No trip to Sicily would be complete without a Mt. Etna Tour.
Mt. Etna is the highest volcano in Europe. Its majesty defines the Sicilian skyline. In 2013, Mt. Etna was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site for its exceptional level of volcanic activity. To this day, it is still very active and it continues to make people both fear and marvel its continuously growing volcanic landform. Mt. Etna has shaped Sicily’s historical and geographical prominence not just in the region but in the world. It is for this reason that Andrew and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the volcano first hand.
Etna’s last major eruption wasn’t that far ago. In fact, the last one was just on May 17th, 2016 and it cast a cloud of ash and smoke over Sicily. However, this is not something to fear seeing Etna for. Because it is so active, it makes it safer to visit as it tends to have more lava flows than massive eruptions. If you’re lucky you can even see a small lava flow from a safe distance on some evenings. This spectacle, however, isn’t any reason to undermine the power of this geological masterpiece.
Etna Tour with Tour of Sicily
We had the opportunity to go on a collective Mt. Etna tour with a farmhouse lunch with Tour of Sicily and had an incredible experience. If you ever go to Sicily, we highly recommend going on this Etna tour. We were picked up from our hotel in a Land Rover by a very knowledgeable and friendly driver who doubled as a tourguide, and we explored Etna to a certain height. We didn’t get to see the summit as doing that requires far more time and effort, but the 7-hour tour was enough to get to know Sicily’s most prominent landmark. As it was a small group tour, we had to share the car with another couple, but the group was small enough that we had the chance to really enjoy the sites independently of other tourists, and we were able to have proper discussions with each other. Andrew and I both agreed that our driver/ guide was a wonderful man and made the experience an amazing one. Our tour guide didn’t just have some serious driving skills, he also had a burning passion for what he does and for Mt. Etna, and it was infectious.
Exploring Mt. Etna
We started the day by having a beautiful drive along the Northern slopes of the volcano, seeing botanical treasures and old towns in the area. We then got a chance to stand on and touch hardened lava, visiting the sites of lava flow from as far back in 1923. We continued to ascend the side of the volcano, stopping every once in a while to appreciate the volcanic landscape and the marvellous view. A personal favourite was a very small piece of road, called the road to nowhere, which has been cut on both ends by a mountain of volcanic rocks. Another one was our stop at Piano Provenzana, which was 1800 metres above sea level and saw the effects of a three-month eruption. A hotel’s roof peeks from the black ash, a reminder of the town’s past.
The highlight was the hike up to the North-East crater of Mt. Etna. Climbing the side of Mt. Etna could be a bit nerve-wracking, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences ever. We explored lava caves, looked down into deep craters, and climbed steadily to higher ground. The ascent was steep and could be challenging if you aren’t very brave or fit. However, the views from the top gave you a full view of a side to Sicily that can’t be experienced elsewhere. From this height, you can see the contrast of barren and black soil next to the green and thriving forests and vineyards. It is one of the most picturesque views that I’ve ever seen.
Had an amazing day exploring mt. Etna today. It was both an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. A great reminder that from the worst of calamities can also come opportunity to adapt and thrive. @tourofsicily #etna #sicily #italy #traveldiary
Rebirth from Ashes
Probably the most fascinating thing that our tour guide shared with us is how Mt Etna has been engrained in Sicilian life and culture. Not only do you see Etna’s volcanic stone sold as accessories to tourists, they are also the main material in the building foundations of homes and city landmarks in neighbouring towns like Catania and Taormina. The volcano has also fed the soil with nutrients that have helped Sicilian crops and vineyards thrive, making Sicily a prominent source of crops like apples, chestnuts, and hazelnuts – as well as some of the best wines in the world. The old ski resort in Piano Provenzana may be buried under ashes, but above it rose three new ones, and it now has become a popular ski destination during the cold months. From the terrifying mass of lava grew the cultural and economic identity of Sicily. This is both admirable and inspiring.
We ended the day in an olive farmhouse and vineyard, where we experienced firsthand the fruits of the land. We shared delicious Sicilian food and wine while exchanging stories about life, just as local Sicilians would. The seven hours flew by and at the end of it, we took home some very lovely memories. All in all, we had a wonderful time, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who would be coming to Sicily.
Sharing some of my pictures below. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Tour of Sicily has kindly invited me to go on one of their daytours. All the above opinions are mine.