Etna and its Park
Etna is the highest volcano in Europe and, with its 3,300 metres, is also an imposing mountain; to meet the other higher summits you have to go to the Alps. It is always active: in that white or grey smoke is always emanating from the top craters; it is often in eruption, in the last thirty years there has been an average of one eruption every three years, varying in length from five days to more than one year. A visit to the summit of the volcano is not always possible to undertake in conditions of absolute safety, therefore there are periods when the Alpine Guide service is not authorised to take people up to the edge of the central crater. The spectacle is priceless for the vast panorama that it dominates, while it is challenging and requires a fairly good athletic ability for the final 300 metre ‘climb’.
The highest points that can be reached by vehicle or public services are two: on the southern slope, the tourist area around “Rifugio Sapienza” and on the northern slope, the area called “Piano Provenzana”. To reach Etna from Taormina, take the A18 motorway until the Giarre exit, then take the road which passes through S. Venerina and Zafferana Etnea towns; Etna north can be reached by taking the motorway until the Fiumefreddo exit, then the road which passes through Piedimonte Etneo and Linguaglossa. There is a vast range of excursions that can be done on and around Etna, starting with the base of the mountain, there are also itineraries which take you through the woods and are suitable for those who wish to get some fresh air. Lastly, there are excursions on the higher slopes of the volcano which consist of paths or tracks with little or no vegetation and have lava desert characteristics.
The park was created in 1987, covering an area of 58,000 hectares and divided into four zones: A, B, C and D. Zone A protects the most important geological and volcanic areas and the wooded surface. Apart from tree-felling for the use of wood, the following are prohibited: hunting, alteration of water-flow, the opening of forestry roads, extraction of material, construction of buildings and motor-vehicle transit. Instead, Zone B is characterised by a secular agricultural activity which is worth safeguarding and encouraging. In this area, there is cultivation of: apples, pears, grapes, pistachios and hazelnuts. It is therefore enhanced by the presence of old country estate houses, wine cellars and farmers’ houses, all of which are an architectural heritage as precious as the natural heritage. Zone C includes some limited extensions included inside two previous areas, or on the edge of them, where there are tourist facilities, in existence or that can be constructed in the future: hotels, cabin-lifts, ski slopes for winter sports and various means of getting up to the top of the slopes such as ski-lifts, chair-lifts etc. Zone D is the outer ring, called ‘pre-parco’with further reduced limitations such as residential building, introduction of plant or animal species which are foreign to the flora and fauna of Etna. Hunting here is legal (limited to the wild rabbit).
The towns and villages of Etna are also an opportunity for a pleasant gastronomic tour. There are wine-makers in Milo, S.Venerina, Castiglione, Randazzo and St. Alfio and in general, on all slopes of Etna. Excllent honey can be bought in Milo or Zafferana, hazelnuts in Fornazzo and Linguaglossa and the nationally-renowned pistachio in Bronte. Apples and chestnuts can be found everywhere and, in the right season, baskets of excellent quality mushrooms. In the sector of sweet foods and pastries, the vast range available makes an embarrassing choice: almost all towns around Etna have at least one high-quality pastry confectioner specialist; in some cases with hundreds of years of tradition. Tourists will find delicious pastries and cakes prepared with the best Sicilian raw materials such as almonds but also pistachios and hazelnuts. In the grape-harvesting season, you can look for ‘mostarda di mosto’, a sweet preparation made from the must (grape juice) of the wine, along the lanes in the grape growing areas, while in summer you can find it made from ‘fichidindia’, prickly pear cactus plants. Lastly, we can recommend some liqueurs between S. Venerina and Riposto and citrus fruit essential oils, products of the ‘Aci… (Acireale etc.) areas, which are used to make the various drinks on offer in the town drink kiosks that are to be found everywhere.