Mount Etna, also called Mongibello, is one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world. The spectacular eruptions and fiery lava flows have always been of great interest to scientists and visitors from all over the planet. All updates on volcanic activity are available on the NIGV’s (National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology) Catania Section.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its globally important geological features, Mount Etna’s first eruptions date back to about 570,000 years ago. The volcanic structure’s construction has been interrupted over the centuries by numerous collapses. The most striking of these is the Valle del Bove, on the eastern side, which formed 9200 years ago and contains much of the volcano’s recent geological history.
The visit to the active craters in the summit areas (4 craters in all, the Central, the West Voragine or “New Mouth”, the Northern subterminal crater and the structure of the Southeast subterminal crater) is a favourite for hikers in summer.
In winter, this volcano also offers the surprising chance to practise winter sports, a few kilometres from the sea.
The various hikes climb along the Mount Etna Park nature trails, between woods and verdant orchards, up to the highest altitudes with fascinating views of lunar landscapes, centuries-old lava flows, active caves and steam vents, revealing the charm of this extraordinary natural oasis.
Picturesque moonlike landscapes, which are typical of volcanic activity, interspersed with exceptionally beautiful natural environments. The courses of the two great rivers that flow around the volcano – the Alcantara to the north, with its natural canyons and the Simeto to the west – give us very interesting natural spots.
Mount Etna offers great biodiversity with a rich Mediterranean scrub and numerous forest species: oak, beech, holm oak, pine, downy oak, Etna broom and chestnut trees. In the Sant’Alfio territory, you can find the oldest and largest tree in Europe, the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli, recognised by the UNESCO Messengers of Peace. The light bark birches, proof of ancient ice ages. If you travel with small explorers, you absolutely have to uncover the other botanical wonders Sicily are hiding.
There are lots of sports to practise on Mount Etna.
The Nicolosi ski resorts in Piazzale Rifugio Sapienza (South Etna) and Piano Provenzana-Linguaglossa (North Etna) are equipped with appropriate ski lifts, red and blue ski slopes, ski schools and equipment rental centres. If you prefer Nordic skiing, you can practise on the trails plotted by the Mount Etna Park and Forest Authority in Piano Vetore (Nicolosi), Piano Provenzana (Linguaglossa) and the loop in the Maletto area.
Ski mountaineering trips where there’s snow are always possible and there’s no risk of avalanches.
In winter, the snowshoe hike is a truly special experience: what could be more exciting than watching the unbeatable sight of the blue Ionian Sea from above, while the volcano rumbles or “snorts”?
The most popular activity are hikes to the summit craters, to be done safely with the help of expert guides and with appropriate clothing.
Closed shoes and windproof jackets are recommended, even in the middle of the summer season. You can hike all year round, with itineraries that are suitable for both beginners and the most experienced. The region offers the opportunity to visit the lava flow caves, where you are always accompanied by expert speleological guides. Among the most famous of these caves is the grotta del Gelo that houses the southernmost glacier in Europe, the grotta dei Lamponidei Ladroni and the grotta di Serracozzo.
There are many trails to explore by mountain bike, from the easiest ones, which are suitable for everyone and for all ages, to the most challenging ones that climb along the Volcano’s slopes. One of the most well-known is the Pista Altomontana, which goes up along the western slope from Piano Vetore, south of the volcano, to Pineta Ragabo, near Piano Provenzana to the northeast.
How about hitting the Etna trails? You can hike behind strong, well-behaved, faithful donkeys: a new way to get to know the wonders of this mountain! Horse riding tours, on the other hand, are organised by different equestrian associations, always undertaken in the company of expert nature guides.
In addition to organising guided tours with specialised staff, the Park provides interactive maps for different nature trails, according to their difficulty level, from the easiest to the most challenging itineraries at high altitude, which take place at higher altitudes and last for longer.
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For hopeless romantics, we recommend taking rail tours via the Circumetnea trains, which depart from Catania-Borgo Station and arrive at Riposto. You can discover the most beautiful wine cellars and culinary wonders by going on the northeast wine tour, the northeast having the most beautiful landscapes of Etna that can be explored by bicycle on board the Two-Wheeled Train or other interesting tours..
In the summer evenings, from June to September, for the passionate stargazers, a visit to the . Astrophysical Observatory in Ragalna, in Contrada Serra La Nave, on the southern slope of Mount Etna is unmissable. Registration is required.
Suitable for families, school groups and anyone who wants spend a day outdoors, the Monte Serra Park in Viagrande offers the Casa delle Farfalle: hiking trails, a synthetic ski slope, equipped areas, bike trails and much more.
The Amusement Park of Sicily Etnaland, in the town of Belpasso, offers an exciting experience with magnificent attractions like Acquapark, one of the 20 best water parks in the world, Prehistory Park and Theme Park, where you can have amazing experiences in AVR (augmented virtual reality).
For those of you who want to have fun outdoors, experiencing the thrill of climbing and challenging gravity, the adventure parks in Milo, Nicolosi and Ragalna are a new organisation in the heart of Etna Park: they consists of paths suspended between the tall trees or between the rocks, with levels suitable for children and adults.
Finally, the Botanical Garden Nuova Gussonea [Sicily botanical gardens] in Contrada Serra La Nave on the southern slope of Etna – over 10 hectares with different species of Etna flora – can be visited in the company of expert guides and only by booking.
Excluding the summit areas, large areas of the Etna region are dedicated to outstanding agricultural and wine production. The north-western side is renowned for cultivating the green Bronte pistachio, a PDO product, with its endless, varied confectionery production.
In the territories of Castiglione di Sicilia, Linguaglossa, Sant’Alfio and Milo there are picturesque plots of hazelnuts, a raw material for local confectionery products. The orchards (Etna apples and pears, peaches, cherries, medlar, walnuts, chestnuts) are very common, but mainly in the areas of Ragalna, Pedara, Nicolosi and Trecastagni. There are also high-quality strawberries from Maletto.
The production of PDO olive oil is mainly concentrated in the area of Santa Maria di Licodia, Biancavilla, Belpasso and Ragalna. Don’t miss the traditional honey and cookies for skiers, which are produced in Zafferana Etnea, and the zeppoles or rice crispines, which are found everywhere.
As in all mountain locations, there are mushrooms that enrich different dishes, as well as the famous sausages. Find out where to taste them in Sicily
You might also come across pale purple flowers: this is the autumn saffron, which grows spontaneously in some wooded areas of Sicily. But be careful: it’s not suitable in the kitchen! The golden red flower grows not far from here, in Raccuja sui Nebrodi
And what about the wines? The whole area is full of cosy cellars where you can taste good PDO Etna wine accompanied by local food.