Mount Etna has erupted on many occasions, once destroying part of Catania, a port city on the east coast of Sicily. This fascinating volcano, the most active in Europe, has a fair few surprises in store. It’s best to be forewarned about the difficulties and potential dangers you may encounter.
Mount Etna: Europe’s second highest volcano
If you’re planning to climb Etna during your stay in Sicily, there are a few things you’ll need to know. To begin with, it’s 3,300 metres high, making it the second highest volcano in Europe after Mount Teide in Tenerife (3718m). Its slopes are composed of layer upon layer of lava flows and ash, which makes it a stratovolcano: a peak created by a series of eruptions.
Etna is still active, awakening most recently in 2016 to offer a spectacular show of lava fountains and explosions. Luckily, this brutal display resulted in no harm to the local population and created an unforgettable spectacle for the tourists who witnessed it. To study the power of this Sicilian giant, volcanologists regularly explore the lava tunnels fashioned by Etna’s eruptions, which lead to caves displaying astonishing geological features.
At the foot of the volcano, souvenir shops have no qualms about exploiting the fame of the peak and sell gifts sculpted from lava alongside local specialities: honey, Bronte pistachios, panelle, etc. Tour guides love to recount the myths and legends associated with Etna: how Hephaestus turned this unique place into a forge and transformed it into a volcano or how Typhon was condemned by Jupiter to hold up Sicily for all eternity.
What to pack for an ascent of Mount Etna
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and enjoys a particularly pleasant climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters with an average temperature of 15°C. Your case is therefore going to be mainly full of light clothes and flip-flops. However, if you’re planning an ascent of Etna, you’ll also need to bring good walking shoes and plenty of warm layers to protect you as you gain altitude. As you’d expect, the higher you climb, the lower the temperature and the stronger the wind will be. So if you don’t want to find yourself frozen solid and unable to progress, you should consider packing two bags: one for the sun and another for the mountain.
When it comes to shoes, choose a quality brand that specialises in hiking. Sturdy soles will prevent you slipping and falling on the rocks. A backpack filled with provisions, several bottles of water and a basic survival kit will be all you need for a day’s walk.
What are the milestones of an Etna ascent that I really should know about?
So, you’re going to Sicily and just can’t miss out on climbing Etna? There are a number of ways to do it. If you don’t want to walk too far, you can take the funicular, which will drop you off at an altitude of 2,500m, less than 1,000m from the summit. The Funivia Terminal is located on the south face and offers spectacular views of the region. Your ascent can then continue in a 4×4 or, for the more daring, on foot: you can reach an altitude of 2,700m without a guide, or continue on to the summit with an experienced guide.
The other option is to plan a hike from Catania and take the opportunity to soak up the Sicilian culture. If you do this, you’ll need to plan a few breaks to make this an adventure to remember. There are a number of sites that are well worth a visit:
- the village of Nicolosi at the foot of Etna, is an appealing, traditional settlement, which is well set up for tourists and as a ski resort.
- Rifugio Sapienza lodge, at an altitude of 1,900m, is near the gondola lift to the crater – you can eat and even sleep there.
- a perfect place to take in the views of the summit, the Torre del Filosofo shelter is perched at an altitude of 3,000m.
- well-located on the northern route: Piano Provenzana resort offers all the well-earned comforts you’re looking for after a dizzying ascent.
And after your hike on the slopes of Etna…
Climbing Mount Etna is an adventure you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s a bewildering, enchanting, and sometimes terrifying experience. However, if you really want to make the most of your holiday, Volotea has plenty of other equally fascinating activities to recommend, such as:
- swimming and enjoying all the pleasures of the stunning beaches near Etna: at Taormina and Aci Trezza and Aci Castello, near Catania.
- visiting archaeological sites: the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the Villa Romana del Casale in the town of Piazza Armerina and the ancient theatre in Tindari. These trips are a real must for those wishing to uncover Sicily’s wealth of culture.
- sampling the regional specialities and Sicilian wine (in moderation, of course!): traditional restaurants serve granita, a cold drink with chantilly and homemade brioche, a delightful way to start the day off, as well as a variety of dishes featuring cold meats, pasta and cheeses, such as pizzolo, a type of gluttonously stuffed pizza. When it comes to desserts, how could you possibly resist an almond or ricotta pastry, cannoli or cassata?
For those who’d like to discover the mysteries of Etna without tiring themselves out or getting cold, there is another solution: a helicopter tour. A flight, normally lasting an hour, gives you the opportunity to take in a variety of views: of the volcano, of course, but also of the Ionian coast, the Sicilian countryside with its vast fields of orange trees, the city of Taormina and the picturesque villages nearby. Whatever your tastes and budget, get planning for that Sicilian holiday and your own encounter with Mount Etna!