Category Archives: Destinations

Into the danger zone

By now most people will have read about the BBC journalists, the German tourists and the vulcanologists who got caught up in one of Etna’s explosions yesterday. I found out when my partner called me to tell me the news. Quite frankly, I was a little surprised that they were there and so close because I had seen grey smoke rising into the sky early that morning and had seen that the alarm was yellow which is the pre-alarm warning. I also couldn’t believe that they weren’t wearing protective head gear as I was recently made to do when I visited the craters a few months ago. Anyway, it could’ve been worse and fortunately, there were no serious injuries. The streets of Catania pose far more danger due to the bullies who drive like maniacs and the phone addicted who send texts while driving.

I can also understand the allure. Etna has always fascinated me and I spend a great deal of my free time there. I get excited every time it erupts and usually take a trip to see the lava flow up closer (although not as close as these guys went). I have watched its form change with every eruption and if it hasn’t been active for a while I start to complain. I have taken the funivia to the top a number of purse-string breaking times but it was my recent trip to the crater zone that excited me the most.

When we booked the excursion we were told that we should arrive early at Rifugio Sapenzia and the guides would determine if it was safe to go up. It was quite windy and weather conditions can deteriorate quite quickly there so it is never guaranteed that a trip will go ahead. We were lucky that day and the guided walk to the top was given permission to proceed. However, first we had to sign our lives away. When you read the declaration that you take full responsibility and that you are aware of the dangers it does make you think twice but obviously not enough. We were given hard hats and my first thought was that they wouldn’t protect us much if she decided to blow, but now, in light of recent events, at least they would have prevented a head injury. Our guide told us that he was always slightly afraid of the volcano because being a vulcanologist he was aware of her power and unpredictability, but that he noticed that, often tourists showed no fear at all and that, he thought, was more dangerous.

We were quite a large mixed bunch with a few people standing out. Two eldery French tourists looked the most professional and were probably the fittest, each one using walking sticks which would later cause me much annoyance. There were a group of friends from Palermo who had decided to go at the last minute and had had to hire boots and later bemoaned how lightly dressed they were. Two German guys on the last day of their holiday saved the guide from having to translate in 3 languages by showing no interest in the scientific stuff; I was presumed to know enough Italian to follow and thankfully I kind of did.

We took the cable car up and then the large 4×4 buses which take you to the Torre del Filosofo or what used to be the Torre del Filosofo as a previous eruption had destroyed that landmark. Then it was a long, difficult climb to the top. The steepness of the path was quite deceptive and the high altitude meant I went from the front to the back of the pack in no time. Every time I needed to stop to catch my now somewhat laboured breath, I would pretend that I just wanted to take a picture, but as we drew closer to the summit craters I didn’t even have the energy for that. The incredible views spurred me on.  One slow step after another and finally, we had reached the top and my energy came back in leaps and bounds as I was refueled by excitement.

This is going to be easy
Getting a little more difficult
Forever Climbing

You haven’t experienced Etna until you have visited the crater zone. Hours could be spent staring at the different coloured rocks, marvelling at the active fumaroles and knowing that just beneath the crust under your very feet magma was creeping its way up.  Up there photo opportunities are galore and our group completely forgot where they were and the dangers that were abundant and we all, more often than not, would find ourselves far from the guide who would patiently wait for us to catch up because he probably experienced this frequently. We stared into Voragine and Bocca Nuova in awe for some time then walked on towards a small pit crater.

As we got closer to the pit crater which we had seen emitting grey smoke from the other side of the larger crater, the ground grew more bright yellow and we could see the smoke from the pit and other gases moving across the ground. Our guide deemed it safe to continue and off we trotted but the wind changed and soon we were all standing around, somewhat unsure, gasping for air as our throats tightened, our heads got dizzy and our noses burned as we breathed in the toxic gases coming from the volcano. There had been that putrid smell of sulphur most of the morning but the intense concentration of gases at that spot meant that most of us were overwhelmed by it. The guide in the meantime had been drawn to something and disappeared for only a minute but for what seemed like forever towards the NE crater. We stood motionless, covering our mouths with our scarves but the gas would still catch the back of our throats and soon our chests also felt like they were burning. As the guide came back towards us we suddenly became aware that one girl was having a panic attack. The guide rushed to her aid and took her off back down the mountain and away from the danger zone. The rest of us followed a bit more slowly as we were all a little disorientated.

Walking into the unknown

As the group gathered together once more we saw a cloud of grey smoke rise from the New SE crater but it was a mere puff and nothing too dangerous.  After that, the pace back down increased, a few of us stumbled as if slightly intoxicated and when we were at a safer distance we sat and ate lunch. I was so tired and hungry that I sat on the snow and didn’t care until much later when my trousers were wet and my bum numb from the cold. I had also sat in the shade  opposite from the Sicilians who were soaking up the sun.

Rejuvenated after a picnic lunch we continued on down the mountain past big boulders that had been spewed out in previous eruptions. At times, the slope was steep and the rocks large and the French lady’s stick kept dislodging large stones that hurled down the slope like an avalanche only stopping when they hit my ankle. I cursed loudly and waited for her to pass so that I wasn’t injured further but I am not even sure she noticed.  We passed different lava formations and craters and stuck our hands into a hole in a crater which was still warm. My legs at this stage were rather wobbly but there was no let up in the pace so I did my best to keep up whilst staying upright. Despite the thrill of the morning and my enormous excitement, I was relieved to reach the cable car station and head back to Rifugio Sapienza for a glass of well deserved local red wine and a bit of warmth. Would I do it again? Absolutely, the recent eruption means that all has changed and there will be something new to see. Might just wait until it has calmed down a bit though and for now just watch the lava flow from my balcony.

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If you’re looking for birds….

..then head to Vendicari Nature Reserve, preferably in the winter months. Obviously, I am talking about the winged variety here and you don’t have to be an avid bird watcher to get excited about seeing herons, cormorants, spoonbills and flamingos. If you are like me, you will come away not knowing half of the birds that you have seen but feeling that you have seen something special and watching the starlings swarm through the sky as the sun sets adds to the experience. IMG_0645

We headed there one glorious afternoon in December. As we hadn’t yet been to Marianelli beach we decided to park there and walk along the coast to the bird observation points. It was 17c so we had hoped to have a winter dip in the ocean but it was a little too rough to do that, plus there was a little too much seaweed in the water at Calamosche. Instead, we searched among the driftwood and enjoyed the sound of the sea battering against the shore. DSC_0240

We arrived at the first bird hide as the sun was starting to set but because I was able to see some flamingos in the distance we carried on walking to the next bird observation point despite the setting sun. We were not disappointed. As light faded, cormorants and starlings flew above our heads. We saw countless herons of many types, spoonbills, hundreds of cormorants and flamingos. We marvelled at the number of birds including those we knew nothing of, completely forgetting that we had a fair distance to cover to get back to the car. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away and started to walk back. Pink Flamingos in Vendicari 031

It was then that we realised just how low the sun had sunk and how little time we had to get back to the car. So we marched as fast as we could back, with each step it became darker until the dusk had turned into night and we were half way back and in complete darkness. The bright moon of previous nights had yet to make an appearance. The path was rocky with plant roots ready to trip you up at any moment. I used the light of my phone to find our way. Every now and then we would hear the sound of some small mammal or reptile in the bushes which together with the sea bashing against the rocks added to the spookiness and fueled my ever vivid imagination. The hardest part was locating the entrance to the path from the beach but we eventually made it in record time for we had not once dropped our fast pace.DSC_0329 (2)

Next time, we’ll go back in the morning when we will have a full day of sunlight and more time to appreciate the birds that migrate there and perhaps, without the low light we will be able to take better photos.

Descending into the Valle del Bove

‘Hmmm….’ the Parco Del Etna guide looked us up and down, ‘…………..they are walking shoes, not boots and have you got anything warmer it can get cold up there’. My partner and I looked at each other and promptly decided we would be fine as we had used the same shoes in Iceland where there are far more volcanoes, we had warm clothes in our backpacks (which in the end we didn’t need anyway) and that the guide had just felt the need to say something as tends to be the case here in Sicily. Someone is always there with some unwanted advice and this was no different. This was confirmed when others joined us and the guide said nothing about their ‘inappropriate footwear’.

Every now and again, the Parco Dell Etna organise walking tours at the weekend. You pay a very small and reasonable fee and you get to discover new walks on Etna whilst learning titbits of information along the way. Finding out about these walks is down to luck as they are not advertised very well and you therefore often come across them by chance, as I did. This one particulary intrigued me as it was a walk into the Valle de Bove or Valley of the Bulls. I have stood at various points and looked down into the Valle del Bove but never have I actually ventured into it, mainly because I had no idea how to get there.

The Valle del Bove is a massive, wide valley that was thought to be created from a collapsed crater. It hugely important as the majority of lava flows from eruptions end up here and the basin is so large that it is able to take all this lava thereby protecting the towns on the lower slopes of Etna – most of the time anyway. When you see it you can’t quite take in how big it is but what you definitely notice is that it is one vast, black expanse of lava. For more information on its formation, click here, it is quite an interesting read!Above the clouds

The weather was perfect on the morning of the walk. Clear blue skies gave us the best view of Etna that we have ever had as we made our way up the winding roads to Rifugio Sapienza. A group of about 20 of us took the cable cars up to a height of 2,500 m. The view of distant mountain peaks and the occasional lake was  quite a breathtaking sight. We walked uphill for a short distance before veering away from the main craters and walking to a ridge which overlooked the Valle del Bove. Here, the panorama was something else. Yes, we could see the mainland of Italy to our left but on our right we were also able to make out the Scogliera at Aci Trezza. As we marvelled at the view a cloud of ash blew out of one of the craters behind us.Black & Red

As we stood on the ridge, I kept looking at the angle of the slope we were about to go down. A steep slope which consisted of volcanic sand. As we started to descend my legs felt a bit wobbly and I nearly lost my bottle but I soon learnt to lean back slightly to steady myself and before I knew it I was taking bigger and more confident steps. The sand was so soft that it went up to almost knee height. Little by little people grew in confidence and soon one or two of them went flying past me. It didn’t matter that we were only wearing walking shoes and  not boots as everyone had to stop now and then to empty the sand from their shoes. The changing landscape and views as we made out way down continued to impress as we snapped away with our cameras and phones. Several stops to empty shoes (and boots, I gleefully add) later we arrived at the bottom of the valley where we pearched on some lava rocks and ate something, lamented how we should have brought some wine with us and emptied our shoes again.Angles It's all downhill from here The long way down

The next part of the walk was equally as fascinating as we meandered through the valley past different lava formations, jumping over large cracks and finding a new route around a large rockfall.Cracked open

After a brief respite we started the climb out of the valley. We had to climb over a few trees which had fallen across the path and the climb was steep. Most of us stopped to take photos of a particulary poisonous mushroom which glowed bright red against the black earth. For me, it was a great excuse to catch my ever dwindling breath. Once we got to the top, we were again met by beautiful views of one of the craters and the Valle de Bove. I managed to appreciate it despite my now wobbling legs.

We then completed our walk passing through a familiar trail and all feeling tired but satisfied with the day’s walk. The only downside was the large amount of litter we encountered at the car park. All those ignorant people who picnic there and dump their rubbish should be hanging their heads in the shame as they are destroying the very nature that the flock to visit.

Lampedusa On My Mind

I have just returned from Lampedusa. One of the many islands that make up Sicily and one that is actually closer to Tunisia than it is the Italian mainland. It is well-known among Italians as a holiday destination, especially those from the north of Italy but less so among other nationalities. I didn’t hear any other language spoken bar from Italian (and of course Sicilian) the whole time I was there although I was reliably informed that a few Canadians were on the island. And you know what? I loved the fact that this island has not succumbed to mass tourism! Although as RAI 24 were there reporting that tourism had suffered a significant fall in recent years it would be better for the island if more people knew about it. Of course, Lampedusa is never off the news due to the desperate plight and continuous arrival of migrants from Africa. Lampedusa is an island of tourists, fishermen, migrants, turtles and dogs. All of which will be covered in separate posts as this island left a lasting impression on me and I have so much to say about so many of the issues it faces.

So, where do I start when I have so much to say? I guess with tourism and what there is to do and see. Well, the main draw of Lampedusa HAS to be the sea and its coastline. That obviously includes the famous ‘Rabbit Beach’. The island itself is small, easy to get around but doesn’t really have anything of interest. It is hugely devoid of trees and gets blasted by the wind in winter so it looks desert like, a huge slab of flat rock floating on the sea.

The town is very small, most of the action is centered around Via Roma which is where you will find boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. There are the old and new ports which I loved just walking around at different times of the day. The island is geared towards to the tourist. You will find bike, jeep, scooter, car hire places in the new port and boat trips in both ports. Don’t expect the scooters to be top notch or for everything to work. This is an island after all and they are much more relaxed about everything. The speedometer on our scooter didn’t work and the brakes squeaked like mad but the price was reasonable and the island is small so it doesn’t really matter. Petrol  is expensive and on the day we arrived the petrol station had run out. This meant HUGE queues the next day when the tankard arrived on the island so bear this in mind when choosing which type of vehicle you want to hire, also make sure you aren’t running on empty as you can’t guarantee the petrol stations will have fuel. The island is dotted with coves and small beaches.

To help you decide how to spend your time, here are my top ten things to do:

1. Hire a day boat

Day boat hire at Lampedusa is a cost-effective way of exploring the coastline independently.
Day boat hire at Lampedusa is a cost-effective way of exploring the coastline independently.

Ok, so we were a little anxious about this as we had never piloted a boat before but it is a great way to see the coastline at your own pace. Strong winds on the north of the island meant that we could only visit the south of the island but the best swimming spots are on the south so it really didn’t matter. Having your own boat means you can avoid or keep ahead of the crowds. If you are lucky, you’ll have a cove to yourself for an hour or two. Dropping anchor causes the most stress as in the coves if you anchor in sand you will drift, you’ll get thee hang of it but keep an eye out on the boat when you go for a swim. We had to return to our boat when someone else hadn’t anchored properly and were drifting towards our boat. There are a number of companies who hire boats. We used DAG and they gave us a little test run first to make sure we knew what we were doing. They provide a handy cooler for drinks. Cost depends on how much petrol you use. The hire of the boat is 50 Euro plus petrol. We ended up paying 80 Euro for a day’s hire.

2. Dolphin Watching

Watching dolphins swim at sunset
Watching dolphins swim at sunset

It is possible to see dolphins off the coast of Lampedusa. We took an organised tour and went on the lookout for dolphins. It was a memorable experience and the sunset on the way back unforgettable. We spent a good hour, perhaps more, watching the dolphins with La Perla del Mare.  The cost of the trip was 20 Euros a head.

3. Round the Island Boat Trip

Vying for the tourist trade
Vying for the tourist trade

Yep, yet another boat trip but a nice, relaxing way to spend a day and meet some fellow tourists. There are loads of boat operators offering pretty much the same tour. We went with Perla del Mare and were not disappointed. We got to the most popular areas before the other boats and left when too many boats came. The food was excellent, plenty of it including some leftover for the fish. Giovanni was a gregarious host and although we had slightly more people on our boat than the max of 12, we didn’t really notice. At 40 Euro per head it was definitely money well spent.

4. Rabbit Beach

One of the best beaches in the world
One of the best beaches in the world


Most people would be surprised that Rabbit Beach, named best beach in the world in 2013 by travellers on the TripAdvisor website, would come so far down the list. Well, the thing is, it is too popular. We headed there early to beat the crowds but as the turtles are laying their eggs there at night you are not allowed down to the beach until 8.30am. By then, quite a few people had arrived. We were lucky to be among the first to lay out our towels and walk into the crystal clear sea but after an hour or so Italians being Italians we were surrounded. Now, this wasn’t just the inconvenience of having a family or couple close by, they were on top of us. Towel touching towel so to speak. One family plomped themselves in the shade of our parasol advising us that the shade would soon move. There was space further back, but everyone wanted to be as close to the sea as possible and they would have plonked themselves on our towels if they could have. Some Italians like to stand around in the shallow of the sea which also meant that I was staring at an old man’s bum for quite some time. We enjoyed the beach and the water is amazing BUT two hours after arriving we left. If you can’t beat them, leave them to it! Seriously, go early morning to make the most of it (8.30am) or outside of the months July and August.

5. A sunset aperitivo

Watching the sunset from O'scia
Watching the sunset from O’scia

An aperitivo at O’scia whilst watching the sun go down is a MUST. Drink a cocktail or two and take advantage of their buffet and you won’t need to eat out later.

6. Explore the island by scooter

The stunning coastline of Lampedusa
The stunning coastline of Lampedusa

The coastline is just as spectacular from above. The roads may be a bit bumpy now and again but you will get almost empty roads when you leave the town and stunning views out to sea.

7. Visit the turtle hospital

The longest resident of the turtle hospital at Lampedusa
The longest resident of the turtle hospital at Lampedusa

The turtle hospital is located in the old port and is open Mon to Fri in the evening. Informative volunteers are on hand to tell you about each turtle they have in their care.

8. Cocktails at Turkez

Enjoying a cocktail as the sunset sets over Cala Croce
Enjoying a cocktail as the sunset sets over Cala Croce

Another great place to have an aperitivo and close to town. You will find it at Cala Croce.

9. The Sanctuary of Our LadyThe Sanctuary of our Lady of Lampedusa
Worth a look as there are some old previously inhabited caves and a little church.

10.  Archivio Storico Lampedusa
Whilst the museum in being reconstructed there is a very interesting studio to visit with old photos and newspaper front pages which tell the story of the inhabitants of Lampedusa.

Aci Trezza & Aci Castello – The Normans meets Greek Mythology

Aci Trezza and Aci Castello are seaside towns north of Catania that merge into each other but each have their own feel and stories. Towns where people drive to from Catania and around to go for a ‘passeggiata'(a stroll which in most places is more to be ‘seen’ than for exercise, undertaken quite often on a Sunday evening when people get dolled up in their Sunday best; people walk so slowly that they barely seem to be moving and stop often). They are also great places to have a granita or an aperitivo as the views over the sea are stunning.

Aci Castello is dominated by a Norman castle which sits on a large rock that seems to have come from no-where. At the base of the rock, people sunbathe or fish. Along the coastline of both towns you find people perched on the lava rocks, soaking up the sun; they rather remind me of seals basking. In the town square you will find Sicilian men passing away the hours, chatting and sitting in the shade beneath the trees whilst the women clean the house and prepare lunch or dinner. When we were there a couple arrived to film their pre-wedding video. It is customary to film a short video telling the story behind a couple’s romance. It is also a popular spot for wedding photographs with the castle and the sea as the backdrop. The castle is interesting to visit and contains a small museum.


You can sea Aci Trezza from Aci Castello but alas in the summer you can’t walk along the seafront from one town to the other due to a rather large, private lido commanding all of the available space and blocking any walkway. It is a shame as I think it would prove to be an added attraction and benefit for both towns. Aci Castello viewed from Aci trezza Aci Trezza seen from Aci CastelloAci Trezza is the busier of the two and in fact a borough belonging to Aci Castello. Instead of a castle it is dominated by – I Faraglioni dei Ciclopi – the rock of the Cyclops, as local legend would have it that these are the rocks that were thrown by Polythemus at Odysseus when the latter was making his escape. It is not difficult to understand the reasoning for this legend. You can see Mt Etna from the town and the lava basalt rocks do look like they landed there but in fact they rose up from beneath the sea due to volcanic activity. The rocks are an interesting feature on the seascape and provide a perfect place to dive into the sea from for fearless local boys. There are many other interesting volcanic features to see in Aci Trezza but my favourite activity here has to be people watching. In the harbour you will see fishermen tending their boats, bringing in their haul, selling their fish or just relaxing in the shade out of the glaring midday sun. Large yachts, big fishing boats and small wooden boats are moored next to each other. Giovanni Verga set his novel ‘The House by the Medlar Tree’ or ‘I Malavoglia’ here which Luchino Visconti based his film ‘La Terra Trema’ on. I haven’t read the book or watched the film – yet! It is a MUST do on my list as I completely understand how this tranquil but busy seaside town could inspire a writer.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, apart from the granita this is a great place to eat fish! Obviously!

Exploring Mt Etna

No visit to Sicily would be complete without exploring Mt Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano which is sometimes known as Mungibeddu in Sicilian or Mongibello in Italian, well the top of it is anyway. It is about 3350 metres high, covering an area of 459 sq miles, in other words it is huge and dominates the landscape of the east and north-east of Sicily. At the height of its activity you can often see lava flows snaking their way down its slopes from Catania or Taormina at night and fine ash from eruptions has often fallen on the city’s streets – a crazy sight when people have umbrellas up on a beautiful sunny day and not good for asthma sufferers. Towns closer to its summit such as Zaffarena Etnea are often continuously hit with larger pieces of pumice stone during an eruption resulting in a costly and time-consuming clean up operation. Bags filled with the ash are left outside shop fronts ready for collection and some people pick them up to use in their gardens.

Etna really should be on every tourist’s itinerary. The beauty of Mt Etna is that she is always changing, through the seasons, with each eruption and even from morning to night as the clouds build, so that no visit is the same. Snow covers the mountain in winter and then in summer alpine flowers start to colonize old lava flows and the slopes are covered in broom. In autumn locals go there to collect chestnuts and look for mushrooms.  It is  so easy to reach the top and visit the many craters that have been left from various eruptions. If you look at a map of Etna it  depicts  lava flows from countless different eruptions over the centuries, some of the fields of lava are immense and are really a sight to behold. Indeed, there are so many ways to explore this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and experience all that Etna has to offer that one visit can never be enough. So, here are some of my favourite ways to explore Etna with links for further information:

Explore the craters at Rifugio Sapenzia
A winding road takes you from Zaffarena Etnea through extraordinary lava fields and up to the Rifugio Sapenzia. It is a fascinating drive and the excitement and wonder as you get nearer to the Rifugio just builds and builds whilst the temperature drops. It is always prudent to carry a few layers of clothing because of the falling temperature as you climb higher but also because the windchill can make you feel even colder, especially if you visit outside of summer. Weather here can change abruptly! Mind you, I have witnessed a mad local sunbathing topless in the snow so it is a case of how much you feel the cold I guess. Morning seems to be the best time to go before the clouds build up in the afternoon but then the clouds can just as easily clear away again.  The Rifugio Sapenzia has cafes, restaurants and a lot of tourist shops but it is also the easiest place to explore some of the many craters on Mt Etna whilst taking in spectacular views of the coastline. Just a few steps away from your car and you could be looking into the Silvestri Craters without having to hike or spend any more money than getting there in the first place.Etna craters Sapienza side

Funivia dell’Etna – Etna’s Cableway
Perhaps the most popular way to visit the main craters of Etna but also very expensive and not one for those who are scared of heights. Etna’s cableway is located at Rifugio Sapenzia. €30 will currently get you a ride on the cableway, taking you from 1900m to 2500m. Instead, €60 includes the cableway, a jeep ride  and a short guided tour of the main crater area. Where you get to go on the tour and how much you get to see depends on how volatile the area is at that moment. Many people balk at the price but you have to put it into perspective and ask yourself ‘How often do you get to explore an active volcano?’. Furthermore, you have to remember that they have already had to rebuild the cableway once after the 2002 eruption so with that much risk costs are bound to be high! I don’t think you could ever be disappointed, the view is amazing. Some people only choose the cableway and try to make the rest of the way on foot – smokers don’t often get very far and then if you do get to the main craters you might not learn very much.  Whatever you do, just don’t go beyond the roped of areas.Cableway

Etna Guides
My favourite way to get up close and personal with Mt Etna. The Etna guides are very informative and will take you on a 5-6 hour tour. They know the safest routes, where to see lava, the volcanic features, the history of eruptions, all of it. There are the Etna Sud Guides or the Etna Nord Guides, both offer a variety of excursions on Etna and if you don’t want to pack a heavy jacket they have lots of warm weather clothing to loan you if necessary. Take some lunch, plenty of water and wear some good hiking shoes. The ground can get hot enough to melt the rubber but you need sturdy shoes as the terrain demands it. You will see and understand Mt Etna better than most after this type of trip and you won’t stop smiling for hours after.Etna Lava

Hiking
People usually head straight for the top, or walk around the old craters at the Rifugio Sapienza and for some people that is enough of an experience for them. However, there are lots of beautiful walking trails on Mt Etna, taking you to various craters, through woods, to caves and to some of the best panoramic views the mountain has too offer. Two that stand out for me, are Mt Zoccolaro and the Sartorius Mounts but there are many more and I have only walked a few of them. Sometimes, signposting in the area can be a real pain but if you look out for lava blocks with Sentiero written on them, then after that the way is often marked by paint on stones or piece of tape tied to branches of trees or small vegetation. Parco dell’Etna is a good website for information but I have also found Etna Tracking to be useful.  When you go hiking you get closer to nature and if you are lucky, like I have been, you might see a fox or mountain cat. It allows you to experience a different side to the volcano that few tourists get to experience. Walks take you past farms of apples and pears, and abandoned farmhouses. On some trails you won’t meet another soul making you feel as if you have the mountain all to yourself and allowing you to absorb the beauty and serenity of nature at its best. There are lots of trails of varying lengths and for a range of abilities, and it is also possible to stay overnight at one of the refuges that are run by the Forestale (Foresty Commission).

Take the train – Ferrovia Circumetnea
Not the most user-friendly website but at least it has the timetable available. This train ride goes around the base of Mt Etna and therefore takes you through some really scenic countryside. You will go past small towns, vineyards, olive groves, orchards and you will get a great view of Etna of course.  Unless you take a good guidebook or map you won’t really learn much about the places you pass but it is a nice way to sit back and relax and take in the majestic scenery.Ferrovia Circumetnea

Of course, there are many other experiences to enjoy that I haven’t covered such as mountain biking, skiing, a plane trip or helicopter ride over the volcano, caving, the obligatory picnic on a bank holiday; and you will watch in awe as you see cyclists on road bikes making their way to the Rifugio Sapenzia not just because of the level of fitness such an excursion requires but also because you need to be very brave to cycle anywhere in Sicily, never mind a road with countless sharp bends and very distracted drivers. Etna never disappoints even when she is not putting on a show.