The rockfish soup and sea urchin pasta at Punta Lena, a hillside restaurant in a traditional whitewashed home on the island of Stromboli, could easily earn it a Michelin star – if Michelin could find it. Stromboli is an out-of-the-way shard of rock in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, above Sicily and part of the Aeolian archipelago, a choppy four-hour hydrofoil trek from Naples or Palermo. Everything on Stromboli has been built at the foot of a 3,030-foot active volcano, which has been spewing molten lava for the past 2,000 years. Cars are banned here, but walking is the most practical option anyway, as most everything on the five-square-mile island requires some combination of stairs and craggy footpaths to reach. Unlike easier-to-get-to spots in the Med, Stromboli's coves of black-lava sand remain thankfully deserted.

One entire side of the island is an ashy, uninhabitable wasteland. The other is lush with caper bushes, lemon and palm trees, cacti, and bougainvillea. The only two towns here, Stromboli and Ginostra (population: 30; reachable only by boat), sit separated by a volcanic scar called the Sciara del Fuoco (Stream of Fire), which is still regularly strafed by tumbling lava rocks. Just outside Stromboli village is Spiaggia Lunga, where the sand is a thousand shades of volcanic charcoal and the water is warm, clear, and calm. Even on busy days, there's always a secluded cove right around the corner.

It's the volcano itself that draws day trippers from mainland Italy and nearby islands. Some scale it in daylight, some come for a night climb – the best way to see the glowing lava. Plenty aren't quite up for the challenge. But this being southern Italy, hikers can opt to rest 45 minutes up the trail at L'Osservatorio restaurant, where people cheer the smoky eruptions from the terrace like soccer goals, over clanking carafes of red wine.

More information: Fly to Palermo or Naples. Take a four-hour hydrofoil ride to Stromboli. Opened in 1928, the small, family-run Hotel Miramare is one of the oldest guesthouses in Stromboli – and every room has a terrace with a sea or city view [from $65; miramarestromboli.it]. Punta Lena is one of the Aeolians' best-kept culinary secrets, but it's closed from November to March, so be careful when visiting during the off-season [8 Via Marina Ficogrande; +39 090 986204]. Bar Ingrid Piazza San Vincenzo is the most popular bar on the island and always buzzing with local activity. [Piazza San Vincenzo; +39-090 986-385]