Mountains of Sicily
When people talk of Sicily they probably mention its coastlines, the quaint fishing villages, the colourful markets, the good food, friendly people, vibrant festivals, Baroque cities and archaeological sites. While landscapes such as the volcanic reaches of Mount Etna or the enchanting Aeolian Islands might be noted, few people probably realize how wonderful and numerous the sections of higher ground in Sicily are.
Sicily has a number of mountain ranges, and it is here where there are the best tracts of forests, an interesting array of plant and animal species, plenty of outdoor pursuits and fabulous mountain villages with a unique culture of their own.
The primary forests are in the Nebrodi, the Madonie and in the woods of Ficuzza.
The Hyblaean Mountains across several provinces in the southeast including Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania, and they are comprised of white limestone rocks and karsts typography. Like other famous mountain areas of this type, the Monti Iblei feature deep canyons and sharp valleys that form very scenic landscapes even though the mountains themselves are not that high.
The Madonie Mountains are a land of high mountains, woods and hillsides just east of the capital Palermo and south of Cefalù. The villages and little towns contain monuments of Arab and Norman legacy with a particular culinary tradition. The Madonie, after Mount Etna, are the second oldest and highest geologic group of Sicily containing half of the islands’ plant species.
In the 40,000 hectares you could walk, bike, horse ride, ski, play golf, trawl for mushrooms, and cave - or simply enjoy the gastronomy and the impressive Medieval castles and buildings. The cuisine focuses on meat and fresh mushrooms, and is simply delicious. Wine aficionados should know that some of Sicily’s best wines are vinyfied in this region. Castelbuono's specialty are Manna produces which you can taste in all shops and at all farms. The little town is surrounded by Manna ash trees.
Given the height of these mountains, visitors should be ready for weather extremes and always bring jackets and rain gear. There are a number of good rifugios open for day and overnight visitors. These are a great base for bikers, walkers, skiers and other visitors throughout the year.
The Madonie Mountains feature some very nice hotels and agriturismos.
The Nebrodi mountains span 85,687 hectares and of these 50,000 hectares are woods. That means there are a huge variety of trees and animals including the semi-wild San Fratellano horses, sheep, black Nebrodi pigs and cattle. Reaching from the Peloritani range in the west to the Madonie range east of Palermo, the Nebrodi also contain 21 towns, however it is largely unpopulated compared to the Madonie. The highest point in the range is Mount Soro at 1,847 metres.
Much of the Nebrodi area is usually misty and wet thanks to the high altitude, what keeps the area green. Those who set out to explore the trails on foot, bike or horseback will love the options here but should be aware that rain does make some of the sections unpleasant and even disorienting - so take care or hire a specialized guide.
If you're heading through the Nebrodi it's common to see wild pig but make sure you keep an eye out for the unique horse breed of San Fratello, particularly in the lower stretches.
The Peloritani Mountains are a ring of steep hills that effectively encircle Messina. They extend for 65 km from Messina toward Capo Peloro, along the Ionian coast and west to the Nebrodi. The mountains are best viewed from the straits of Messina and form a fantastic backdrop to the city. The highest peak in this range is Montagna Grande at 1,374 m, but the average height of the peaks are between 800 m and 1000 m, and these are intermingled with ridges, ravines and deep gorges. There are some great viewpoints up here of the Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts, plus a few old monasteries and sanctuaries to explore and some good woods for both hikers and hunters
This range of mountains border Ficuzza, Caltanissetta, Salemi and Agrigento in central-southern Sicily. They are not as well known as the Madonie or Nebrodi and receive far fewer visitors. Much of the range is hilly and made from clay or sandstone. There aren't many forests in the Sicanian Mountains and much of it is used for agriculture today. The highest peak, Rocca di Bussambra, is approximately 1,613 m in height and overlooks Ficuzza - a rather misty hamlet in the mountains. The forests of Ficuzza are the largest in western Sicily and ideal for trekking, cycling, horse riding and finding orchids.
Sant’ Angelo Muxaro is another interesting place to visit in this region. The hilltop town is surrounded by beautiful agricultural countryside where you could eat ricotta with shepherds, drop into caves, explore ancient tombs and enjoy the traditional foods and festivals.