|Sicily: Volcanoes in the Sea
Many prejudices do exist concerning this island, some might even be true. But I discovered another Sicily, one that is wild, friendly and very charming. My Sicily consists of the coast around Taormina, the Aeolian Islands, the Nebrodi mountains, great local food and wines - and of course, vulcanoes.
You can't compare Sicily with other islands, as it combines so many contrasts. Snow on top of Etna, while the grounds you are walking on are still steaming hot where lava has been flowing more than a year ago. Black lava, the blue sea and a lush vegetation. A people, always endangered by volcanic eruptions but nevertheless friendly, open and giving. Poor, almost forgotten villages in the mountains and mondane coastal areas. Sicily has to be visited by individuals, which also look to side and don't attach themselves to a prefabricated plan, but rather take the opportunity to discover something new. If you are one of them, Sicily might be one of the best destinations for an active holiday in Europe.
How to get there
Travelling in the area
Things you shouldn't miss...
Things you shouldn't do...
- Italian Tourist Web Guide for Sicily - a very good starting point
- Province of Catania
- Information on Sicily's volcanoes by Boris Behnke
- Intellicast forecast for Catania
- Yahoo! Weather for Catania
- Weather forecasts by meteosicilia
For Sicily in general I didn't find any recommendable map. Apart from road maps, only the the areas of interest for tourists are covered with specific maps. For the Aeolian Islands (i.e. Stromboli and Vulcano) I used map "Isole Eolie - Carta turistica e nautica", which is a rather old und not too reliable 1:25.000 map. For a trip to Stromboli exists another, rather innovative map: "Discovering the island of Stromboli" by Vincenzo Moreno & Denis P. Demoriane. The Etna is covered a lot better by the CAI map "Mt. Etna - carta escursionista altomontana", S.EL.CA. Firenze, with 1:25.000 scale. All these maps are fortunately available in Italian, English and German and can be obtained locally.
- Area Map from National Geographic
- Sicily Map by Viaggio.com
- Map for Catania by MapBlast!
- Map (1:25.000) (340k) of the tour to Etna's Central Crater (Voragine, Etna North)
- Map (1:25.000) (153k) of the tour to the Montagnola (Etna South)
- Map (1:25.000) (120k) of the tour to Vulcano's Gran Cratere
- Map (1:????) (198k) of the tour on Stromboli
How to get there
Sicily has two major airports: Catania and Palermo. The former is the best choice for a trip to the Etna and to Taormina. If you are coming by car you should use the ferries connecting Calabria with the island, e.g. with Milazzo or, even shorter, with Messina.
- Ferry Boats - Services for Sicily by informare.it
Travelling in the area
Don't rely too much on the local public transport. It will take you from town to town, but it is much easier to travel on Sicily with a car. Consequently, the offers for tourists are pretty good on the island: you can rent a car for rather low prizes at the airports and in every major town. To reach the Eolian Islands you will have to use a ferry, e.g. from Milazzo to Lipari - expect to pay 35 EURO one-way with a small car. If you intend to visit not just Lipari, but also Stromboli, Vulcano or Salina, Siremar will bring you there pretty fast with the aliscafi for approx. 4 EURO per person. I would suggest to leave the car in Lipari generally, as for the trip to Gran Cratere on Vulcano you won't need a car - it is just an hour from the port - and on Stromboli no cars are allowed anyway.
- Ferry Services of Siremar
Sicily has a very good touristical infrastructure. No matter if you travel to Taormina, the Etna region or the islands, you will find lots of good hotels. My preferred hotel for Taormina was the Hotel Igiea in the Via Circonvallazione. Fair prize (40 EURO per night per person) for a very style with a perfect view on Taormina and Etna, and just five minutes from the centre of Taormina (view at night, photo of the hotel). Just two minutes from the hotel is a fine restaurant, called Liola - specialized on fish and seafood and serving a great local white wine, Regaleali. If you are looking for a calmer place, you might want to try Agriturismo San Cataldo. You find it on the SS185 from Giardini-Naxos in direction to Francavilla di Sicilia, signposts at the road - close to the famous Gola d'Alcantára - will show you the way. Fine food and very nice hosts. For the Etna south region/Nicolosi I can't make a clear recommendation. We ended up in the local youth hostel, which is rather a good hotel from its prizes and style. But very recommendable was a restaurant nearby, the Hosteria "Al Palmento". You only get served fresh food of the day, due to this, your choice will be limited. But the quality of ingredients and preparation as well as the service are five stars - definitely. And this for prizes as low as 45 EURO for two, including a bottle of Barolo and a four course meal. In Piano Provenzana, Etna North, the Albergo "La Provenzana" proved to be a good choice - among the two hotels which exist up there. Mezza Pensione for 41 EURO. On the Eolian Islands, I liked two hotels the most: the Hotel "Rojas Bahja" (Phone 090 9852080) right at the fumaroles in Vulcano and the Pensione "Villa Petrusa" in Stromboli (090 986045). Both will cost 50 EURO per night per person, including breakfast.
- Accommodation Info by itwg
- for more info on accomodation on the Eolian Islands, check out the website of the local Tourist Office
Sicily is of course an eldorado for lovers of the mediterranean lifestyle. And almost every imaginable water sport is possible here as well as visits to some of the most reknown artefacts of the ancient greek culture. But for me, the volcanoes and mountains of the island were the main attractor...
The volcanoes, first of all Mt. Etna, "Mongibello", and their activity throughout history are deeply interwoven with the Sicilian lifestyle and culture. So it doesn't surprise, that there exists a good infrastructure of streets, paths, trails and skiing areas around them. Because of this, every hiker has good chances - depending on weather and vulcanic activity - to hike to the peeks and craters without any problems. But be aware, that the volcanoes are not extinguished at all, they can erupt always, without any preliminary warning. And even in calm periods they all do emit gases, which are toxic and should be avoided.
- Tour: From Piano Provenzana to the Central Crater/the Voragine of Mt. Etna, 3.253m
- Tour: From Vulcano's port to the Gran Cratere, 391m
- Tour: From San Vicenzo to Stromboli's Pizzo, 918m
The shape of a vulcano and its surface are an invitation to leave the beaten tracks. In many parts, the Etna has wide slopes and is easy to walk on. Trekking is a very good way to get to know the mountain a little better, far away from the 4wd busses carrying tourists to the "safe" viewpoints. Trekking is extremely rewarding and a lot of fun on this mountain, but as it is so huge and has its own micro climate, a map, a compass and an altimeter are indispensable if you intend to leave the marked trails. We would've been lost in this endless scenery of gravel, lava and debris without them. But as we were well equipped, we could enjoy the "our" trail and in my opinion, we had the best day on Sicily's volcanoes on that day...
- Tour: From Rifugio Sapienza to the Montagnola, 2.638m
...things you shouldn't miss!
There are a couple of things, which have to be done in my opinion when you visit this part of Sicily. First of all, you have to visit Mt. Etna. Depending on local conditions and your preferences, there exists a wide range of possibilities to get in touch with the biggest volcano of Western Europe. If you don't want to organize a trip yourself, you might want to try Etna Holiday, Nicolosi (phone +39 095 7918000). If you like caves, you can also explore the many lava tunnels around Etna, too. Some of them are hundres of metres long and you can even stand upright in them. Generally, they are safe, but will require of course a good head lamp and the usual safety measures for caving. Inquire locally for the best lava tunnels in the area. And Stromboli is definitely worth a visit, too. If Etna has a calm period, at least Stromboli will be active and you have an almost 100% chance to see eruptions, which will impress you most during sunset and by night. Again, you can use a commercial operator if you can't organize the (easy) trip yourself: CAI-AGAI organize daily excursions to the Pizzo (phone 090 986211).
Apart from all this mountain related activity I can strongly recommend to visit Nebrodi. Just at the pass of the road between San Fratello and Cesarò is a small mountain hotel with restaurant called Villa Miraglia (6 rooms, phone 095 696585). Here you will get freshly grilled meats of the woods and nice self made wines at low prizes. And the rooms are small and very cozy. If you are around, plan to stay there overnight! Last but not least, stay away from the pizzerias and tourist menus offered. You'll be surprised how good and varied the Sicilian cooking is!
...things you shouldn't do!
A couple of things can be omitted in my opinion. For example, many people will tell you that you have to visit the Fumarole in Vulcano. Decide by yourself, but it just stinks a lotand is very disgusting to smear mud all over you, which is full of hair and "parts" of the many visitors who took a bath in there. Another thing that disappointed me was the visit of the Gola d'Alcantara. It is very streamlined for the masses of bus tourists visiting this gorge every day and you can literally do nothing there except from looking and taking a few pictures. If you really want to enter the gorge à la canyoning, you will have to well prepared... Last but not least, don't support the commercial guides on Etna (S.T.A.R. and the like). They will charge approx. 35 EURO per person (!) for a ride in their 4wd bus to a viewpoint far away from the craters, are arrogant and unfriendly. If you are just looking for a ride, you can still drive up with them an leave the group - at your own risk.