Travels

Mt Etna – a close encounter with a volcano

November 18, 2016

We’ve been daydreaming about hiking up Mt Etna the whole spring time and in July this year we finally booked the flights. Mt Etna is an active volcano on the the island of Sicily for those who have never heard of it. The thought of walking on the crater of a volcano that could explode at any time made us even more excited.

We got to Sicily from Vienna and stayed in the lovely town of Aci Catello. The evidence of the volcano is visible in the whole area. The lava formed the beaches and caves around the shore. The area is very seismic so lava every so often flows down the valley.

It took us about an hour and a half drive to reach the mountain and the meeting point for the tour. We passed through some sleepy towns and stopped for a coffee in Linguaglossa as the town woke up. We noticed how everything here revolves around Etna – there are many guided tours, bed and breakfasts and some wineries that offer the whole Etna experience. Our road constantly took us higher with a landscape changing from thick forrest to fields of lava rocks. The scenery was spectacular ( see it all on our Youtube video ).

When we reached Rifugio Sapienza at 1800 m, we picked up our tickets which we organised through Etna Walk  (75€ per person). One must pay a parking fee and display a ticket in the car otherwise you get a fine. Luckily we booked the first tour that day so there was a relatively small group for the first bus up the mountain. To our surprise, it was quite cold up there. The sunny weather was deceiving that morning. We brought some jackets and only I got the long pants. Thane opted for a South African style – a vest and short pants to start the day.

The scenery as we drove up in our mountain vehicle was amazing. The view stretched far in the distance and, on a clear day like this, we could see the villages below and the sea. There was some vegetation on lower part of the mountain but as we went further up it was all just black lava. There were some people walking up on foot and we doubted whether they’ll reach the top that day. We drove by another crater that was formed in the 2001 eruption which shows that the volcano is very much alive. 

We got off our vehicle at 2900 m (Torre del Filosofo) and from there on we continued on foot towards the crater. The trek was relatively easy but it did get quite cold. We got to the top sooner than we expected and right by the crater at 3300m we could feel the warmth of the steam coming out and the smell of sulphur. We took pictures just on the rocks overlooking the hole of the crater under the watchful eye of our guide. We got about half an hour there to enjoy the views, take some pics and realise we were actually on a volcano! 

We got back to our starting point a bit quicker and I even managed to fall asleep on the bumpy drive. The weather changed for worse and it got even colder, forcing us to put all the layers on. We drove down to the thick forrest again, finding a very cosy lodge ( they have lamas in front as well ) to warm up, rest and eat Sicilian pasta alla Norma. The hike we did, including the lunch, only took about half a day and left us plenty time to come back to Aci Castello and go to the beach again.

We drove back to the coast, taking a slightly different route which was like a rollercoaster. Impatient Sicilian drivers were mad, trying to overtake us on the craziest curves down the mountain. Again, we survived. I must add, we passed some picturesque villages on the slopes of Etna but were again disappointed by the amount of litter on the roads. Hope people will come to their senses and clean up, as Sicily offers so much in natural beauty, history and culture.

We would like to thank Etna Walk for their help in organising this tour for us. We highly recommend everyone visiting Mt Etna! 

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