Mount Etna which Sicilians call “u Mungibeddu”, the mountain which reaches up to the stars, lies between Catania and Messina in the centre of a triangle formed by two river valleys, the river Simeto to the South and the Alcantara to the North, and to the East, the stretch of coast from Riposto to Catania.
Its most striking feature, apart from its 3340m in height and constant eruptive activity, is its position so near the sea, just a few kilometres away. In a little less than half an hour it is possible to drive from the seaside to the high mountain, and to watch as the scenery changes from the beach to woods, from the taste of fish to that of mushrooms, from water sports to winter sports.
The Parco Regionale dell’Etna which stretches from the top of the volcano to the undulating area of the lower slopes was set up in 1987 to look after and protect the amazing variety of different environments that make up the territory of the volcano. Within this area there are beech woods, forests of larch, birches, pines, oaks, chestnuts and as well as these, between the lava flows there are very fertile “dagale” orchard areas of apple, cherry, pear, almond, and hazelnut trees or vineyards and olive groves It is possible to explore this vast area trekking along various nature trails.
Etna has a strong influence on the people who live on her slopes. Life with a volcano has created a love-hate relationship which is also coloured by fear and respect amongst the people who live in the small towns on the slopes of this great giant. Notwithstanding the continuous danger, the population of Etna seems to be devoted to the fertile volcanic soil which for thousands of years has provided food for the farmers and their families.
The caves of Etna
The flow and fluidity of the lava from the numerous eruptions has meant that caves and grottos have formed in the volcanic territory around Etna. Some of these can be visited using the marked trails and among the best known are the Grotta degli Archi, in the district of Biancavilla, the Grotta di Monte Nunziata in the area of Bronte, the Grotta dei Lamponi near Castiglione di Sicilia, the Grotta del Santo near Adrano and the Grotta de Gelo near Randazzo and the Grotta di Cassone in the Piano del Vescovo, near Zafferana Etnea.