Some might even have been put off from visiting this Italian Island just from these stories. I’m sure you have heard the myths and rumours surrounding Sicily and its interesting background. What if I said that the most aggressive and violent local had been occupying the Sicilian Island district for thousands of years. This is exactly what I learned when I booked a morning tour of Mt Etna with Etna Est tours.
When reading the reviews online it seemed these were the guys you wanted to explore this local area with and they didn’t disappoint.
The day started with the local tour guides (Filippo and Roberta) meeting us with the minivan just around the corner from our accommodation. We got introduced to our local guides and started the trip to Mt Etna, stopping to pick up the remaining customers on the way.
While making our way to our first stop on the itinerary both guides gave us a rundown of how the day’s program would be set out as well as some general information and history about the largest Volcano in Europe, which also happens to be one of the most active in the world. They also discussed each town we passed through and spoke in detail about what the town had to offer to tourists as well as what it offered Catania and the region.
From the beginning, it was obvious both guides had a real love for Sicily and Catania. It was also evident the amount of pride they had to be able to explore this volcano on a regular basis. At our first stop, we got to see the area affected by a previous eruption which had created plenty of lava rivers and a valley of destruction. It was almost completely bare apart from the odd green tree patch where the ground was higher than its surroundings and had escaped the punishment of the boiling lava.
After learning of how the volcano was formed and how Sicily itself had come to be separated from the boot of Italy, we had the chance to take some holiday snaps before continuing our travels further up the Volcano.
Check out some of the cool tour options below to see Mt Etna yourself
The next stop was to an old active chimney of Mt Etna that had previously had an explosion and was now closed over. We climbed into the chimney itself after putting on the supplied safety helmet and headlight and learnt more about the dried lava we were standing on, which was around 1km think as well what else flowed underneath our feet.
We then ventured 15-20 metres into one of the tunnels shaped by the passage of lava from a previous eruption and seen where the tunnel dropped deep below. This tunnel had formed a few hundred years ago but was only discovered during the construction of the road to Mt Etna. It also had the skeletal remains of one unlucky local fox that had wandered a few steps too far down the tunnel and fell to his death, a reminder of how dangerous the area could be.
From here we made the final trip in our van to the 1980 metre mark of Mt Etna. We found out instantly that mother nature was wild up these parts, the wind was bitterly cold and incredibly strong. We took refuge in the local café where we had parked the van and enjoyed a nice warm coffee, we had been threatened that if we ordered an americano we were to be left on the top of Etna by Filippo. One thing you must know is Italians love their coffee.
After plucking up the courage to tackle the outside elements the group followed Filippo and Roberta up the nearby volcanic rocked pathway to the first of 2 giant craters. These craters were formed after previous eruptions occurred in these areas, they are huge and very impressive.
The whole area of this mountain was bare and lined with black volcanic rock and gravel, it reminded me of something out of a space movie. You could pick up this gravel and hold it in your hands then drop it without any residue sticking to your skin. The rocks themselves were sharp and hard but surprisingly light for their size. Previous eruptions of Mt Etna spilled all the way to the coastline and the lava rock and the minerals from them has caused the area to be renowned for producing the nation’s most amazing fruit and vegetables, which you can find at the local markets that run most mornings in the towns below. I visited the Catania market after a recommendation from my accommodation and was amazed at the quality and affordability of the produce.
At the highest crater, we went to it was only possible to stand on the edge and observe for a few minutes as the wind was howling and making standing too close to the crater edge a little dangerous. Filippo advised us that on a nicer day it would be possible to walk around the perimeter of the craters, but this would unfortunately not be allowed today. After some quick snapshots, we made our way down to a safer spot sheltered from the wind and took the chance to snap some group pics with our guides.
We then began our trek back toward the café and the guides advised us that we would have 30 minutes to warm back up and enjoy some lunch in the café before starting our descent down the volcano to return to Catania. On the way back, Filippo and Roberta were kind enough to offer some local advice on where to find the best local cuisine and drinking spots in Catania. They even dropped us off nearby at one of the suggested spots where we enjoyed the best arancini balls of our Italian stay.
The overall experience of the tour was a pleasant one and I recommend this half-day trip to anyone looking for something different to do while staying nearby or in Catania. It’s not every day you have the chance to say you have visited one of Europe’s most active Volcanoes. The guides make you feel welcome and even translated the tour in 2 additional languages for the different members of the group.
A few of the more extreme tours on offer in Sicily are:
If you need any more inspiration about the trip checks out my pics on my Instagram account @travel_pics_bjdeverell or either Filippo, Roberta or Etna Est tours. To inquire about your own trip up Mt Enta just head over to their website here.
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Happy Travels, Brodie