Etna: the big charmer

Above all, let’s say with its 3350 m ASL this is the highest active volcano we have in Europe and it is visible even at great distances with its typical plume of smoke. Already at a first glance we see the Mount Etna is much more than a mountain, it is the real throbbing heart of eastern Sicily and its vision is charming;  When i am nearby, i always find myself daydreaming while staring at it. The Etna covers a very large area (more than 1100 sq km) and lies before the Ionian sea between two rivers: The Alcàntara and the Simeto dominating the scene.

mount etna - snow
Mount Etna covered with snow.

The famous and beautiful city of Catania is only a few km far from it, and a lot of smaller towns and villages that have to be considered as its hinterland are situated on the circumference of the volcano: Giarre, Bronte, Zafferana Etnea and many others. This is actually the most alive and busy area in Sicily. Driving along the roads going up to the top is already a fantastic experience, the panoramic views on the Ionian sea, and Catania (east) or the rest of Sicily (west) are breathtaking and step by step the environment turns from a marine landscape into an alpine wood and again into a lava desert where everything is covered with black volcanic ashes. In late Spring and Summer large spots of pink flowers grow everywhere and the contrast with the black ashes is absolutely unusual.

etna - flowers
Mount Etna, flowers and ashes in summer.

The snow on the top of the mount Etna lasts usually until late spring, on the southern side there is a ski station which has its basis at Rifugio Sapienza at almost 2000m ASL, an alpine refuge and a hotel (in case you want to stay overnight). Very close to this refuge there are a few extinguished craters known as Crateri Silvestri, where tourists are allowed to walk in, and this, will be like you are walking on Mars! For those among you who might be interested in stronger experiences, there are many different guided tours you can join that will take you to the top of the volcano or to the Grotta del gelo which is a very interesting underground glacier or by sunset, in particular spots on the western side. Do not forget this is a high mountain and a volcano, it could be dangerous so we recommend not to organize this special trips on your own!

etna - crater
Mount Etna, side crater.

Living on the slopes of a large active volcano must be sometimes scaring but the inhabitants have a very strong relationship with it since ever. In fact, “a’ muntagna” (the mountain) is felt as a danger but also as a blessing. Its pouring lava and its ashes, so dangerous during an eruption, actually made a great job during the last 500.000 years and today, this happens to be a particularly fertile territory. The cultivation of special products, often famous worldwide, like the Pistacchio di Bronte, or the rare Apple Cola is possible here thanks to the action of the good giant, nowadays even high quality avocados are successfully cultivated here.  In June 2013, the Etna was included on the World Heritage List by UNESCO because of its naturalistic and cultural values.

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