01 August 2015
Climbing Mount Etna … or at
least two-thirds of the way up
Who could visit Sicily without wanting to go up Mount Etna? It is one of Sicily’s main tourist attractions, with thousands of visitors every year.
I am staying all this week in Recanati, near Giardini Naxos, on the east coast of Sicily, and it seems that everywhere I go the scenery is dominated by two mountain tops: Monetauro, topped by the town of Taurmino, and Mount Etna, covered with barest of clouds at any time but never showing any billows of smoke, although it is still classified as an active volcano, and the last eruption was on 27 January 2014.
Mount Etna is the tallest active volcano on the European continent, and its height is put at 3,350 metres (10,990 feet) high, making it 2.5 times the height of Mount Vesuvius, although the calculated height of Mount Etna can vary from time to time with eruptions at the summit.
Greek mythology says the deadly monster Typhon was trapped under Mount Etna by Zeus, and the forges of Hephaestus were located beneath its slopes.
Although the summit has at least five distinct craters, the flanks have more than 300 vents ranging in size from small holes in the ground to large craters that are hundreds of metres wide.
The fertile volcanic soil explains why the lower slopes of the volcano are covered with vineyards and orchards. We left Recanati early in the morning by bus and drove up through the pretty, 18th century small town of Zafferana Etnea on the south-east side of Etna, and on through flowering citrus groves, vineyards, orchards and woods rich with chestnut trees, beech and pine.
The rich summer growth soon gave way to the black-and-grey volcanic landscape, where some hard plants continued to push through the surface.
The winding road brought us to Rifugio Sapienza, a ski area on the south slopes of the crater at a height of about 1,910 metres. From there we took the Funivia dell’Etna cable car to Monte Montagnola at 2,500 metres.
We had made it up more than two-thirds of the way.
From there, minibuses were working in relays to bring people a little further up – not quite to the top, but to a crater area at 2,920 metres. Instead, we lingered a while as watched the climbers trekking up the slopes, sipped our coffees and bought some locally made honey and pistachio products before returning in a cable car to Rifugio Sapienza.
It was time for more coffee at Esagonal, at the Piazzale Funivia, before returning through the groves and vineyards around Zafferana Etnea.
We were back in Recanatia in the early afternoon. If trapped Typhon was angry, then there was short thunderstorm while we went for a walk on the beach and a short swim.