The direct drive from Ortigia to the Rifugio Sapienza on Mount Etna was only 1 ½ hours so we decided to take the scenic route of 4 hours instead. We circumnavigated almost the entire Mount Etna which gave us an amazing view of the plumes of steam that were emanating from the active volcano. We were amazed by the volume of black volcanic rock and lush green countryside.
We stopped off at the little town of Bronte, famous for its pistachios. It’s also famous for its connection to Horatio Nelson who was created Duke of Bronte by the King of Sicily in 1799. King Ferdinand was put back again on the throne, thanks to the English help of Nelson, in defeating the French fleet in the Abukir battle, preventing France from gaining supremacy in the Mediterranean. Not sure about the Nelson connection but we enjoyed a pistachio arancino and cannolo.
We stopped off at a panificio (bakery) in a small village for some panini and enjoyed vistas of some of the stunning hilltop villages with their castles and churches.
Exploring the craters
As we’d chosen to stay in the refuge on the mountain where all the tours start (and the funicular), we were really in the middle of things. We hadn’t realised just how close we’d be to the Silvestri Craters, being able to see them from our room. Before dinner we’d already been up to the small crater a couple of times, the second to watch the sun set.
Despite having very little sleep – dinner and parties went on until 1am – we were up at 6am to see the sun rise over Catania and the ocean. We were rewarded with a full moon on its way down.
Without going through the long boring story, we decided to cancel the tour we’d booked and go for a walk up the large Silvestri Crater. We had the expanse of solidified lave and moon-like landscape to ourselves for the most part.
Our short walk to the craters turned out to be a climb up to the upper funicular station and beyond. Why pay 30 Euro if one can walk?
Whilst we weren’t able to climb as far as the summit craters due to the high level of volcanic activity, we were rewarded with an amazing sight of gas billowing out the top of the mountain. We were overawed and speechless. It was very windy at the top of the Escrive Crater we visited and navigating the slippery narrow path increased the heart rate a little. We managed to find a little sheltered spot inside the crater to eat our sandwich and apple for lunch – with the summit of Etna as a backdrop.
The walk down was quicker than the slow trudge up but was a bit tough on the quads. We slid down the scree – graciously sometimes, other times less so – and were very grateful for our longs, gaiters and boots.
A fabulous time we will always remember.