Smoking, puffing, sometimes fire spitting, but mostly peaceful:
that’s Her Majesty Lady Etna, a stony giantess, watching over Sicily since ages.
Mount Etna is one of the world's major active and Europe’s highest active volcano (the highest volcano is actually Mount Teide on the island of Tenerife in Spain). The cone of the crater rises to 3,350 m above sea level – more or less, because it’s height varies with the eruptions. It is the highest mountain of Italy south of the Alps and covers an area of nearly 1.200 km2. From time to time spectacular lava fountains are glowing red in the night sky.
Mount Etna is Sicily’s greatest natural tourist attraction with thousands of visitors every year. It’s a great place for travellers and Sicilians alike – you can whizz down its slopes in winter, hike the bizarre crater zone, mountain bike on forest trails, take a scenic train ride, enjoy the wines of its rich lava soils or wander the towns built from its volcanic rock.
Video by courtesy of Dr. Boris Behncke
( more Etna Videos of Dr. Behncke here )
Her Majesty is a good-natured volcano. Its basic lava is characterized by a low silica content that is usually relatively thin. Thus, the gases contained in it can escape and not build up pressure, which could be released in an explosion. Therefore, the Etna is not one of the explosive volcanoes such as Vesuvius. The most spectacular eruption happened at the begiining of the year 1669. In April, the lava flow reached Catania, flowed around the city and to the sea. After breaking the city wall and the collapse of the Etna summit large parts of Catania were destroyed.
Mount Etna - a "Decade Volcano"
Elder Sicilians call the Etna lovingly “Mungibeddu”, in Italian “Mongibello” (from the Latin “mons", the Arabic “jebel” – both meaning mountain and the Italian “bello” – in Sicilian beddu, which means beautiful), younger people are more secular and just call it “a Muntagna”, Sicilian for “the Mountain”.
Mount Etna has been designated a “Decade Volcano” by the United Nations, due to its history of recent activity and nearby population, and in June 2013 it was finally added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites!
The mountain has always been the bane and boon for the Sicilians – bringing destruction and life. You will see that the lower slopes of Mount Etna are over boarding with plants. Citrus fruit plantations, orchards and vineyards spread across the feet of the mountain and in the plain of Catania – the fertile volcanic soils support extensive agriculture.
There are several Park Centres, where visitors can inform themselves about the numerous possibilities to explore the volcano.
See more at Services
Walking & Botanizing on Mount Etna
A tour up into the main crater area at about 2,900 m height depends on her Majesty’s daily form. She is a bit moody. When she is furious and spitting fire – no way to pay her a visit. If she does not feel like socializing and shrouds herself in clouds and fog – there is a way, but you won’t see much. If she is peacefully smoking, you are welcome in her kingdom and to feel free to wander the moonlike surfaces of dead craters, walk up and down lava dunes and lunar landscapes and explore lava caves and tunnels.
The vegetation changes as you rise, with pine trees, vineyards and chestnut groves giving way to lichen and broom. Mount Etna is the home of many endemic plants and it is the best place to botanizing in Sicily. The right period to observe the Etna flora in blossom is from end of May to middle of July.
Near Rifugio Sapienza on the south side of the mountain the two extinguished Silvestri craters that have arisen during the outbreak of in 1892 are waiting to be discovered. A great experience is an evening excursion to the observatory at 2,800 m on the north side. In clear weather you can see from there the most beautiful sunsets over the Aeolian Islands.
You can get close with lava landscapes, caves and tunnels on an off road tour. Children love it! Just make sure that everybody wears clothes that you can wash out quickly. That’s a fun day for the entire family, young and old. If the volcano should be active at the time of your stay, we highly recommend an evening off road tour to Valle del Bove. Rumbling, thundering, enormous lava fountains shooting into the air, flowing down the slopes of the crater in red-glowing streams.
Trekking & Skiing on Mount Etna
Mount Etna offers various hiking trails and for really sportive travellers there is the possibility to trek up to 3,000 m accompanied by specialized volcano guides. Find guides and tour operators at Services
One of the trails allows the transit also to people with physical problems.
For winter lovers: there are two ski resorts:: one at Rifugio Sapienza, with a chairlift and three ski lifts, and a smaller one at Piano Provenzana on the north, also equipped with three lifts and a chairlift.
See more at Things to do
Mount Etna experiences
There are so many towns and villages around the volcano that are of interest, and it's impossible to list them all here. Some of the highlights: if you're keen on hiking and wish to see some of the craters up close consider visiting the Monti Rossi Craters just north of Nicolosi or head all the way up to Rifugio Sapienza to see the eruptive cones nearby. The other option from Rifugio Sapienza is to get to the summit craters - definitely a highlight for many people. You can hike up along the 4WD tracks, get in a 4WD minivan or take the cable car to Torre del Filosofoand walk on from there on a number of routes. Alternatively you might like to do some horseback riding over volcanic trails, do paragliding or even take a scenic flight to get a different and more dramatic angle on it altogether.
Please see more at Things to do
Hephaestus at work...
Wine Tasting & Golfing on Mount Etna
The rich soils of the volcano are perfect for wine cultivation and you can actually follow by bike, foot or car routes along the Strada del Vino dell'Etna (the road of Etna wine). Wine tastings, which we highly recommend, include usually also the tasting of some Sicilian specialties. This is a great day's outing. Have fun!
There is also a spectacular golf course near Castiglione di Sicilia Il Picciolo Golf, the oldest golf course of Sicily.
Mount Etna off the beaten track
If you are interested in seeing some smaller highlights around the volcano, we recommend a visit to the black lava town of Randazzo with the most beautiful clock tower of Sicily and the castle Castello Svevo which houses an interesting archaeological museum and a collection of Sicilian marionettes.
Another interesting spot to see is Castiglione di Sicilia for its beautiful Medieval town centre and breathtaking views.
Other different things to do you find here
Where to stay around Mount Etna
Hikers, bikers, skiers and trekkers should consider staying in one of the small towns at the slopes of Mount Etna, such as Randazzo, Nicolosi, Provenzana and Linguaglossa. There is a number of agriturismos that welcome guests. For travellers who need some luxury and pampering we recommend the hotels Shalai Resort and Villa Neri Resort & SPA.
Please see more at our Accommodation page
Scenic train ride around Mount Etna
Instead of climbing up Mount Etna, you can circle it on the Circumetnea, a small train that runs near the volcano's base. It is a narrow-gauge train, slow and only single track, constructed 1889-1893, but it goes through lava fields and has some dramatic views of the volcano. Our oldie serves mainly for bringing children who are living in the villages and small towns at the slopes of Mount Etna to school and back. The private railroad almost circles the volcano, running 114 km between Catania and Riposto. The one-way trip takes about three and a half hours. After you've made the trip, you can get back to where you started from on the less scenic, but much quicker state rail service between Riposto and Catania or by local bus.
My Guide Sicily special tip – Volcano Trail
If you think you have what it takes to run over Mount Etna consider taking part in the Sicilian Volcano Trail. Held usually in April/May it's fairly hard core stuff that takes in Mount Etna, and Vulcano and Stromboli on the Aeolian Islands. The multiday race in stages requires a very good physical training and excellent endurance. It is both open to women and men over 18 years. Maximum numbers of participants is 50 runners and 20 companions, for whom alternative tours are organized. The next Sicilian Volcano Trail starts in April 2015.
How to get to Mount Etna
The best way to explore the Mount Etna region is with your own transport, which allows you the greatest freedom of stopping in at local towns and villages in the Parco dell’Etna. The most common route is via the “Strada dell’Etna”, the road leading to Rifugio Sapienza, lying at the south of the crater at an elevation of 1,910 m. The area around the ground station of the cable car looks quite touristic - a large parking, several bars, a hotel and numerous souvenir shops. From the refuge Sapienza a cableway runs up to 2,400 m and from there, visitors can take a drive with special terrain vehicles to the main crater area at 2,900 m. Piano Provenzana on the northeast side of Mount Etna is reached on winding roads from the south via Milo and Fornazzo, from the north via Linguaglossa.
Having your own transport will make life much easier around the Mongibello, but there are some public transport options. Bus companies to look out for from in or around Catania that head within the Etna region are AST, Interbus and SAIS Autolinee. Each runs to different places within the Parco dell’Etna, so it’s best to know where you want to go first and look at a transport that will take you there. AST runs buses from Catania main train station to Rifugio Sapienza. Buses leave at 8.15 am and return at 4.45 pm. The drive via Nicolosi takes about one hour.
Travel agencies and tour operator in Palermo, Cefalù, Syracuse and the area of Taormina offer all types of organized excursions to Mount Etna. Sicilian Airbus Travel (SAT), for example, has a number of excursions from Taormina that incorporate Etna and its surrounding area. There are four tour options in summer, one in winter. The off road tour usually includes a wine tasting at an Etna winery and a visit to the picturesque and impressing Alcantara gorges. Other day tours may include a scenic train ride by Circumetnea or a visit to Catania, the dark daughter of Mount Etna. Look for travel agencies and tour oeprator here