We awoke on Friday feeling refreshed and healthy, had an big, early breakfast, and headed up the coast to Mt Etna.
The drive to Nicolosi, a large town in the southern foothills of the volcano, took about 2 hours. The Rough Guide had made this out to be a small town but it seemed pretty big. We’d punched the address of the Tourist Office into the SatNav but it lead us to a random back street with no shops or offices in sight.
Nicolosi is at 700m and already the temperature had dropped to about 14 degrees – but it was a fine day with great views up to the top of Etna.
Encouraged by the size of Nicolosi and the big road signs to “Etna Sud” we decided to skip the information office and head up the mountain.
The impression in my head, gleaded from both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet we’d borrowed, was of a narrow dirt track leading from Nicolosi to a tiny out post, “Refugia Sapienza”. But the road, though steep and windy, was great and had fantastic views back over the Sicilian scenery. And Refugia Sapienza was a thriving toursit spot with lots of little gift shops, huge car parks, and several large hotels and restaurants. Oh, and quite importantly, a cable car station and lots of large 4×4 buses to take you higher up.
We parked up, and wrapped up. The temperature had dropped further to about 12 degrees and a chill wind was blowing. We were beginning to appreciate having brought fleeces with us.
The whole place is set up for excursions and getting you to pay to have an easy ride. There are no maps, or directions or guides for walkers. The guide books are mostly photographic.
Having said that, we appreciated the facilites at the top of the cable car, with a good cafe and toilets.
We headed out into the now-very-cold air with the aim of following whoever else was walking. We got a little way and the wind picked up and blew some snow in! Yes, Sicily in September and it’s snowing. Well, we were at quite an altitude at this point and very much in the clouds.
It’s a weird place. Quite lunar with just a vast expanse of black lava heading up into the distance for miles. It’s bleak and barren. Disappointingly unspectacular and yet, intriguing and captivating.
As the weather closed in again, we were getting cold and weary and decided to give up. It could have been several kilometres to the crater. It could have been 100yards, but we couldn’t see, and we were cold and bored. Don’t get me wrong – it was a great experience, but we were worn out and had a cable car to get back before closing time.
We fought our way past some CRAZY motorway driving and called in at Syracuse on the way back for an excellent pizza in an Ortigian restaurant, only ruined by the fact that we over-ordered and had to send half of it back because we were so full.
Anyone know how to say “The eyes are bigger than the stomach” in Italian?
Link: Part Eight