Sicily's Aeolian Islands

Have you been to the Aeolian Islands? Have you even heard of the Aeolian Islands? I am going to let you in on an insider secret that more than 99.99% of travelers to Italy don’t know about. This island chain off the coast of Sicily is one of the most special and most spectacular places you will ever visit.

I have to confess I had never even heard of the Aeolian Islands until reading what has become one of my favorite books ever, (I have read it more times than I care to fess up to!) An Italian Affair  by Laura Fraser. In the book Laura makes her way to the Aeolians and travels around them telling stories of the wonderful characters she meets and the incredible sights she sees.

Once I found the Aeolian Islands on the map I had to find a way to get there.



Where Are The Aeolian Islands?

The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic chain in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north coast of Sicily. I find the compass points of Sicily too confusing, so imagine a line from Naples to Sicily. The island chain is off that coast, slightly above Messina, where the toe of Italy’s boot meets Sicily.

The seven islands, Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Alicudi and Filicudi explode up out of the bluest cobalt sea you have ever seen, with the kind of drama reserved for volcanos and Greek gods. In 2000 the Aeolians (named after the wind demigod Aeolus) and their history dating back to 4000 B.C. were granted UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.

One of the truly fantastic things about the Aeolian islands is that despite their beauty and their attraction as the perfect island getaway, there is not so much as a Hilton or a Marriot in sight. No condo complexes with a view, no major modern urbanization. These islands for millennia have been made up of fishing villages, beautiful, picturesque little fishing villages, all of which have been maintained architecturally but modernized with electrics and plumbing. You feel like you have arrived in heaven, and maybe you just have.

The Eastern Aeolian Islands


The first island in the chain, positioned close to the Sicilian beach town of Milazzo, is a live volcano aptly named Vulcano  by the Romans who thought it was the chimney of Vulcan, the God of fire. Although not sending out lava, Vulcano shoots steam from its fumaroles, offers therapeutic mud baths and a mud beach. We watched people slathering themselves with the warm, volcanic mud, lie out in the sun to let it dry and harden, then swim in off in the bay. I didn’t do it myself although with all the therapeutic benefits perhaps I should have!

vulcano sulfur mud baths

One of the big attractions of Vulcano (apart from the breathtaking views) is the black sand beach. This is a lovely beach for sunning and swimming and is one of the few sand beaches in the archipelago. The sunsets from here will bring you to tears, they are just so beautiful.

vulcano black sand beach



The largest of the islands, Lipari, is next in the chain and is the island I always stay on. All beauty and history aside, the heady fragrance of lemons and jasmine and honeysuckle will haunt you forever. On so many levels Lipari is a place you experience more than just visit.


Lipari is historically important, with treasures from settlements long before the arrival of the Greeks. (Think 4000-1000B.C) The archaeological museum is a must see with its displays of cargoes from ancient shipwrecks (think really ancient!) and also the world’s largest collection of mini Greek theater masks.



The town center is full of wonderful little streets to wander through, fabulous bars and restaurants, lovely little shops, and history every which way you turn.


Further along the coast is the darling community of Canneto Beach, where I always stay. The beachfront town looks like the set from an old movie. No matter what time of day or night the light hits it with movie-like flair and majesty. It is completely visually stunning.

lipari at night

I found Canneto while looking for a place to stay with a terrace facing the island Stromboli, so that if it decided to show off with a fireworks display of erupting lava I would be in prime position to watch the show. Although Stromboli has erupted days after I have been in residence I have never been there to see it myself. Maybe next time?


Someone was told me Lipari is a more down to earth version of Capri, but I beg to differ. It has its own perfect magic. Along the waterfront in Canneto you can still see some old run-down fisherman’s homes that make you think of Il Postino…



If you rent scooters or a car on the island you can head around to Aquacalda for lunch. While there lunching and simultaneously trying to wrap our brains around the staggering views of the neighboring island of Salina while flirting with the ridiculously handsome restaurant owner, we found out that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair comes here when he needs to getaway. Who Knew?


salina italy

Did you see the movie Il Postino? If not you need to see it! The story takes place on the island of Salina. This is the most verdant of the islands, its rich volcanic soil perfect for the more than 400 different types of plants that grow there. The mountain slopes are covered in ferns, chestnut trees and poplars, but Salina is most famous for having the best capers in the world and for its sweet, golden, Malvasia wine.




The smallest of the 7 islands Panarea is also the most chic and the most exclusive. Home owners include the Bulgari’s, the Borghese’s and the Visconti’s. Although this is the playground of the uber rich, uber jetset, you won’t find wild nightclubs here, that would be too crass. Princess Caroline of Monaco and Giorgio Armani bring their yachts to Panarea – did I mention it is madly chic?


If you are dropping in for a visit chances are you won’t stumble upon the island’s bronze age ruins, but you will see whitewashed buildings surrounded by an explosion of brightly colored flowers, offset by the bluest sea you can possibly imagine.


An absolute must when visiting Panarea is to swim from a boat off her coast. First you will notice it is hard to comprehend how blue the water is. Second you will find that this is the softest seawater you have ever experienced anywhere in the world. Or at least it is the softest seawater I have experienced anywhere in all of my travels.


Some of the views will seem oddly familiar. This is because of all the Dolce and Gabbana fragrance ad campaigns that have been shot here.



The next island along the route is the delightfully menacing live volcano, Stromboli. From the smoke plumes rising up to the heavens to the lava stream rolling down the back side of the island you are always aware that you are on a volcano. It’s actually pretty fantastic.

Stromboli is unique in that it has been continuously or persistently active throughout recorded history, some 2000-3000 years! It has small, explosive “Strombolian” eruptions every 30 minutes or so, larger explosions 2 to 5 times per year. Hikers climb the mountain every day to watch the action from the edge of the crater, and then walk back down in the dark. Other people (like me) prefer to take a boat around to the back of the island after the sun has gone down and watch the lava roll down the side of the mountain, fast moving and vibrant in the dark. No matter how many times you see it, it is still just awe inspiring and miraculous.


Stromboli smoking away in the background

Stromboli is a fabulous island to spend time on. Not as picturesque as neighboring Panarea and Lipari, it still has its own magic. Juxtaposed with the perfect buildings and endlessly chic people on Panarea, just a stone’s throw away, Stromboli is like another world. The buildings are a little shabby, the foliage a little more untamed, the locals a little more hippy-esque. Okay, a lot.

The residential neighborhoods have wide walking streets with wonderful old houses, including the house where Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini lived during the filming of the movie Stromboli.


The piazza in front of the church at the top of Stromboli town can be a hive of activity. One time we watched a fabulous young man teaching a tango lab to a gathering of old couples, young couples, gay couples, lesbian couples, kid couples, punk rock looking couples and friend couples who just wanted to join in. His old school tango music rang out across the bay, and the combination of the breathtaking views, the old buildings, the violence rumbling around underground, the music and the dancing made for a heady, surreal experience, one of the great travel memories I absolutely treasure.

stromboli wine

Red wine from Salina and a view from Stromboli

Next to the piazza is Bar Ingrid, named after Bergman. This is the perfect place to end your day with a glass of local wine, and a basket of snacks from the restaurant, whiling away the time on their giant terrace looking out over the ocean, waiting for the sun to go down. The views will take your breath away.

The Western Aeolian Islands.

I haven’t yet been to the two western islands in the chain. They are a little more remote and depending on your starting point slightly more difficult to reach. Both islands are exquisitely beautiful, with Caribbean looking beaches, the bluest water, no cars, hardly any year round population, and the wildest, craziest stories ever.

aeolian islands map


Heading west 24 nautical miles from Lipari is the tiny and remote island of Filicudi. Settled at some point in the Neolithic age (3000 B.C). The village of Capo Graziano has the remains of a Bronze Age village (2000 B.C). After centuries of lying uninhabited Filicudi was then settled by the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines.

The island’s distance from the mainland and from the main shipping channels, as well as the migration flow (much of which went to Australia) has resulted in it being mostly unchanged in the last century. As with the other islands in the chain Filicudi is merely the rocky tip of an underwater volcano, this one only 774 meters above sea level at its highest point.

One interesting place to put on your itinerary is the Bue Marino (sea ox), a spectacular blue grotto style cave with shockingly crystalline depth and beauty that takes its name from the haunting noises similar to the bellows of an ox produced when the waves crash against the rocks.

filicudi grotto del bue marino

There is a fantastic story about Filcudi, the Mafia and a bunch of Australians. In 1971 Italy banished its worst mafia members to the tiny island of Filicudi. In some weird concept of punishment instead of being locked up in prisons they were free to enjoy life in paradise. They wandered around in the sunshine, lay on the beaches, slept in king sized beds instead of jail cells. They ate for free at the local taverns where they dined on gourmet foods the locals could never afford to eat.

They even were allowed to take a lover, although the local girls would rather die than get involved with them.

These were Mafiosi such as Godfather-like John Bonventre, the FBI wanted man who controlled the South America – United States – Sicily cocaine chain and Tano Badalamenti, the “farmer boss” who was known for killing enemy gangs, infiltrating public offices and running drug trade.

filicudi view

view from this vacation rental villa on Filicudi

The locals loathed them and didn’t want them on their island. Most of the locals had relatives who had migrated to Australia. Both the Aussie connection and the locals were scared the cash rich mafia would use their blood money to buy up the island, their homes and their donkeys, so they hatched a brilliant plan. A plan that became the country’s first anti-mafia war.

With the support of the other Aeolian Islands and the Aussie connection’s financing, the locals ran away from / abandoned Filicudi. They left the island empty while they hid out on the other islands, leaving the mafia with nowhere to shop or eat. For several days the island turned into a ghost town. All the windows were shuttered, the shops and taverns closed, the fields empty, the farmers and fishermen all gone. The only people left on the island were the mafia dons. Genius, no?

I don’t know how long it lasted but in the end the government had to move the Mafiosi to an uninhabited island near Sardinia, with only wild donkeys for company.



alicudi vacation rental

View from vacation rental apartment on Alicudi

The final and westernmost island in the Aeolian Archipelago is Alicudi. Home to a mere 120 people this little circular island occupies only 5.2 square kms or 2 square miles. The island is 150,000 years old but archeologists date its first inhabitants to 1700 B.C. Roman ceramics have also been found (500 B.C – 350 A.D). For centuries the defenseless little island was the target of pirates so for safety the people of Alicudi were forced to build little houses on high terraces. Agriculture and the cultivation of peaches funded the island’s small economy.

There are no roads on Alicudi, and only one restaurant. This is a place to be alone, so is popular with writers, artists, hikers and adventurers.

Alicudi also has a particularly fantastically crazy story. This one earned it the moniker “LSD Island”, and it centers around a cozy pink resort called Casa Mulina, formerly the island’s grain mill. The mill from which the view is and was of crystal clear blue water making a picturesque little harbor, fishermen and their boats, and brightly painted buildings, innocence and beauty.

Alicudi Casa Mulino

image of Casa Mulino by Silvia Marchetti for CNN Travel

The same mill that for centuries, since the settlers arrived in the 1600s and up until the 1950s, was the source of hallucinogenic bread, baked daily by the local housewives. The bread was contaminated with a brain-bending rye fungus called ergot, the base element of LSD.

The island’s sultry climate was the perfect “natural lab” for the fungus.

Generations of villagers consumed “crazy rye” or “horned rye” (named after the fungus produced black pointed ends that look like devil horns on the rye ears) every day of their lives! The psychedelic fungus wreaked havoc on the locals for centuries.

Every morning the local women would feed their husbands and children LSD bread. Everyone on the island was getting high and tripping every day without knowing it! Long term ergot poisoning can cause mania and psychosis.

Quoted from a CNN Traveler article about LSD Island: “The first harvests were scarce and food was precious so nothing was thrown away, even rotten bread and pasta covered in mold were eaten.

“Scarcity of other alternative food sources and humidity produced this nasty fungus that when ingested caused mass hallucinations, hysteria, hypnosis and autosuggestion.”

Part of their trippy, LSD induced visions included seeing flying women, or witches.

Legend has it that at night the local women would rub ointment on themselves and turn into witches, then fly to Palermo on shopping trips, coming back to the poverty ridden island with sacks full of delicious foods.

The legend also says that cruel witches would cast evil-eye spells on their enemies and sink boats, while other witches could heal babies of stomach worms.

The women of the island worked all day in the fields under the scorching sun, the island was so isolated that they felt caged, desperate and mentally imprisoned, and many had despotic husbands, all of which created another layer of madness, making the concept of flying at night a source of mental freedom. Some women fell off their balconies trying to fly.

Not all the current islanders believe in the LSD bread. Some believe the island really was magic. Stories of talking hemp sacks, defecating ghosts and men turning into donkeys and pigs and cows are also part of the folk lore.

It is all just too fantastic for words! I would go visit Alicudi just to see the paintings of the flying women and to walk in the footsteps of centuries of LSD crazed islanders but for the fact that time on Alicudi reportedly involves scaling 4444 rough steps from the marina to the houses.


How To Get To The Aeolian Islands

You can get to the Aeolian Islands by hydrofoil and by ferry from Milazzo and by ferry from Palermo on Mainland Sicily. From June through September there are daily overnight ferries from Naples to the islands, and weekly ferries during the rest of the year.

** The overnight ferry to and from Naples is a tremendous way to travel. Naples is best approached and departed by sea. From the deck of a boat watching the sun set over Naples as you move out through the Bay of Naples is breathtakingly beautiful. Equally stunning is arriving into the Bay of Naples with the morning sun. The ferry from Naples arrives in the early morning with stops at Stromboli, Panarea, Lipari and Vulcano before making its way to Milazzo, doing the reverse on the way back at night.

If you want to take the ferry to Naples and there are none running through the Aeolian Islands, you can take the ferry in and out of Palermo and the train from Palermo to Milazzo.

If you are flying to Sicily the closest airport is Catania.

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Sicily's Aeolian Islands

Florence sunset


Getting sick while you are on vacation is no fun at all. We plan to be healthy, but still it can happen, you wake up feeling like death warmed over, your tummy is in knots or maybe you have a splitting headache. If something major happens, such as your appendix gets going or you break a bone, obviously you will go to the hospital, but what about the other stuff?

This past summer I had a makeup job in Belize the week before I went to Italy. I woke up my third day in Europe with a nasty cough that progressively got worse, to the point where I had to sleep sitting up. It was miserable. It turned out I had breathed in spores in Belize that then took up residence in my sinuses and wrecked havoc on my summer. The bright side of the experience was that I got the opportunity to work my way through the Italian medical system, and see how incredibly functional and affordable it is!

Certaldo Alto

Had I been in the US I would have high tailed it to my nearest Target/Walgreens/ CVS store and loaded up on DayQuil and NyQuil, but they don’t have those products in Italy. I normally travel with a small kit of OTC medicines in case something goes wrong, but this time I had left the bag at home in the name of packing light. (Never again!)

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The first medical stop was to see a doctor. The owner of the vacation rental I was staying in hooked me up and got me an appointment. The doctor was great. He asked a million questions, including “Belize??? What the hell were you doing there?? Do you have any idea how many crazy illnesses they have in Belize???”

Then he went to a cabinet full of drawers and pulled out a packet of antibiotics, a nasal spray, an inhaler (that costs 10x more in the USA) and wrote me a prescription for some cough medicine. It was brilliant! None of this waiting an hour at the pharmacy like you do here. A basic prescription comes prepackaged and ready to go. Why don’t we have that here??

Next I went to the pharmacy to get my cough medicine. Again, it was super efficient. Everything is prepackaged and ready to go. No waiting around.

italy pharmacy


Because I was going to be moving around the country I couldn’t come back for a follow up visit, so the doctor wrote me some other prescriptions in case I needed them.

Normally your first stop isn’t to a doctors office, normally you start at the pharmacy. 

Pharmacies are easy to find in Italy because they have a big green cross in neon outside. It is a very different pharmacy experience than you have in America. 

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The DayQuil/NyQuil/Benedryl products that we buy over the counter here aren’t sold over the counter there. In Italy you will speak to a pharmacist, and this is going to feel like you are speaking to a doctor. They will ask you tons of questions about what’s going on, so they can diagnose you correctly and give you the right products. If you want something for a cough they will ask you all about the cough, where it is coming from, is it wet or dry, and then decide which is the best option for you.

Normally the first stop isn’t a pharmaceutical, but will be a natural remedy instead. They do the same in New Zealand – it’s amazing how many ailments that we medicate in the US that they treat and cure overseas with non-pharmaceutical products! 

Across the course of traveling through Italy for 6 weeks with a never ending cough I was able to experience many, many pharmacies. They are all independently owned, not giant chains like they are here. In each and every one whomever was helping me asked tons of questions then made a decision specific to my needs. When I got to San Gimignano and was still coughing, the pharmacist said I needed to see another doctor, then organized it for me.

This doctor wrote some more prescriptions including a steroid to stop the cough. I ran back to the pharmacy and once again they just opened drawers and pulled out the boxes of medications. There was no waiting around, no pharmacy techs counting out tablets, instead the prescriptions are already in boxes waiting for you.

I speak Italian pretty well, but I don’t speak medical jargon. (I don’t speak mechanical Italian either. If you need your car taken in for an oil change and tire rotation I don’t know any of the words!) I found that in every pharmacy I went to up and down the country, they spoke English, or enough English for us to communicate.

I am a big believer in bringing some OTC meds with you in case you do catch a cold or get an upset tummy etc while on your trip, but if you don’t have what you need don’t worry. 

Volterra Stairs

What To Do If You Get Sick In Italy

Don’t get freaked out!

Act on it immediately. You may need to take a day out of your trip and sleep it off – whatever you have to do to nip it in the bud. You are better to deal with it quickly and stop it from getting worse, than to get really sick and ruin your trip. If it is a tummy issue you really need to act quickly because public bathrooms are few and far between in Italy.

Go to your nearest pharmacy and expect to speak at length with the pharmacist or the tech. They will sort you out. 

If your illness is beyond their ability to help they will help you find a doctor, and in most cases a doctor who speaks English.

If you do need a doctor and they can’t help you find one, your hotel or your landlord can help you.

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 Italian OTC (Over The Counter) Equivalents

You won’t find Advil, Motrin, Excedrine etc in Italy, but you will find these equivalent products.

Asprin = Aspirina

Ibuprofen products, like Advil are Brufen, Moment, and the best one for headaches – Nurofen.

Acetominophen products, like Tylenol are Paracetamol are Tachipirina and Efferalgan.

Naproxen products, like Aleve, are Momendol, Naprosyn and Naproxene.

Antihistamines: Reactine and Zyrtec, and a product called Telfast which is close to the American Allegra. The pharmacist will probably recommend a nasal spray as well.

Medicines To Pack

I recommend packing a small first aid kit when you travel. Make sure you have bandaids, a small tube of neosporin, a small tube of the painkiller that works for you (Excedrine/Tylenol/Motrin). You may encounter plants or air that sets off allergies you weren’t expecting, so pack an antihistimine. I bring Zyrtek with me because I find it works quicker and better than Claritin.

You should pack for tummy ailments too – something for upset stomach and something for a backed up stomach. Being in a place with different water from home and with different food from home could set you off in either direction.

Pack an insect repellent. Italy has some hungry mosquitos! But if I’m there you will be safe because they will buzz right past you to come eat me! One cool trick I learned was to pack a few tablespoons of baking soda. If you get bitten (or like me, eaten alive), mix a teaspoon of baking soda with just enough water to make a paste, paint it over your insect bites and let it dry. Once its all the way dry, rub it off rather than washing it off. It takes the redness, the itch, and the swelling out of insect bites really quickly! You can use the same trick for sunburn.

If you have OTC medicines you recommend packing, please tell me in the comments section below!

If you are traveling to Europe this winter chances are you are thinking about what footwear to bring.

I have been really trying hard to pack less on my European trips. On my summer Glam Italia Tours I have been taking a pair of Supergas, a pair of good sandals to walk in all day, a pair of sandals to wear out at night if I want to change it up, and a pair of flip flops for beach days.

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I have another winter trip coming up, and at this point I am planning on taking only 2 pairs of shoes, a sneaker and an ankle boot. Maybe a velvet mule to wear out an night, but am not sure yet on that one.

boots and shooes for Europe this winter

Things to consider when you are planning your winter footwear for Europe are weather and how much walking you will be doing. If you are going to a rainy place you need to factor in footwear getting wet and how long it will take to dry. If you only have 2 pairs of shoes and your first pair haven’t dried overnight, you need a backup pair. I know from my years of living in London that shoes sometimes don’t dry out for a few days because there isn’t always an abundance of heating. If you only have 2 pairs that can mean wearing damp shoes (not happening) or buying more shoes there (game on!). I recommend having a pair of waterproof boots

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Obviously if you are going to the snow you need snow appropriate shoes.

I tend to be in Italy, France, Spain – places that have relatively temperate weather. They all have snow, but I don’t go to the snow so it doesn’t factor in to my packing equation.

The next thing to think about is how much walking you will be doing. My iPhone step tracker app tells me that when I’m on my Glam Tours we are walking an average of 25,000 steps per day. In Paris in September we were averaging a little more than that, somewhere around 11 miles per day. I’ve had tour groups in Rome who have wanted to stay out exploring on their first night, and we have ended up walking 32,000 steps their first day! What this means is that you have to have really comfortable shoes that support your feet and don’t leave you blistered and wounded. Don’t forget that Europe is full of cobblestone streets, so you need to think about ankle support and low heels. (Or no heels)


The absolute biggest thing in Paris just over a month ago was the Adidas sneaker. They were worn many different ways, with jeans, with pants, with dresses. They were madly chic. I bought a pair of Campus style in salmon that are beyond cool, and I wore them to death. On I found these Adidas Gazelle suede sneakers that would be great for non-rainy days


adidas gazelle grey and pink

adidas Originals – Gazelle (Pearl Grey/Trace Green/White) Women’s Tennis Shoes

adidas Originals - Superstar (White/Gold) Women's Tennis Shoes

These  adidas Originals – Superstar (White/Gold) Women’s Tennis Shoes were everywhere in Paris. You could wear them with jeans, but I wouldn’t advise wearing white sneakers in the rain. The leather uppers make them good for winter, and if white feels too summery they have lots of other colors to choose from too. I found a great pair of black leather Adidas with white stripes that would also be great.

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Ankle boots are fantastic because they don’t take up much room, look good with everything, and don’t leave boot marks at your knees showing through your jeans!

Blundstone - BL550 (Walnut) Pull-on Boots

Blundstone – BL550 (Walnut) Pull-on Boots
 are waterproof, can be dressed up or down, are super comfortable, and this is actually one of Blundstone’s best rated boots. Available at Zappos.

Born - Casco (Black Full Grain) Women's Pull-on Boots

Born – Casco (Black Full Grain) Women’s Pull-on Boots
 Born boots are super comfortable and easy to walk in forever. I have a pair that finally need replacing after years of working hard for me. I’m a huge Born fan. I also like the look of their Chisel Boot below. offers free shipping and exchanges on all orders, and hassle-free returns!

Born Chisel Boot

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Geox are know for their well made, super comfortable footwear. I think every major city I go to in Europe has a big Geox presence. Their shoes and boots are not only stylish and comfortable, but chic too. I particularly like the Etienne boot below.

Geox Etienne offers free shipping and exchanges on all orders, and hassle-free returns!

Sofft - Bergamo Waterproof (Black Wild Steer) Women's Slip on Shoes

Sofft – Bergamo Waterproof (Black Wild Steer) Women’s Slip on Shoes
 are another great ankle boot option. I lived in Sofft sandals and shoes all summer in Europe, and they were probably the best travel footwear I have ever had in terms of comfort (walking 25,000 steps per day), durablity – they are still going strong, and they looked chic. offers free shipping on all orders, easy returns, and free exchanges.


Sam Edelman - Aven (Malbec Silky Velvet) Women's Clog/Mule Shoes
Sam Edelman – Aven (Malbec Silky Velvet) Women’s Clog/Mule Shoes
 I love the look of these velvet mules from Sam Edelman. I wouldn’t walk all day in them, but after a long day of sightseeing it would feel great to slip into these and head out to dinner.

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Other winter footwear items to pack:

Warm socks. Make sure they are soft and comfortable warm socks.

Bandaids for blisters.

Insoles for your boots. I use Dr Scholls, mostly because I like the gel pad in the heel.

More warm socks.

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