The Apennine chains of Madonie and Nebrodi offer some of the most evocative scenery in Sicily. These centuries-old microcosms must be crossed, taken in and enjoyed slowly.
The Madonie are an ideal destination for hiking, trekking and horseback riding, with wonderful trails to tackle on foot, by mountain bike or on a donkey.
We are in the Regional Park of Madonie, a protected natural area with rare geological sites: grab your camera and venture out on an excursion along the trails and provincial roads.
We’ll start from Collesano, a short distance away fromPalermo, a historic feudal town and seat of monastic orders that founded numerous churches. In Collesano the art of ceramics has roots that go back to the second half of the sixteenth century. Pay a visit to the Targa Florio Museum, which houses an evocative collection of photos, unpublished documents, objects and memorabilia relating to the hardest, most captivating road race of all time, the legendary “Targa Florio”.
In Isnello, master embroiderers work using the ancient filet lace method. Check out the Museo Trame di filo (Weaves of Thread Museum).
Continuing along the provincial road, surrounded by an extraordinary landscape, we’ll arrive at Castelbuono. Visit the Matrice Vecchia with its statue of Madonna of the Angels by Gagini and then go up to the Castle, which was built in 1316 da Francesco I di Ventimiglia. Inside it is the eighteenth century Cappella Palatina, decorated with refined stuccoes. Don’t miss the Matrice Nuova, which has works by Antonello da Messina and Giuseppe Velasquez, or the Parco delle Madonie Museum.
Let’s move on to Geraci Siculo, at an altitude of 1077 metres, which is dominated by the ruins of its Castleand the Chapel of Sant’Anna, built by the noble Ventimiglia family. Many events evoke the local aristocratic and peasant traditions: we are talking about the Festa della Transumanza (Transhumance Festival) at the end of May and the Giostra dei Ventimiglia (Ventimiglia Jousting), in the beginning of August.
Next stop is Gangi, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Discover the town’s medieval layout and its countless churches and monuments, such as the Mother Church and the nearby Ventimiglia Bell Tower.
Let’s head up to Petralia Soprana, the highest town in the province of Palermo, dominated by the Mother Church and the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto, which has an elegant convex façade between two bell towers.
Perched on a rocky outcrop, we find Petralia Sottana. There are also many churches and palaces to discover here, as well as the artisanal goldsmithing treasures preserved in the sacristy of the Mother Church.
Dive into the world of archaeology near the town of Petralia Sottana, at the Grotta del Vecchiuzzo, which is very interesting in terms of studies of prehistoric Sicily: a large amount of ceramic wares has been preserved at the Archaeological Museum of Palermo.
Let’s go up towards Piano Battaglia, a holiday and winter sports resort. Make sure to take a walk on the plateau, or for the sportier among you, a hike up to the Pizzo Carbonara (1979 m), the highest peak in the Madonie.
We can’t leave until we’ve tried the manna extracted from the ash trees in the areas of Castelbuono and Pollina, where the Sagra della Manna (Manna Festival) takes place in August. Then there is also provola and the cheeses of the Madonie, chestnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, products made from durum wheat flour, beef and pork meat from pigs reared in the wild, salami and mushrooms.
Finally, let’s go to Cefalù, the only place in the park that looks directly onto the coast, with crystal clear waters, equipped beaches, hills in the background and a very rich cultural heritage. Don’t miss out on a walk between the narrow streets of the historic centre, a trip to the top of the Fortress and a visit to the Cathedral, which falls within theArab-Norman route by UNESCO.
Set off again on a trip to the Sicilian Apennines ofNebrodi Park. Stretched between the provinces Messina, Catania andEnna, it extends over a mountainous area of 200 thousand hectares, with the biggest forest heritage in Sicily.
There are many enchanting paths here that lead between rivers, streams, mountain lakes, meadows in bloom in all seasons and forests where you can stumble across mammals, reptiles and amphibians, with over 150 species of birds and rare invertebrates. Most notable, however, is the Nebrodi black pig, which is reared directly in the forests in a state of semi-freedom.
Let’s start with one of the symbols of the part, Lake Biviere in Cesarò, in the province of Messina, with its 18 hectares and its clear waters. It’s impossible not to be enraptured by it. On one side there is the beech forest of Monte Soro, the highest point of the Nebrodi, where we may run into free herds of Sanfratellana horses sheltering from the heat under the foliage of the trees. On the other side are incredible panoramas that offer glimpses of the outline ofEtna in the distance.
At 1315 m we will find the golden eagle and the great griffin on the steep sides of the Rocche del Crasto, a limestone massif from the Mesozoic era. There are wide expanses with few trees, pastures, overhanging walls full of concavities, rock faces that also coveted byclimbing enthusiasts and hikers with paths that wind around the municipalities of Alcara Li Fusi, Longi and San Marco d’Alunzio. One of the great natural wonders of the Rocche is the Grotta del Lauro, situated at an altitude of 1,068 metres in the Alcara Li Fusi area. There are countless stalactites, stalagmites and columns in a wide variety of shapes in the first giant cave, and then tunnels gradually lead off to small and large cavities. The cave closed off by a gate can only be visited upon request.
The Mangalaviti forest near Alcara Li Fusi is extraordinarily beautiful and highly evocative.
Don’t miss out on a trip to the Catafurco waterfall in the Galati Mamertino area: it is one of the most captivating nooks of the area, which is formed of a slope that reaches around 30 metres high that runs along the course of the S. Basilio stream. The erosive effect of the water on the limestone rocks is phenomenal. At the base of the waterfall, the waters collect in a natural cavity forming a small and enchanting lake carved into the rock called Marmitta dei Giganti where you can go for a swim if the temperature permits.
In San Marco d’Alunzio we find evidence dating back to the time of its foundation by the Greeks, such as the Temple of Hercules from the seventh century BCE, the ruins of the Norman castles, churches with Baroque facades, medieval alleys and the Museum of Byzantine-Norman Art.
Another gem is the Grotta di San Teodoro around 2 km from Acquedolci, which preserves very extensive documentation of now extinct animal populations and the remains of prehistoric humans.
The beauty of the park also lies in its panoramic views: from the stunning plains of highlands Monte Soro to the coasts of Sant’Agata di Militello and Caronia Marina.
As we travel kilometres immersed in nature, we can go in search of human-made products in the park’s small villages: hand-embroidered tablecloths and sheets, baskets and hampers, colourful mats and carpets and ceramics in Santo Stefano di Camastra.
It’s impossible to resist sampling the cheeses in Cesarò, such as the provola and pecorino, the result of the cheesemakers’ great skill, the delicate ricotta produced according ancient methods, salami made from the Nebrodi black pigs, the highly praised olive oil, honey and hazelnuts.