I’ve been to Sicily every summer of my life. Nevertheless, I never got bored, because driven by curiosity and thirst for knowledge, I always found myself in different places on the island. Places worth seeing that even my local family has never visited, even if it is enough to get in the car or the train for a few hours to gets to know a completely different Sicily on the other side of the island.
Some years ago, my family and I decided to have a little adventure. Until then we had only visited the bathing landscapes and cultural places of Sicily, so hikes were something pretty unknown for us, except for very short hikes in the ‘Riserva Naturale Orientata Zingaro’. This is why we decided to see something new, to challenge ourselves.
And where is the best place to do that in Sicily, if not on the highest peak of the island?
Our village is located about 50 km away from Palermo on a mountain. We leave early in the morning, so the air is still very cool and I would like to go back to my warm bed. At the same time I’m looking forward to the next two days, because my parents have planned them perfectly. Two big highlights await me: A guided jeep ride on Mount Etna and tomorrow a whole day in nearby Etnaland, the largest waterpark in Sicily, which opens its doors again in the evening as a normal themepark.
Fortunately, I don’t have any problems sleeping in the car and so I don’t notice much about the trip. In less than four hours we have already arrived at our destination and I am finally fit for the day.
A man with sturdy shoes and a beige travelling vest comes towards us and introduces himself. His name is Fabio and he is our mountain and hiking guide for today. My father had already contacted him by telephone and arranged a meeting point at the valley of Mount Etna. The mountain guide group Siculi Sentieri, which he belongs to, offers a very wide range of Etna excursions in different languages – including German. He briefly explains to us which route he has planned for us in consultation with my father and then we drive off.
With a black jeep we drive high up to the volcano. I am surprised, because I had imagined the landscape up here completely different. Much balder and warmer. Instead, I feel almost like in a forest. I can only see tall trees that cast a lot of shade and therefore keep the path quite cool. Who would have thought that I would freeze on a volcano?
Our first destination is a small cave that reaches a few meters deep into the bottom of the volcano. We have to climb in, Fabio explains. He takes five helmets with built-in headlamps and some safety harnesses from the jeep. We climb into the cave and I notice that our adventure has just begun.
We have to bend down often and make ourselves very small so as not to hit the ceiling of the cave, because it is deep above us. The rock of the walls is very interesting to look at, because it shimmers in different colours in the light of the lamp and hangs in the shape of icicles from the ceiling of the cave. As we climb out again, the next excursion group is already waiting for us, so they can climb into the small cave too.
We continue and reach the Rifugio Giovannini Sapienza. This is a small refuge hut on Mount Etna, similar to a small hotel with a bar, restaurant and pizzeria. Next to it there is a large parking area where we can park the Jeep next to many other excursion vehicles.
Our mountain guide enters the hut and brings some hiking sticks for each of us. These can be borrowed here for a fee, but we get them without paying extra as they are included in the price of the Etna tour.
From here on we continue on foot.
The further we go away from Rifugio Giovannini Sapienza towards the summit, the fewer trees are visible and the more “volcanic” the landscape becomes.
We reach a small cottage with lattice windows. Quite inconspicuous. And yet there seems to be something special about it, because some people stand around the cottage and let themselves be photographed with it. Fabio tells us that the mysterious is inside the cottage. We peek through the window and see a figure of St. Mary. What is crazy and special about the figure, however, is not herself. The whole left side of the cottage was destroyed by the lava of a stronger volcanic eruption and reached the inside. The lava stopped only in front of the holy figure and bypassed it. A holy sign from heaven!
The ground beneath my feet is getting darker, looser and warmer.
Yes, that’s exactly how I had imagined the volcanic landscape!
It is cooled lava which we walk on. Fabio explains to us that there are different types of lava and that, depending on the strength of the eruption, it can sometimes reach the nearby villages and towns. Despite the volcano almost never became really dangerous for the local inhabitants, because even if a volcanic eruption takes place, there are meanwhile sufficient safety measures that take care of their well-being.
When we reach Rifugio Giovannini Sapienza again, Fabio offers us two options: Either we take a bus or the cable car to get a little further up the mountain, because he is only allowed to go until this point by jeep, or we go down again and explore the area around Taormina. As one is not allowed to reach the absolute top of the volcano by bus or cable car, we decide against it and accept its second offer.
Taormina is a beautiful hill town on the east coast of Sicily. It is famous above all for its ancient Roman-Greek amphitheatre and the unique view of the Isola Bella di Taormina to which Fabio leads us now. Isola Bella is a small island in the Ionian Sea connected by a sandbank to the beach of Mazzarò, a district of Taormina. The view is spectacular. I would love to be on the island now and refresh myself in the sea, like the many bathers I can watch from up here. But our guide has something else in mind for us, something much more special!
He drives a little further to the Gole dell’Alcantara. These are gorges on the river Alcantara, very close to Mount Etna. They are up to 20 metres deep and have eaten their way into the lava rock of the volcano for thousands of years, which is also one of the most characteristic features of the gorges. Here you can swim normally in the river, even if the water doesn’t invite you to do so, as it has almost icy temperatures.
Another activity you can do here is body rafting. Visitors to the river park can take a guided tour through the river fully equipped with a diving suit, helmet and jacket.
We would like to explore the river park a little better too and so Fabio drives us a little further up by jeep to a secret spot, where only we are. It is very quiet here and you can concentrate on the splashing of the river. Simply beautiful! I will never forget the view: clean water between dark grey rocks and flowering plants.
I don’t want to leave any more but unfortunately this day must end sometime.
Our travel guide took us back to our meeting point where our car is still standing. We thank him many times before he leaves, because he really gave us a wonderful insight into the world of the Etna. Thank you! Grazie!
I hope you now have the necessary adventurous spirit to explore the volcano Etna. I was and still am very fascinated by the different climate zones with their own vegetation, which you can find here.
Especially for skiers the volcano could be an interesting destination, because there is even the possibility to have fun on two skiing areas! So pack your Livecam and your snowboard and off you go!
I am looking forward to your suggestions and comments. 🙂