Nature reserves in Sicily - Sicilyincoming

Go to content

Main menu:

To See

There are four regional parks in Sicily: Park of Etna, Madonie, Nebrodi and Park of Alcantara.

Park of Etna

The Etna Park is not distinguished only by the fascination of the lava flows that incessantly mark and modify its territory. The whole area of the park is also made unique by a plant universe that makes up and breaks down all the colours of the palette of Mother Nature. Here, among the downy oak woods and the ferns, there is extraordinary life that feeds on what the fire giant succeeds in allowing to grow along the slopes. In Park of Etna it is possible to meet the wild cat, the fox, the porcupine, the weasel, the dormouse, just to quote some exemplary types of fauna, because the true king of these places is the superb golden eagle. Obviously, a lot of other birds pass through here, from the peregrine falcon, the owl, sparrow hawk, to the heron and wild doves. Here it is possible to see the only example of a vineyard that for much of the autumn and winter period is completely submerged by waters.
Total surface area: 58.095 hectares
Province: Catania
To visit: Seeing the size of the Park and the many different accesses to it, there are many itineraries and excursions and so it is advisable to turn directly to the park Body, also for a guide, which is indispensable for some excursions.
Interesting: the Bove valley is a vast depression on the eastern slope of the volcano and is a kind of natural reservoir into which lava flows are channelled. After the 1991-1993 eruption, because of plentiful lava tongues, the morphological structures of the southern part of the Etna were modified. The Bove valley has steep walls with very marked inclinations (even 30 degrees) and differences in level close on 1200 metres.
In the last three centuries, in which the recording of eruptive events has been sufficiently reliable, about seventy Etna eruptions have been reported.


The territory of this park comprises the highest peaks in Sicily - except, of course, for Etna. In the area of Monte Scalone, Monte Cavallo, Monte dei Pini and Vallone della Madonna degli Angeli it is possible to meet just over twenty Abies Madonies plants, which are unique in the world and today unfortunately are considered as heading for extinction. This is a truly magic place inside the Madonie Park, because here are almost 50% of the flora species on the island and various endemic species of great importance. In the woods there are oak trees, manna elms and chestnut trees with thick undergrowth of holly, Asperula and prickly plum plants. Visiting the vast Madonie area is certainly an unique experience: in it there is a great number of varied and charming environments, including high peaks, medium hills, etc...
Total surface area: 39.941,18 hectares
Province: Palermo
To visit: in the Park there are a great many paths, all adequately indicated and signposted.
Interesting: in these mountains there are no fewer than ninety species of butterflies that are worth observing, and among them there is certainly the Sicilian Apollo or Parnassius apollo. This butterfly, a subspecies that is exclusive to the Madonie, which reach the greatest heights, is characterised by light-coloured wings on which four red circular marks stand out.

Park of Nebrodi

Speaking of the Nebrodi in general means speaking about majestic trees, dense forests and much lower temperatures than the ones the island is famous for. Maple, ash, apple and holly trees, in addition to the typical beech trees, press against the sky with their foliage, making you feel, on the ground, as if you were in a place a thousand miles from the usual Sicily, meaning beaches and blue sea. Some sites are particularly important because of peculiar features, constituting unique entities which are sometimes essential for the structure of the general geological and ecological balance: the Cesarò Biviere (pool), the Rocche del Crasto, Lake Trearie, the woods at Mistretta, Monte Pomiere, San Fratello and Mangalaviti are some of them. There is nothing to say in advance about Biviere, as its luxuriant flora, and consequently its fauna too, is always different, adapting to the level of the water that collects here. But if you really want to enjoy the best, it is a good idea to come in summer, when, due to the flowering of Euglena sanguinea (a very small alga that lives on the lake bottom) the waters of Biviere turn a truly unusual red colour.
Total surface area: 85.587,37 hectares   
Province: Messina, Catania and Enna
To visit: the longest and most spectacular itinerary is the Nebrodi crest (duration 3 days).There are also signposted paths like Rocche di Crasto, Lake Spartà and Lake Pisciotto. For those who love riding a horse there are also plenty of excursions.
Interesting: in the Park area there are a lot of horses of pure Sicilian race named San Fratello. It was created in Sicily and has been used by all populations that have lived on the island. It is considered the oldest equine race in Europe. It has a dark black coat, robust build, and a courageous but docile and patient character, and once it is tamed it is extremely resistant because it is used to moving around high up.
The deep link with the mountain and the old production techniques over the centuries have refined production of processed pork meats and quality cheeses. People produce fellata, a kind of salami made with meat from the native Nero dei Nebrodi breed of pigs, mixed with pepper and chilli peppers and seasoned for about three months.

Park of Alcantara

It is impossible to choose a single zone, a single piece of this park that winds along the 50 kilometres along the river Alcantara. Geologists say that in prehistory here already flowed a river on a clay bed. On this bed a flow of extremely fluid magma was channelled that provoked the collapse of these sediments, giving rise to the extraordinary colonnades that are admired in the Larderia area, a short distance from Motta Camastra. In addition to what has been said, there is a spectacular variety of flora growing along the banks of the river. You can see willows, black alders, poplars and oriental plane trees.
Total surface area: 1927,48 hectares   
Province: Messina and Catania
To visit: There are numerous paths and itineraries. From the entry to go down some steps to the river bank, from there continue going up the course of the river and watch the luxuriant greenery of the Park.
Interesting: The Alcantara and its valley were present in the writings of historians in antiquity. In the 5th century BC Thucydides mentioned the waters of the river Achesines, meaning “healthy river”, and its estuary in the environs of Naxos. Under the Arabs the name changed to Al Qantar, i.e. bridge, with reference to a bridge with several arches built by the Romans in the imperial age, of which no trace is now extant.

Sicily has got 77 nature reserves. Its protected oasis and nature reserves are really rich of the flora, fauna, archaeological and entropic landscape. Among the Regional Nature Reserves we can find:

Island of Lampedusa (Agrigento province)

In this reserve of particular landscape beauty and natural interest is the enchanting island of Rabbits and its stupendous, big and long beach of the same name. The beach of the Island of Rabbits is famous because it is the only beach in Italy where a particular kind of sea turtle, Caretta caretta, regularly nests. In island of Lampedusa a lot of the existing plant species are of African origin and they are not found in any other part of Italy.

Aragona Macalube (Agrigento province)

Landscape is made up of rounded hills essentially covered by herbaceous plants that in spring afford a multicoloured carpet of flowerings. There is a “hill of little volcanoes” of the Aragona Macalube. It is made up of ashy marls with cracks running through it, and from it there emerge little volcanic cones from which streams of clayey mud gush out. This is one of the rare places where the geological phenomenon known as “sedimentary volcanism” is manifested.

Monte Conca (Caltanissetta province)

Monte Conca constitutes a complete and still active surface and subterranean karst system, and in it you can observe the whole range of morphologies, the main ones of which are dolines, blind valleys, furrowed fields, potholes, resurgences and caves. The cave has the particularity, typical of calcareous caves, of developing through spectacular waterfall wells, with little pools at the bottom. A speleological visit to the cave is one of the most spectacular and satisfying underground excursions to be made in Sicily.

Lake Pergusa (Enna province)

One of the few natural lakes in Sicily, it is of tectonic origin. It houses numerous varieties of avifauna and it is the only lake in the centre of Sicily where the migratory species call in. Although there is no connection with the sea and the lake has neither tributaries nor emissaries it has a high concentration of salinity. A very peculiar feature, perhaps unique in the world, is that toward the end of the summer the waters of Lake Pergusa turn wine red, because of a high concentration of bacteria.

Malabotta Wood (Messina province)

Mallabotta Wood is the nature reserve that best represents the forests that once covered the Nebrodi mountains. The Malabotta Wood extends for around 5 square kilometres and is made up of areas of exceptional ecological value because of the differences in height metres above sea level. The surrounding landscape takes us back to the Middle Ages: little villages perching on mountains and castles built in strategic positions for control of the territory and the inland roads.

Island of Ustica (Palermo province)

This island lies thirty-six miles north of the Sicilian coast. Its surface area is just 8.5 square kilometres. It is the tip of an enormous submerged volcanic edifice which is part of a line of submarine craters in a fault 1000 metres deep. The reserve protects the terrestrial natural environment on the island and it is a true paradise for scuba divers.

Zingaro (Trapani province)

This was the first nature reserve created in Sicily. The landscape, made up of coastal and mountain environments, shows rugged and wild beauty. From the crystalline sea there rise the calcareous Monte Speziale (913 metres above sea level) and Pizzo Passo del Lupo, interrupted by cliffs and sheer drops with caves of major archaeological interest: the Uzzo and Sughero caves. The little bays and beaches have nonpareil beauty (only reachable on foot). They are set amid rocks dotted with dwarf palms and euphorbias.

Stagnone Islands (Trapani province)

In a not very deep lagoon north of Marsala there is the Stagnone archipelago, formed by the Grande or Lunga Island, San Pantaleo or Motya, Santa Maria and Piccola Schola. This extreme piece of western Sicily is one of the most fascinating places on the Sicilian coasts for all its landscape, natural and historical-archaeological components. The shallow waters of the lagoon are almost entirely covered by Posidonia that still conceals Phoenician and Roman finds. Of exceptional archaeological interest are the remains of the Phoenician city of Mothyia, recovered on the island of San Pantaleo

Plemmirio (Syracuse province)

The Maddalena peninsula is a very interesting area. It is entirely constituted by a calcareous “block” raised by tectonic movements of the earth’s crust in which the sea is wedged below a sheer cliff. The peculiar characteristic of the area is the presence of a lot of submerged caves rich in corals, sponges, bryozoa, sea crickets, nudibranchs and a varied multitude of fish fauna. In the surface bathymetry it is easy to come cross the “bio-constructions” of the “vermetid platform”, which is a kind of miniature coral reef indicating an excellent state of the waters. Diving into the waters of Capo Murro di Porco, it is not difficult to observe common big pelagic fish: tunas, amberjack and carangids, but also sea mammals like dolphins.

Cavagrande del Cassibile (Syracuse province)

In the deep and long canyon hewn out by the waters of the river Cassibile oriental planes are confused with willows and white poplars. Here the water courses have dug out their beds in the calcareous rock forming gorges and cavities with wild beauty, and different populations found a refuge here. In addition to resident and migratory avifauna in the Canyon there are various terrestrial and river species: the river crab, the marsh turtle and the macrostigma trout, the latter only being present in some rivers in Sicily and Sardinia.

Vendicari (Syracuse province)

Its particularity is given by the different biotypes making it up: from the pools that form the marshes to the rocky and sandy coast or the typical Mediterranean maquis. The complexity of the natural environments and the variation in seasons cause the species present In the reserve to change from month to month.  December is the most interesting month, rich in coots, royal swans, wild geese, widgeons, teals, mallards, pintails, spoonbill ducks, widgeons, poehards, kingfishers and tufted ducks. In the summer period it is possible to see grey herons, little egrets, terns, gulls,    black-winged stilts, pink gulls and towards the end of the sum¬mer the spoonbill. At the beginning of  autumn there come flamingos, the black-winged stilt, the stone curlew, the Kentish plover, the pope and the turtle dove nest here. The mammals present are the hedgehog, the porcupine, the wild rabbit, the fox, the weasel, the vole. Among the reptiles you can see the snake, the coluber, the leopard rat snake and the marsh turtle.  

Pantalica, Anapo Valley and Cavagrande Stream (Syracuse province)

Near the Pantalica archaeological area there is the reserve of the Anapo valley, which is one of the areas richest in history and landscape and natural values in eastern Sicily. Here flow the rivers Anapo and Calcinara and the Cavagrande stream. The watercourses have hewn out the rock, creating an exceptionally splendid karstic gully. The clear waters of the rivers flow enwrapped in very varied and peculiar vegetation and form a series of small transparent lakes around which the oleander and the oriental plane find their ideal environment. The quality of the waters is such that a big number of fish and shellfish live there that were on the way to extinction. It is really thanks to the abundance of water and the multiform vegetation that a big number of animals find their habitat along the whole valley. There are a lot of species of birds making the reserve a true paradise for birdwatchers.

River Irminio (Ragusa province)

The reserve protects one of the last areas of dune forest maquis in Sicily and the final stretch of the course of the river Irminio. Along the banks and valleys of the river there are amphibians, reptiles, shellfish and freshwater fish. Reflecting the good quality of its clear waters there are some insects which are like environmental indicators. The Irminio flows cutting through the deep coastal dune stretch, constituted by sandy dunes well consolidated by a true tangle of vegetation typical of the old dune forest maquis. Once these dune systems characterized the coasts of southern Sicily and here they have miraculously escaped the disasters that have occurred in other areas on the island.

Back to content | Back to main menu