Exploring Etna is like visiting another planet. All over, we see black soil, lava deposits that look like meteorites fallen from the universe and lunar landscapes. It seems as if we’ve stepped off a shuttle. We are not alone in this New World: all around us, there are horses: the area’s inhabitants.
Many activities offer horse-riding excursions here, and we can follow numerous paths on both the north and south sides, with different levels of difficulty. In this tour, we will discover a medium difficulty outing. The adventure is suitable for those who have already had some horse riding experiences. Wear gaiters and a helmet ( depending on the season, high mountain clothing). Off we go!
Let’s start our journey from Zafferana Etnea (CT), a lovely village at 580 m above sea level. In this area, every town has to reckon with Mother Nature, and also this place has experienced several volcanic eruptions in the past centuries. We now head southwest. We proceed through dense forests with the rhythm of hoofbeats on the lava ground. A wide variety of birds songs break the silence. We arrive at the Grotta del Gatto. We leave the horse outside and take a look at the cave (we always remember that entering caves or quarries involves high levels of danger; appropriate equipment and the presence of qualified staff are required). The cavern is located at 942 m above sea level and is a tunnel contained in very ancient lavas. It is divided into two branches. The northern branch is just over four metres long, while the southern branch is about twenty-nine metres long. Inside there are numerous spider webs, the remains of porcupines and rabbits. Although it looks like a horror tunnel, the nature around it is fresh and welcoming. Breath deeply and get back in the saddle of our four-hoofed companion. Let’s get back on track. Close to the caves, there are also several picnic areas: visitors can relax and enjoy a break surrounded by nature.
We continue through trees covered with emerald green moss, ancient lava flows and broom forests. We reach a lava desert. Here we enjoy a breathtaking sight. We will realise that we don’t need to waste millions on space tourism: to get to the moon, we can just come to Etna.
We will now head towards the third stop: the Grotta Cassone. It is located on the road to Rifugio Sapienza, in Piano del Vescovo. The origin of this cave dates back to the 1792 eruption (every year, local inhabitants celebrate the Madonna della Provvidenza to commemorate the end of the eruption), but it was only discovered in 1964. In some parts of the ceiling, there are concretions on the lava spikes, while in other points, we see some cracks with collapsing and detaching of large rocks from the roof (after leaving the horse outside for a short visit, please apply the safety recommendations already given for the Grotta del Gatto). We recommend not using flashlights, as you might bother the tenants: some cute bats.
We begin the return journey. We cross the Piano del Vescovo, a small flat area. This land (and most of the Valle del Bove) was once property of the Mensa Arcivescovile of Catania. From here, in the past, the Mensa Arcivescovile managed the snow and timber trade. The Piano is set at the foot of a basaltic rock called “Acqua Rocca degli Zappini”. Also here there are picnic areas for a short break. Let’s take some time to refresh ourselves and rest for good. Once ready, get back on track and return to Zafferana Etnea.