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Sicily Guide > Catania province

ETNA

«Tutto ciò che la natura ha di grande,
tutto ciò che ha di piacevole,
tutto ciò che ha di terribile,
si può paragonare all'Etna,
e l'Etna non si può paragonare a nulla».
                               Dominique Vivand Denon, "Voyage en Sicilie", 1788


Kingly towering over the coast of eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is the highest and largest active volcano in Europe. Its actual height is changed with every eruption and stands at about 3350 m. With a diameter of about 40 kilometres it covers an area of almost 12600 square kilometres. To the Greeks, it was thought to be the home and the forge of Hephaestus, the god of fire and the Cyclops; to the Arabs it was known as Mongibello (from Arabic "Gebel", mountain); simply "a Muntagna" in Sicilian dialect.
Mount Etna has a historical record of eruptions dating back to 1500 B.C. Since then Etna has erupted at least 200 times. The most dramatic eruption in history occurred in 1669. Earthquakes began on February 25 th and caused a great damage in Nicolosi, South and East of Catania. The eruption began on March 11 th as a 12 km fissure opened from near Nicolosi to Mt. Frumento Supino, 2 km from the summit. Several more vents formed. On April 12 th lava flows arrived at the walls of Catania. Lava rose to the top of the wall and cascaded over. Large parts of the Catania town were destroyed. Lava reached the sea on April 23 rd. The eruption stopped on July 15 th. This violent eruption in few weeks left thousands people homeless, destroyed a dozen villages and covered part of the city of Catania with lava.
Today, the Mount Etna can be considered as a "good volcano" and most of its eruptive activities taking place at the summit where there are four craters, the Voragine, Bocca Nuova, North-East and South-East. The Voragine and Bocca Nuova lie in the area of the former Central Crater.
Despite the risk of living near an active volcano, there are a lot of small villages developed on the slopes of Mount Etna. The landscape of volcano is rich in vineyards, olive groves, citrus plantations, and orchards due to it’s fertile volcanic soils and favourable climate.
For visitors, Mount Etna offers different way to experience the most active volcano in Europe: trekking, skiing, mountain biking, caves exploration, wine tasting, food sampling and, maybe, if you are lucky, the great performance of lava flows during the eruption.


 

PARK OF ETNA
In 1987, in order to protect the unique Etna’s natural environment and extraordinary landscape, was established Etna Nature Park. It covers 59 000 hectares and extends around the Mount Etna, which is at the heart of the ecosystem of the park. Etna Park lies entirely in the province of Catania and contains 20 municipalities with a population of over 250 000 inhabitants. The park area is divided in four zones: zone A is under maximum protection and allows nature to follow its course with minimal human intervention; zone B, general reserve, includes small agricultural plots and some splendid examples of old farmhouses; in zone C and D are allowed some tourist facilities and resorts, if they are not in conflict with protected landscape and wildlife.
The luxuriant vegetation that grows in the Park of Etna changes depending on the altitude. On its slopes grow vineyards, hazelnut, pistachio and apple groves, oak and chestnut woods. Going higher there are woodlands of bay oak, turkey oak and of pine-trees. At about 2000 metres above sea level one can see beech and birch trees, which are considered an endemic entity. Also one can see, the Etna broom, which is one of the strongest plants able to take root in Etna’s lava. Higher up, at 3000 metres above sea level only few plants grow, one of them is Astragalus siculus.  In the summit area of the volcano there is no any type of vegetation, only the volcanic desert.


A century and a half ago, the animals constituting the Etna park fauna included wolves, wild boars, deer and roes, which have now all completely disappeared. Instead, in Park of Etna it is still possible to meet wild cats, foxes, porcupines, weasel, dormice, martens, hares, hedgehogs, field mice and bats. There are also a large number of bird species: peregrine falcons, owls, sparrow hawks, herons and wild doves, but the true king of these places is the superb golden eagle.

Etna Nature Park offers to its visitors unique landscapes, the numerous nature paths, lava carved caves, skiing areas, typical products, historic villages and many other attraction. Those who are a bit "lazy" to have a rugged walk can enjoy the splendid Etna on the Circumetnea Round Etna Railway trip.

 

THE "FERROVIA CIRCUMETNEA"
Circumetnea is a railway with a narrow gauge running 110 km between Catania and Riposto. It’s a historic railway line operating since 1895. As the name suggests, the line follows a route (approx. 3h) which almost encircles the Etna volcano. There are different stations where you can get on or off, so you can select parts of trip which you want. The train runs in both directions and cross Etna villages like Paternò, Adrano, Bronte, Randazzo and Linguaglossa. The last stop is at Riposto. The quickest way to get back to Catania is to get off at Giarre station (the station before Riposto) and than take the train of the Italian Railways that brings you at Catania Central station.
Circumetnea Railway train passes through the lava fields, dating back to various ages, which is in the picturesque contrast with green vineyards, pistachio groves and ancient villages.

Train station / Via Caronda 352/a, Catania
Info / 095 541250
Ticket / Single travel –€  7,25; Round travel – € 11,60

http://www.circumetnea.it/

Train from Giarre / www.trenitalia.it

 

SKIING
The abundance of snow and the presence of slopes on the north and south of Etna give a unique ski on an active volcano, surrounded by a contrast between the white snow, black lava rock and the blue background of the Ionian Sea. The ski areas of Mount Etna are two: Nicolosi, located south of the craters, and Linguaglossa on northern face of Etna. There are ski-lifts on both slopes, with the northern one ascending from 1800-2300 metres and the southern one ascending from 1900-2600 metres. The slopes of Mount Etna is perfect for enthusiasts of Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and ski mountaineering. There are also resorts and facilities for visitors on both sides, including skiing school and ski equipment rentals.

Nicolosi or Rifugio Sapienza offers the whole year working cableway, that takes the tourists to Montagnola 2500 m above sea level. Also, there are available 1 chair-lift and 3 ski-lifts. Winter resort of Rifugio Sapienza offers 5 ski-runs (2 of Montagnola, Piano dell'Omino, Piccolo Rifugio, Monti Silvestri).
Working hours: every day (December - March) from 09:00 to 15:45 (last departure)
Info: 095 9141 41/42
Ticket: All day - € 28; Morning / Afternoon - € 20; Children (4-10y) - € 16,00
How to reach: By car / from Catania, exit at Gravina di Catania and follow directions to Nicolosi along SP 92 Mount Etna.
By bus – every day a single run is made leaving Catania at 8:15 with return from Mt. Etna at 16:30. From July to 15 th September, coaches also leave at 11:30. Trip is operated by AST.
www.funiviaetna.com

Linguaglossa or Piano Provenzana offers 3 ski-lifts and 5 ski-runs (2 Anfiteatro, Monte Conca alto, Coccinelle, Monte Conca basso, Baby/Tanaurpi).
Working hours: every day (December – March) from 9:00 to 15:45 (last departure)
Tel: 347 4957091
Ticket: All day - € 28
How to reach:
By car / from Catania, take A18 Catania – Messina and exit at Fiumefreddo, then drive along the SS 120 following the direction Piedimonte Etneo and Linguaglossa. From the centre of the village Linguaglossa follow the direction Etna Nord – Piano Provenzana.


 

ETNA CAVES

Spread all over the surface of Etna more than 200 lava caves are known. The caves range from small cavities of minimal interest, to lava caves of over 1km in length and 80 meters deep. Etna’s caves are of great speleological and geological interest.

 
 
 
 
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