28 November 2018

Mt. Etna - the Volcanic Goddess

As the winter is slowly entering the country it is time to bring in a little heat. And what better way to do so than with a post about summer adventures.

We had a great holiday this summer, that I'm still thinking about a lot. And one of most memorable trips we had in two weeks of travelling to the South of Italy was hiking the Mt. Etna. It was so amazing that I still get excited when I think about it.

Etna is a 3323 meters high volcanic mountain in Sicily, the highest and most active volcano in Europe. It erupts every few years or even every few months. The last eruption happened about a month after we visit it.

Shortly after arriving at Sicily, not far from Messina, you can catch first glances of the mountain, which dominates the whole North Est part of the island. The sight of it is majestic and breathtaking. And it is even more so from up close. It offers amazing views at the coastline and inland if it's a clear day with a clear sky you can see all the way to Africa. 

Although it is a volcano and although it is a relatively high mountain, Etna attracts hoards of tourist. Still, you don't have to plan the trip in advance.

This was our one preoccupation before arriving, as the web search only gave as the prebooking trips to Etna and we just wanted to get more information on how to get to Etna and on top of it. We didn't want to book any trip that we didn't know more about. So, the only thing left for us to do was to ask locals once we'd arrived there.

Firstly we were thinking to go with the bus, which leaves in the morning from Catania's central station and returns in the afternoon. We wanted to avoid the crazy traffic, but as we were at the camping on the outskirts of the city, we have finally decided to go with a car.

There are three routes to the parking, at the starting point of the hike, which are quite well marked. Furthermore, you have the "target" always in front of you, so you can't miss it. Mind that you have to pay for the parking though the signs aren't very visible and that you probably will be getting a fine if you don't as the surveillance is regular.

If you don't have a car and you don't want or can't to rent one, there are buses leaving from the main bus station in Catania. There are few bus companies offering the ride and the return ticket is around 6€. On the bus, you'll be offered paid tours to Etna for quite a high price. And not just at the bus also at the parking.

The persons from various tourist offices will try to persuade you that the only way to the top is with the guide, that you cannot hike around Etna by yourself, that this is by law but that is not the case. You can hike to around 3000m on your own. You will get the most reliable information at the ticket office of the lower cable car station.

You can certainly go for one of those offered tours, but if you want to hike on your own, there are more possible ways.

1. You can start from the parking. There is a path going past the cable car station on the right. It takes around 1h50 to get to the upper cable car station. And then continue from there to Torre del Filosofo and than to the highest pic you can go without a guide, Monte Barbagallo.

2. You can take a cable car to the upper station at about 2500m, what we did. It doesn't come cheap for four persons even with the child's reduction up to 10 years, but we weren't sure that the hike wouldn't be too long (I admit, it was all me). From the upper station, there is another 1h40 to Torre del Filosofo and Monte Barbagallo. You can also take a straight way up and come directly to Monte Barbagallo what my boy did. For me, the sandy-like volcanic rock was just too hard to walk on. It was slippery and because of the crushed rock, I was sliding back down. So, I rather choose the route.

3. You can bike. There were few courageous bikers that did this and of course my boys wanted to do it too, once they saw them. Luckily, (for me), we didn't have the bikes.

If you are not a hiker you can take the cable car and then a special bus to Torre del Filosofo and just walk another 100 m to top of Monte Barbagalo.

People mainly did what we have done - took the cable car to easy for themselves one part of the hike and that hiked to the Monte Barbagallo crater.

This crater is also the final point. To the central crater, you can go only with the certified guide. Maybe another time. For me, it was overwhelming to just to get as high up as we got. I know my boys would disagree with me.

The very top of Etna is off limits for strictly tourist visits as the air gets thicker and the smell of sulfur gets stronger. Also, you need to be equipped with very good hiking gear. 

But there are plenty of other craters to climb and sights to see, like volcanic caves.

And don't be surprised to see ski lifts. In winter Etna is covered in snow and you can ski on it.

Definitely, a trip that is worth another visit.

NOTE: Though very touristic, Etna is still a mountain, so at least have some good sports, if not hiking, shoes on. There were people struggling in sandals. Also, it can be very windy, so take your windstopper too. 

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