicily, a twice-daily hydrofoil trip operates from June to September.

Hydrofoil crossings from Sicily take about 90 minutes.

Accommodations on the Aeolian Islands range from two- to four-star hotels to apartment rentals, totaling 18,000 beds.

Local tourism officials are not seeking to turn their earthly paradise into a gigantic attraction but instead hope to lure a select clientele, Giacomantonio said.

"We are concerned with the natural beauty and ecology of our islands while we work on our infrastructure," he said.

Excursions via yacht, canoe, motorboat and fishing boat are available to visitors on arrival.

Such water sports as sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing also are popular attractions.

Italian Government Tourist Office

Phone: (212) 245-4961

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