The highest active volcano of Europe awaits you to conquer your favors with its majesty and wild nature. Take time for a different holiday by visiting Mount Etna and the Natural Park, and you’ll discover a different Sicily altogether.
“The Mountain” (“‘a muntagna”, as Sicilian people love to call it) is one of the most famous landmarks of the whole island. Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe (even though its height keeps varying as parts of the top are constantly destroyed during eruptions) and was listed among the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO back in 2013: its activity through history, together with redefining the landscape all around, keeps on contributing to geological studies and research – hence its priceless value for the humankind.
The landscape of the volcano and its Natural Park varies a lot: the southern and eastern flanks are the most urbanized and cultivated (at least until about 1000 meters above sea level), while the western flank is more wild and barren and the northern side is rich in verdant forests. Winter sports lovers will be happy to know that skiing on the side of an active volcano is actually possible: ski resorts are located in Linguaglossa (northern side) and Nicolosi, located on the southern flank. The Rifugio Sapienza ski resort, in Nicolosi, is particularly famous for the marvellous panorama it provides: you’ll have the chance to enjoy an outstanding overlook of the city of Catania and of the Ionian sea, until the shores of Calabria, while you’re skiing!
Human presence on the flanks of the volcano has been steady and continuous since the dawn of time, despite the huge amount of eruptions that destroyed villages, towns and even the city of Catania, which has been built and re-built from scratch every time. Plenty of excursions are organised to reach the very top crater – one of the main reasons of the huge success of Mount Etna, as the chances for anyone to visit the top of an active volcano are usually very rare. Excursions are of course subjected to the activity of Mount Etna – but don’t worry: if your trip has been cancelled because of an eruption, the outstanding show of the roaring volcano (especially at night or in winter when it’s covered in snow) will definitely compensate.
The Park of Etna is also studded with tiny villages, hamlets and towns, usually most known for their ancient traditions and delicious local products. Vineyards, citrus trees, orchards, olive groves and other delights are grown on the fertile soil of the volcano, and each town has its own specialty – like Bronte, the capital of pistachios, also known here as the “Green gold of Sicily” (discover more about local products of the area in our article about Eastern Sicily delicacies). A visit to these fascinating towns is highly recommended, and the most picturesque and original way to discover them all is the Circumetnea Railway (“Ferrovia Circumetnea”): a little train that goes around almost the whole perimeter of the volcano and crosses the main towns of the area, from the city centre of Catania to the little seafaring town of Riposto, also called “port of Mount Etna”.
Travelling around Mount Etna on the Circumetnea Railway is a delightful experience itself – even without getting off the train at all. You’ll have the chance to observe fascinating landscapes and to discover the pleasant countryside of the Etna Park: low yellowish hills dotted with goats and other animals (even a dromedary ranch!), forests and woods, and glimpses of the most authentic country life. Some of the beautiful town you’ll see are Bronte, the capital of pistachios, Nicolosi and Linguaglossa, the destinations for winter sports lovers as well as for those who wish to visit the top of the volcano, and Castiglione di Sicilia, listed among the 100 most beautiful hamlets of Italy, perched on the northern flank of Mount Etna and graced with an astonishing panorama. Take your time to walk through the ancient streets of these towns: you’ll discover a peaceful environment where people still live quietly, following the natural pace of the days and the seasons.