I received email messages Saturday, October 26, from friends who were worried that I might be in trouble because of the eruption of Mount Etna that morning. Happily I was nowhere near Mount Etna then. I was on my way to Agrigento in the south center of Sicilia, although we were scheduled to tour Mount Etna on Sunday. We learned about the eruption Saturday, but Mount Etna erupts constantly, and our tour guide assured us that we would have no trouble driving up the mountain as planned.
As we drove to Taormina, a beautiful hill town on the northeast coast of Sicilia, late Saturday afternoon, we could see smoke and steam billowing from Mount Etna and drifting west from the mountain (it usually drifts east). By the time we got to Catania at the southeastern foot of the mountain, we could see only haze, but as the road climbed to Taormina, the sky cleared, and the evening was clear, cool, and beautiful.
When I went to Mount Etna in 2011, we toured the eastern side of the mountain in a Land Rover. On this trip we drove to the Silvestri Craters on the southern side of the mountain and then took a cable car from Rifugio Sapienza and walked to around 7,000 feet, about 4,000 or so feet below the summit. On Saturday, hikers and off-roaders could ascend only to a maximum of 8,200 feet. That maximum changes daily as conditions on the mountain change.
If you go to Sicilia, you MUST go to Mount Etna. It’s one of my all-time favorite places, and it is so easy to visit. Go in the morning, when the sky is relatively clear and blue. By late morning the sky begins to get cloudy and visibility is limited. We got to the Silvestri Craters around 10, and we rode the cable car and hiked until 1 or so. By the time we got off the cable car, we could no longer see the top of the mountain.
As you will see from my photos, the terrain on the south side of Mount Etna differed dramatically from that of the east side in the 2011 trip. It would be difficult for me to choose which was my favorite—the moonscape of our trip last week or the off-roading experience in 2011. Both were fantastic!
P.S., We toured Sicilia with Tradizione Tourismo, as I did in 2011, and our driver was excellent.