It is not conceivable to come to Sicily without going to visit Mount Etna, a magic world apart where among an incomparable variety of sceneries you can feel the thrill of getting close to the pulsing center of the earth.
The major active volcano in Europe, about three thousand and three hundred meters high (the height varies with the eruptions), Etna is a microcosm with a very rich nature, filled with contrasts: on the top, surreal lunar landscapes with lava deserts, caves, smoking craters, and upon the fertile slopes, above, lush pine woods and Nordic forests while going downwards, black walls made of dry joint stones that surround the terraced vineyards marking the roads of Etna wine and the trees of the best pistachio ever.
The mountain, this is how the volcano is called here, is felt by the local people, more as a beneficent power rather than destructive, bestowing fertility: the volcanic soil, rich in minerals, gives magnificent fruits with a peculiar taste (olives, grapes, pistachio, walnuts and hazelnuts, but also apples, strawberries and peaches), and this ambivalence is reflected in the innumerable layers of mythology that have Etna as a backdrop.
Seat of the Hades or of the Cyclops who live in its caves, forge of the god Hephaestus (Roman Vulcano) or the belly of the great mother earth, Mount Etna in most of the oldest myths is related to the matriarchal conception: here, in the depth, are held prisoners, having been defeated by the gods, the Giants, the sons of the mother earth Gaia; here the fertility goddess Demeter mourns, after the kidnap of her daughter Persephone, the personification of Spring (both goddesses were much venerated in Sicily); several are also the popular legends that came much later, like the one that tells about the immortal King Arthur, who in a cave is waiting to return to his Homeland.
Hereby we propose to you a few itineraries you can do with your car and easy walks: at reception we shall give you all the necessary information and the maps, but many are the activities that we may organize on Mount Etna.
In Hotel we rent mountain bikes (upon reservation) and we organize, besides the usual bus tours, also off road jeep excursions or trekking with the guide of geologists, who will lead you to the places with the most spectacular views and will teach you to read the phenomena caused by the eruptions, by showing you the different shades of colour and the various structures of the old lava flows (they are called “le sciare”), the old extinct crater and the new vents, and they will lead you along some of the innumerable nature-paths of the Natural Park of Etna among pine-woods, birches, spots of Genista (Shrubs), chestnuts.
It is also possible, but only assisted by the guides and if the Volcano conditions allow it, to reach the very top, after a long walk, to the Central, the “Bocca Nuova” and to the North-East, that are the summit craters of Etna, to experience the thrill of looking down to the center of the earth.
We organize trips to the fascinating underground caves deriving from flow and fracture of the volcano (some of them are covered in ice stalactites) which can be explored in complete safety, accompanied by experienced speleologists and with all the necessary technical equipment.
From late December to March, instead, when the volcano is covered by a thick blanket of snow, it is possible to go hiking with snowshoes (snow rackets), skiing and Cross-country skiing.
For the children there are also adventure parks consisting of a series of acrobatic tracks developed up high, made with suspended passages between the trees, which differ in difficulty and where both very young and older children, under the supervision and guidance of instructors, can test their balance, speed and ability to overcome obstacles.
In these pages, we suggest several routes to explore the slopes and the towns of Etna or to get where the roads on each side end. The two flanks are very different but equally stunning: on the North you reach up to Piano Provenzana, and on the South Rifugio Sapienza. In both cases you need to leave the car and there are the guides with whom you can get close to the summit craters: on the North side using a jeep and on the South side first with the cable and then with the jeep.
From the hotel Palladio, follow the Corso Umberto (SS114) and continue always straight on till you take the highway A18.
From the hotel Palladio to reach the top of the north side of Etna it is 27 km and the highway exit is Fiumefreddo di Sicilia: take the SS120 getting through the villages of Piedimonte Etneo and Linguaglossa and then turn onto the road Mareneve that leads to Piano Provenzana (altitude 1800 m).
Climbing on towards the North side you will get across Linguaglossa, the town has often been threatened by tongues of incandescent lava. The central square has a beautiful view and the facade of the Cathedral, made of lava stone and sandstone. From here you take the panoramic road Mareneve that leads up to Piano Provenzana.
On the wide bends of the Mareneve you will meet with vineyards, cherry trees, apple, hazelnut, chestnut and oak trees, and get through the beautiful pine forest of Linguaglossa, unfortunately partly destroyed by the lava flow of 2002, that has left behind a ghostly landscape of gray burned down trees, then you move on to a desert territory crossed by rivers of black rock (the sciare: solidified lava flows) and streaked with yellow bushes of broom.
All vehicles must stop at Piano Provenzana, a magnificent natural amphitheater placed at 1800 meters and from here it is possible to get to the top accompanied by the guides using the jeep. The ascents to the central craters are less regular than on the south side (where from April to October there is the cable running continuously), and it is advisable to call ahead to find out the schedules.
The excursion with the jeeps from the Piano Provenzana, where the tourist resort was destroyed by the lava flow of 2002, starts from an altitude of 1.810 meters to reach an altitude of 2.800 metres. You walk along a track, drawn between expanses of lava and volcanic sand along the fracture opened during the eruption of 2002, where an extraordinary panorama opens up: it overlooks the splendid mountains of Peloritani Nebrodi and Madonie and the view sweeps from the Ionian coast of the Tyrrhenian, from the coasts of Syracuse to Calabria, from Taormina to the Aeolian Islands. The track continues between concretion of lava that create phantasmagorical natural sculptures and numerous fumaroles, arising from fractures of eruptions from 1923 to 2002, and lava flows of the eruptions from 1956 to 2002.
At an altitude of 2,800 meters you arrive in a vast plain called “Piano delle Concazze” dominated by the North-East crater where it is situated, on the “Deneri Pizzi”, the vulcanologic observatory. From this area, on clear days, you can enjoy the view of the valleys, below, the “Leone” and “Bove”, this one is a spectacular and huge valley, born from the collapse of a volcanic complex prior to the Etna, where you can see numerous overlapping lava flows.
From Piano delle Concazze the tour continues towards the top, up to the altitude allowed by the competent Authorities, to then return to Piano Provenzana.
Between the wood of Etna Birch trees and the very ancient Chestnut of the hundred horses
From Piano Provenzana instead of going back along the same road, you can climb down towards Fornazzo, as in this trait of the road Mareneve there is a succession of different types of woods that vary according to altitude, and you will find a beautiful forest of Etna Birch trees, which runs only on this side from 1600 to 1760mt. over the sea level.
On the low slopes of the eastern side of Etna, there are numerous farming villages exploiting the fertile volcanic soil for the cultivation of vines and citrus.
Once in Fornazzo, you get to the incredible lava flow that, in 1979, diverted its course, saving the small Chapel of the Sacred Heart (on the left) even if leaning against one wall and being able to penetrate a little inside. Today it is the destination of many believers who see this as a miraculous event and bring there many ex-voto. From Fornazzo a brief detour on the left allows you to reach the town of Sant’Alfio, where not far from the lovely old town you can see the Chestnut of the hundred horses: its age is estimated between 2000 and 4000 years and it is considered the oldest and largest tree in Europe. The legend has it that under its huge foliage Queen Joanna of Aragon found pleasant shelter along with her entourage of a hundred horsemen. Portrayed and described by many travelers and scholars in the 700 and 800, the Chestnut is nowadays a destination for visitors from all around the world as well as botanists.
From the hotel Palladio to get to the top of the South slope it is 47 km and the highway exit is Giarre: then continue through the town of Santa Venerina direction Zafferana Etnea following the signs reading Etna Sud until you reach Rifugio Sapienza (1900mt).
If you choose the Southern slope the vegetation is less rich than on the north, but the wonderful view extends over the entire Eastern coast and at the Rifugio Sapienza up at 1.900 meters (where you must leave your car) you will find the Silvestri craters: ancient mouths, off now which you may visit from the inside. The ascent to the central crater here is no-stop from 9am to 3.30pm (if the weather allows it) by cable car up to 2.500mt. and then by minibus with the guides up to the Tower of the Philosopher at 2.900mt. From the Tower of the Philosopher you can walk safely among the craters, off but still smoking, and enjoy the breathtaking view of three out of the four summit craters: on the right the almost perfect cone of the South-East crater, on the centre the so-called central hole and on the left the southwest crater, also known as the Bocca Nuova.
The ascent by cable car and minivans is quite expensive, but to get close to the active vents of the volcano is a unique experience.
Hiking at Mount Zoccolaro with view of the Valle del Bove
Before reaching the Rifugio Sapienza you can make a detour to a lovely path in the woods that ends on the grand Valle del Bove: enormous reservoir of numerous lava flows.
After Zafferana Etnea on the road SP92, take the junction with the indication to Monte Zoccolaro. After driving for a few kilometres you reach a clearing. From there, once you have parked the car, on the left begins a rough road. After a hundred metres starts a trail aongst a lush wood filled with chestnut trees alternated with Etna birch trees. The trail is very narrow and steep, about 1.5 km long. There are no deviations therefore you only need never to leave the marked path. The trail leads to the Cross of Monte Zoccolaro, at an altitude of 1739mt. From here you can enjoy a very beautiful view of the Valle del Bove, so if there are any eruptions within valley, it is an excellent point for observation.
The route is not suitable to ride on a mountain bike.
Trip length measured in time is about 45 minutes, always uphill.
The Circumetnea railway
An unusual way to discover the slopes all around Etna Volcano, is traveling using the small wagons of the Circumetnea train, the old railway that leaves from Catania and reaches Riposto (20 km. from Giardini, can be reached by car through the highway or by train).
LENGHT: km 110.963
MAXIMUM INCLINATION: 3,6%
MAXIMUM SPEED: 60 km/h
Who wishes to leave from Catania can use the city metro from the stop in Catania Central getting down at the Terminal of Catania Borgo.
From there, up on the surface, you take the rail car to start a unique experience of travel: you can try for yourself how they used to travel up to some years ago on the railway net at reduced gauge, as some of the transports are similar to the old railways, plus you have the wonderful landscape of Etna.
Right after departure starts a steep ramp and among the houses in the outskirts you begin to see at your sides the black rocks of lava, which will accompany you throughout the trip: you’ll see the solidified stream of lava of the 1669, which reached and destroyed Catania, then, after Misterbianco, a great view with an ever changing vegetation will come up, towards the mountain. The countryside is heavily farmed: the citrus trees give way to the olives, some rare vineyard, the fichidindia extensively raised.
You’ll meet one after the other the populated centers that surround the volcano on this side: Paternò, S.Maria di Licodia, Biancavilla, Adrano. The entrance in a new town is always marked by a deafening whistle, then, after you go through the ugly zones of the disordered urban spread, an abrupt stop at the terminal.
Don’t be bewildered if the train suddenly stops in the middle of nowhere (in the countryside): stops are on request, in fact up to some time ago these stops were made for the farmers who used the train to reach the land where they worked and then go back to their hometown, but now these stops may be the beginning for interesting excursions. For example from the small station in Passo Zingaro you can go up through a mule-track among fields of pistachio and ancient lava flows up to Monte Minardo, or from the stop Giurrida you can reach the nearby lake, very interesting point for ornithological viewing.
Once you pass Bronte the Circumetnea dives into a magnificent lava flow and it reaches its maximum height in the upland of Maletto in Difesa district, from whence you’ll enjoy a view of the top craters.
In Randazzo you are about mid-way through: you can take a break to visit the historical centre before starting to go down to the valley of Alcantara. The countryside starts to be punctuated by luxurious villas, and the train of the Circumetnea runs through the fine vineyard of the Solicchiata.
Small towns and villages run beside you one by one while you can start to see again the sparkling Jonian sea and at the sides of the railway there are citrus once again.
The Circumetnea train ends its run at the station in Riposto.
Etna town Randazzo
(about km 40) reachable from the hotel Palladio by highway A18 direction Catania, exit Fiumefreddo di Sicilia, then proceed along the SS 120 towards Piedimonte Etneo, Linguaglossa, Randazzo.
Town with many churches and Gothic palaces, built with lava stone, placed at 754 metres above sea level, between Etna and the last foothills of the Nebrodi, it rises on a slab of basalt lava, directly overlooking the river Alcantara with a landscape made even more impressive by the ruins of the walls encircling the towns and by the ancient castle with its towers, which dominates with its mass the large timpa of San Giovanni.
The apse and the perimeter walls of the church of Santa Maria are among the finest examples of architecture with lava rock.
The urban structure of the town is typically Medieval. Always spared from the magma – although it is the closest centre to the main crater of the volcano – the town is characterized by narrow streets, drawn in a semicircle, large squares, churches and stairways, green terraces with vineyards and fruit trees, buildings with facades decorated with artistic lava stone doorways and finely decorated mullioned windows. A must to visit is the archaeological museum Vagliasindi.
Etna town Bronte
(about 40 km.) From Randazzo proceed along the S.S 120 till Bronte.
Should be visited for its beautiful Roman Chapel of St. Maria Maniace with its impressive monastery which later became the Castle of Nelson (and is now open to visitors) and to sample the wonderful pastry made using the local pistachio. The flavour of the renowned pistachio grown around the town of Bronte is different in quality, sweetness and aroma from those from California or Iranian pistachios commonly commercialized, the European Union has granted it the DOP, the Designation of Protected Origin.
The city was ruled in succession by the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans. In 1040 the Norman-Byzantine army led by General Maniace, here defeated the Saracens in a memorable battle which gave its name to the Monastery of St. Mary Maniace, built in the late 12th century. The Abbey of Maniace, heavily damaged by an earthquake towards the end of the 12th century, has been later rebuilt. It includes a splendid park and the beautiful Arab-Norman church, which contains many interesting pieces, among which there is a precious polyptych of 1200, depicting the Enthroned Virgin with San Biagio, S. Antonio Abate and Santa Lucia.
It passed through many hands, beginning with the Benedictine and the Basilian Friars, and it was eventually bestowed to Admiral Nelson as a reward for his terrible repression of the Neaples revolt. Prize for a bloodstained repression, it became then cause for another: upon the arrival of Garibaldi in Sicily the people of Bronte believed that his victory would mean the return of the duchy to the municipality and therefore they claimed the distribution of the lands, disappointed they once again revolted: Bixio arrived to quell the riots in blood. But on this story we need to read Sciascia:
«THAT BLOODBATH FOR A PIECE OF LAVA» The hunger for land, for this arid and black ground that with inexpressible patience and hard labor the men can change into gardens, here has generated bloody riots as that which, in August 1860, was blindly repressed by Nino Bixio at Biancavilla, Randazzo, Cesaro’, Bronte; and in Bronte with particular rigor as the hunger for land of the peasants applied also to the feud that the Bourbon king had given in1799 to the admiral Nelson, the famous dukedom of Bronte, the parceling out of which happened only recently, as this estate, besides the Bourbon king, had been usurped also in1491 by the Pope, and for centuries Bronte’s citizens had to fight for the rights of their Council over the feud, judicially and with tragic riots. In Bronte the word “communist” indicates the party, the popular faction that appealed for and demanded the restitution to the Council of the usurped land and its parceling out in opposition to the “ducal” party, in which the well-off class, supporting the great usurpation represented by the duchy were hiding their own small misdeeds. It is a very interesting municipal story and for the facts of August 1860 gets a case of conscience of the Italian state, of the nation; it says what the Risorgimento had not been, not realized ideas, hopes painfully frustrated for which we still feel pain and frustration. The divided stony ground of the original duchy, (only few hundred hectares remains to the hard heir of Nelson), is now neglected as anywhere in Sicily. To the same peasant coming back to Bronte from the north of Italy, from Germany or Belgium, to spend here his holidays, shall appear absurd and incredible that people of his condition, if not relatives, had been able to kill or to be killed for a piece of stony ground.
“We want the “sciarelle!”, (small piece of lava ground), the shout of the drowned riot, is far and unreal, almost ridiculous, the feud looks now like a deserted lunar landscape. But it is strange to find oneself suddenly in the midst of it, facing the Castle of Maniace, surrounded by tall trees, wrapped in sound of water. And the trees and the water seem to evoke fog and you can have the illusion to stand on a piece of English country side. As anywhere man carries the image of his own country; and the English administrators of the duchy , even without realizing it, recreated here the ambience of their own faraway land. Entering the castle, which is actually the ancient Abbey of Saint Maria of Maniace, the suggestion gets deeper. In the court yard there is a cross of lava stone, only shaped differently to ours, studded, in memory of Nelson; In the church are buried the English feud administrators and their families; and for who knows something about the facts of 1860 would notice the name Thovez; as William and Frank Thovez were the administrators during that time. They, as their predecessors and successors in the administration of the feud, were able to recreate an English landscape around the castle, while the Sicilian reality was able to change them into Sicilians of the worse kind: mean, cunning, tortuous, very able to play both sides. Here, where the Greek Giorgio Maniace defeated in 1040 the Saracens, on the feud exactly called Saracina, Orazio Nelson and Nino Bixio’ s glory falls down in blood and injustice: Nelson accepted this land as payment for treason and a massacre, Bixio became an apostle of terror instead of justice.
(Drawn from works 1971-1983 edited by Claude Ambrosie Bompiani’ s classics.)
A Handmade Hotel for a holiday custom made for you. Family owned and with a large and attentive staff, Palladio is a small hotel where we take great care of our guests:
Situated in front of the beach stretching along the promenade of Giardini Naxos, the Hotel Palladio is a charme hotel with balconies and terraces overlooking the splendid bay and the cliffs of the mount in Taormina.
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