Our First Excursion to Mount Etna

Mount Etna is full of mysteries and legends. The first Greek settlers named the volcano Aetna and thought of it as the home to Hephaestus, god of fire, who used its flames and lava to forge Zeus’s thunderbolts. Etna is described in the book of myths as “the forge of the gods”. To the Arabs it was known as Mongibello (Beautiful Mountain).

Visitors, local and international, are instantly charmed by the volcano and visit daily to this magical part of Sicily.

Since the Grand Tours started in 1680, Mount Etna was the “must see” attraction of visitors to the island and has been enjoyed by such notaries as Goethe, Byron and Maupassant, as it had already been by the Greek philosopher Empedocles and the Emperor Hadrian. This legendary area is a magnet for visitors looking for excitement and dramatic landscapes.

Mount Etna is the highest volcano in Europe. It extends for approximately 1250 square km and reaches a height of approximately 3350 metres. For its repeated eruptions over many years, it can be considered to be one of the most active volcanos in the world. From its height Mount Etna dominates the island, the three surrounding seas and the tip of the Italian mainland.

The volcano offers varied and captivating sightseeing opportunities with the view of external craters, lava flows, forests, citrus groves and vineyards.

On our first trip to Mount Etna we visited with our friend Valentina, we drove up the slopes of the volcano and passed by green forests and ancient lava flows and through small towns eventually reaching Etna Sud – Rifugio Sapienza, Etna’s southern gateway.

From Rifugio Sapienza, with the Etna cableway or off-road vehicles it is possible to get to the top of the volcano where you will reach an altitude of 2500 metres. From here you can ascend further up the volcano with the means of Mercedes Benz Unimog’s which are vehicles that can withstand the rough volcanic terrain. With these you go up onto authorised craters accompanied by expert and experienced drivers who will safely deliver you to a trained alpine Mount Etna guide. At this point you can enjoy a panorama extending over the sea and from where you can admire the Central and South Eastern craters, ancient and recent lava flows. The Mount Etna guides will take you as close to the active volcano as local safety regulations allow. For your safety you should never go on your own.

On our first trip to the top, Etna was smothered in cloud and Valentina advised that it would be best to save this part of the experience for another time, “Mount Etna will always be here”. Instead we decided to discover the Silvestri Craters located in the Rifugio Sapienza area. The volcanic rocks are brittle and light and with me being a weakling I had trouble climbing the slope and kept slipping, (my husband calls me a weed in the sea as the smallest waves knock me off my feet). In the end I could not stand up due to laughing so much and had to be helped to my feet by my husband and Valentina.

That evening at the restaurant where my Sicilian big brother was working he teased me as usual about falling over on Etna, in the restaurant that night there was some American tourists who said  they had been to Etna that day …. He’s response was “Did you see anyone fall over today?”

There are several cafes at Rifugio Sapienza together with alpine style chalets selling souvenirs and local produce.

We visited Etna a couple of months later on a clear summer’s day. We bought our tickets and took the cableway and Unimog up and paid for an alpine guide.

When you reach the top of Etna it is breath taking and you really do feel like you are on top of the world in the land of the gods. We saw the smoking active craters, hidden caves along the trail and the impressive Valle del Bove, a natural basin that collects the magma that comes out of the central vents. Walking around here is like walking around a Martian landscape with the clouds beneath you.

Our guide Marco was fabulous and explained all the geology and nature of the volcano. He showed us where the movie Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith was filmed and told us to lie back on the volcanic rocks and to feel the heat and steam on our backs. Up here on the rocks you could fry an egg. It certainly was a volcanic experience.

We can see Etna clearly from our home, the first thing I do when I wake up is to go out onto our balcony to see what kind of mood she is in, so it is always a pleasure to get up close and personal.

We have taken our dog Daisy up to Etna on several occasions, the ultimate dog walk. It always amuses us how tourists on excursions are so fascinated seeing an English dog visiting a Volcano.

When we visited Etna in June this year Daisy refused to walk and started to pull us back to our car. The following day Etna erupted and we then wondered if she may have sensed this.

There are many ways you can discover Etna, the drive up takes just over an hour from Taormina. If you do not have a rental car you can either join an escorted tour or have a private driver take you.

We would highly recommend a four wheeled drive off road experience.

New in Sicily is the ‘Around Etna’ open air hop on hop off bus.

Or how about a helicopter ride, taking in stunning views over the volcano's summit?

Or in Winter, Skiing on an active volcano?

I would recommend taking sturdy boots or shoes, a warm jumper or jacket, sunglasses and take some spirit of adventure for an experience you will never forget.

Why not combine your experience with a wine tasting trip to Gambino Vini, Mount Etna’s highest vineyard with wonderful hospitality and Etna wines or perhaps a visit to nearby Alcantara Gorge and the medieval towns of the Alcantara Valley.

If you enjoyed this post then you might enjoy these ones too ↓

"22 Ways to Experience Mount Etna"

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