Sicily - Volcanic Adventure on Etna

Nov 3, 2011

The next morning our road trip was about to start. We got a car from the airport and tried to get pass the city, which really wasn’t that fun at all. The street safety in Palermo is really bad, we could see crosses set for young people who had passed away on that road (disturbingly with photos on them!), let's just say that we were glad to get pass that part. Once out of the city, the drive was really scenic, we could see small villages up on the mountainsides and plenty of plantations along the way. Somewhere quite in the middle of Sicily, we drove up to this small hilltop village called Enna. We parked the car to take a stroll around the place, but sooner than we noticed we were all up in the clouds; we could barely see 50 meters ahead of us. As we drove back down it was pretty interesting to see how the entire hilltop was in a cloud and getting out of it was just a matter of moving a few meters down! The next stop would be Nicolosi- our base camp for exploring Etna.

It was dark as we started to climb the last road towards Nicolosi and searching for our B&B. As we arrived we had not seen a glimpse of Etna yet (note: we were already on it), we didn’t even know what to expect in the morning. We drove on a little alley and parked the car- the air was chilly from a past rain. We now stood in front of a big gate trying to figure out how to entrance the place. We tried knocking the door, but no answer. We tried calling the number left on the side of the gate, but still nothing. Finally the neighbour heard us and came to rescue- he let us in to wait for the owner to arrive. Behind the strong big gate was a small inner yard and rooms all around in two storeys. We waited in a cosy reception room that was decorated with traditional mountain stuff and pre Christmas things. Turned out it was a young couple who owns the place and the woman welcomed us really warmly and took us to our room. We got ourselves a lovely rustic duplex that was decorated in a similar fashion. After settling in we got out on a town to eat (we couldn’t really get enough of the cucina siciliana!) and boy did we sleep good with our full tummies that night- in our countryside- style balcony.  

The next morning we had a breakfast in the common room; our host had prepared us a table full of things to taste! Salty things such as regional cheeses, charcuterie, fresh bread and so on, as well as sweet pastries and croissants all washed down with freshly brewed cappuccino! Now that’s some bed & BREAKFAST. To add to our excitement she showed us a half hour video about Etna, and shared a tip and two. She told us there had been a big lava eruption the week before, and that it erupts pretty much every two weeks. By now, we could not wait to explore the one of the most active volcano in the world!

The road took us through many small villages and started to climb higher on the mountain. Finally it started to look like no other place before; former lava fields were all over us. It literally looked like an ocean of volcanic rock that had froze at some point. We drove to the Northern side of the mountain where one of the ski centres is. It had all been rebuilt not long ago, since it had been totally destroyed in an eruption. The autumn colours added sensation to the otherwise pitch black lava fields that had cut down trees unforgivably on their way down. Once we made our way back to the lower slopes, we took a spin around the famous Etna wine roads, making our first stop at Don Saro estate. The owner was nothing less than a generously welcoming Sicilian, according to whom “no cops are driving along these roads so you can taste as much as you can…” (kidding, I guess?)- and was pouring accordingly for each glass (well, that was just more for one of us!). We made another stop on a big estate that boasts weddings and other celebrations. They were kind enough to prepare us local cheeses and other snacks to go with the wines. We got a few bottles to bring home for Christmas and headed back to Nicolosi before it got dark. That night we ate a delicious meal in a cosy restaurant on a small backstreet- what are the chances that the only other customers besides us were also Finns! It really is a small world.

Now that we had spent a day getting familiar with the place, we were totally ready for our hike. We drove to the start of the most famous ski slopes on Etna (they have to redo the lifts every 5 years after being destroyed by lava) and wanted to hike as high as we could get. Unfortunately the paths to the main craters were closed due to an eruption the week before, and so no one was able to get that far up. The thick fog made everything look so surreal as we checked out some lower cones and craters. Even with a poor visibility, the color scale of the volcanic rock was intense; every shade of red, yellow, purple and black.


When we got up with the ski cabins to a higher altitude, a clear blue sky opened up for us. It was time to continue by foot. 

Walking on a volcanic desert really is another kind of experience; it feels like nothing we've done before, and especially weird was the strong taste of sulfur in our mouths. We walked some time to get a glimpse of the main craters (still further) and checked out some "recently" formed craters closer to us, and we could in fact see steam coming out from somewhere between stones.

On our way down, somewhere between the clouds and the desolation, we felt like being on a movie set for apocalypse

The drive down to the coast was very picturesque; seeing the dark mountains against the fall colors was magnificent, and the views carried down all the way to Cantania

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