Snow and lava in Sicily: the charm of the volcano

Fire and ice, sea and mountain: Etna embodies all the contraddictions that make Sicily so attractive. It has an undeniable charm, recently acknowledged by Travel + Leisure, one of the most prestigious travel magazines, which has placed Etna on the top of the list of 15 breathtaking vulcano hikes around the world ( In fact, it has been a popular destination for centuries, for famous travelers and their Grand Tours, from Brydone to Goethe, from Houel to Maupassant, among many others.

Whithin only a couple of hours drive from the Porto Turistico di Marina di Ragusa, “a Muntagna”, as it is called by the locals, rises up with its 3,357 m a.s.l.: Etna is the highest mountain of the Mediterranean, as well as the most active stratovolcano in the world.

Beautiful and fearful, its charme is irresistible: it has been written about it for more than 2,700 years (the first were Thucydides, Diodorus Siculus and the poet Pindar). In the last fourty years its environment has been protected with the establishment of the Natural Park in 1987, and in 2013 it was finally recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Etna, one of the few easily accessible volcanos worldwide, attracts tourists and hikers all year round, for guided tours with mountain guides and volcanologists. Also, from mid-December to late spring, it is appealing for winter sports enthusiasts (they can practice alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering, snowboarding, snowshoeing) and during autumn its woods are busy with mushroom pickers.

Its natural landscape can be enjoyed from many paths around the volcano: going up it gets more and more barren, until it becomes a moonscape at the top. From there the view is incredible: within a single glance it’s possible to admire the whole Sicily, and then, beyond the sea, the island of Malta.

Along the way, there are unique attractions: several mouths of the volcano and lava caves at various altitudes, produced by the eruptions over time, and also ash cones and lava flows.

A walk in the huge Valle del Bove (a big depression on the eastern side of the vulcano with deep canyons) and a visit to the Grotta del Gelo (a volcanic cave which hosts a perennial glacier) are definitely must-do experiences, for those who don’t want to miss anything.