The natural landscape here is wonderful and rich: the flourishing vegetation grows until 2000 m, with wide cultivations of oranges, vineyards and fruit trees until 1300 m, then pines, oaks, chestnut-trees and birch-trees. Over 2000 m can be found junipers, soapworts and numerous endemic species like the violet of the Etna. From 2500 m on the vegetation becomes more scattered, with only few species surviving in this lunar landscape.
To have a full view of the volcano you may get on board of the Circumetnea Railway, which in roughly 3 hours circumnavigates the volcano crossing villages and lava fields. Or, if a closer encounter with the mountain is what you look for, then you must head out to the north and southeast slopes. The southern side of the mountain is served by frequent bus rides which connect Catania with the villages lying on the volcano slopes. Alternatively you may rent a car or join a tour starting from Catania or Taormina.
To get to the top you must drive for 10 km through rough roads mostly covered with lava. The roads are safe, but you must never exceed the safety limit. Because of the frequent eruptions of the volcano, tourist facilities such as ski slopes, cableways and huts are never placed in a steady place, but can be removed or changed in position at anytime, according to the entity of the damages caused by the last eruption. Excursions on the volcano may also be cancelled due to bad weather conditions (rain, fog). There is not a suggested time or season to do excursions, which are, especially in the northeast side, very variable according to snowfall. At the beginning of the good season some shorter trips are organised to reach medium heights.
Only when roads are completely free of snow it is possible to reach 3000 m. The best period to make excursions is full summer. Dawn is best recommended, when the sky is clearer. Temperatures can reach minimum values at all heights, therefore it is recommendable to bring a pull, a sweater and a jacket with you, and to wear suitable shoes. If you don’t have the proper clothing with you, you may rent hiking shoes and jackets at starting points of the excursions. Moreover, remember to bring with you a pair of sunglasses, because exposure to the sun light is intense.
The most spectacular and charming side is the north side, to be accessed via Linguaglossa. After Piano Provenzana it is recommendable to leave your car and join an organised jeep tour (a bit expensive). On the south side the most beautiful village and a very appreciated mountain destination is Zafferana Etnea, surrounded by vineyards and orange groves. It can be easily reached from Catania in one hour bus.
Nicolosi lies on the path left by the lava field which generated after the eruption of 2002. An important ski destination, it is served by buses starting from the main train station of Catania. There is a bus ride leaving every morning at 8.15 and arriving until the mountain hut Sapienza, which marks the end of the practible road (return journey at 16.30 pm from the Sapienza hut). The hut was saved from the violent eruption of 2001 thanks to a series of channels built to contain and to divert the lava flow. From the mountain starts a steep and strenuous 4 hours trail which leads to the top. Alternatively you may proceed by jeep with a guided tour, or make use of the cableway. By 2001 it is not permitted to approach the main crater. From the top you will enjoy one of the most spectacular landscapes of Sicily.
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