We had a few things on our must-do list for Taormina, but number one was to hike around Mt Etna, the active volcano that looms over Catania. At first I had my eye on an airbnb experience, but they would only pick up from towns closer to the foothills of the volcano, and we had no car at this point. Etna People seemed like a good option instead: reasonably priced, well reviewed, and would pick us up at a meeting place in Taormina.
Good morning Etna!
We chose the Good Morning Etna tour, since it seemed such good value and would get us back to Taormina by mid afternoon. We applied for a spot on the Thursday tour and had confirmation the next day. Any questions we had were immediately answered by Whatsapp, and they sent us a GPS pin and street view image of our meeting place. So helpful!
- Location Etna North – East
- Altitude 1800/2000 mt.
- Duration 8.30 AM – 3.00 PM
- Difficulty Light to Medium
At 8.45am, we were met by Giuseppe at the bottom of the funicular in Taormina, where we joined some other members of our tour group in his mini bus. He drove us the entire way, with a constant stream of information about the local area, the geological history of Sicily, and much more. We discovered that he grew up in the foothills of Mt Etna itself, and his passion and knowledge for his homeland was clear from the get go!
We arrived at the base camp of Etna People tours – the Sciacca Etna vineyard (where Guiseppe told us he helps with handpicking the grapes) – and they fully equipped us with hiking boots and thick fleecy jackets. These were greatly appreciated as we had managed to time our excursion for the first snow fall of winter.
After filling out some COVID forms, we all bundled back in the bus and set off for the white peaks of Mt Etna.
Ancient woods of Mt Etna
Our expert naturalistic guide will take the lead, walking you through ancient woods and extinct craters and introducing you to the spectacular volcanic phenomena occurred over time; similarly, you will learn about the typical and unique flora of the North-Etnean area and the many facts related to the volcano. While marvelling at the beauties of Mount Etna, you will hear all about its folks and their traditions, discovering the link between man and nature.Etna People
Even the drive to Etna was fascinating! The road cuts through old lava rivers from the 1928 and 2002 eruptions, with black earth carving its way through the lush green forests. Giuseppe explained that the explosive eruptions are much more dangerous than the lava, as rocks can shoot high into the air and land anywhere. There was actually a high risk of this happening at the time of our excursion, and restrictions had been placed on how high you could climb.
We emerged from the mini bus with our gear and headed into the forest of birch trees, the pale silver bark a stark contrast to the black earth they grew from. The weather throughout our excursion was extremely changeable, with thick heavy clouds floating over ominously, obscuring the view only to be blown away in a moment. We were about 1600m above sea level at this point so the temperature was a chilly 7 degrees (compared to over 20 in Taormina) – we were certainly glad of our Etna People jackets.
This was one of the points where we had the best view of the volcano’s snow-capped summit, with white smoke billowing out of the top to join with the passing clouds. Giuseppe paused to draw a map of Mt Etna in the soil, explaining all the different craters and points of eruption. A few other groups were climbing the craters and hills around us, but the atmosphere was really tranquil and peaceful. We waited for the trail to clear, and made our way up the first hill of dark pyroclastic earth.
Etna’s lava rivers
At the top of the first hill, the view really opened up around us. I was really glad we chose this time of year for our trip, as the trees were just starting to change colour, creating a lovely dappled green effect across the forested landscape. Dark lava rivers flowed and sliced through the green, which stretched out towards the Monti Peloritani in the distance.
Even though heavy grey clouds were hanging overhead, the view was clear and we could see for miles, all the way back to Taormina where the sun with shining off the roofs and glittering off the sea.
Extinct craters of Etna
All the craters we saw were extinct, since the restrictions meant we couldn’t go to high up. Even in normal conditions, if you want to go above 3000m you need to have an Alpine guide accompanying you. We settled for the beautiful landscape of 1600m.
Although there was lots of climbing, it wasn’t nearly as strenuous as I had been expecting. We spent about an hour and a half at Mt Etna, but so much of that was admiring the scenery and listening to Giuseppe that there was more recovery time than there was activity time. If you’re worried about it too – the tour guides are really nice, and will even let you wait at the bottom of the really steep craters.
After we made it down the highest crater, we headed back through the forest to the mini bus, ready for the next step in the excursion.
Afterward, we will provide you with helmets and torchlights to get in the volcanic underground and visit one of the striking lava caves of our volcano; during this part, the guide will explain origins, characteristics, and uses of the of this fascinating volcanic phenomenon.Etna People
Only a 10 minute drive away, these underground caves are pitch black and have a fascinating history. Decked out with helmets and hand torches, Giuseppe led us inside and told us about the legend of the smugglers who used the caves to hide treasure.
The real history of the caves, Giuseppe told us, is even more interesting. The locals took advantage of the freezing underground chambers, and the insulation from the basalt ceilings, to make and store ice – and these are the origins of Granite, the ice-based Sicilian snack!
Finally, we will offer you a delicious snack. A sandwich made with typical products will be paired with local wine; then, you will have a dessert and a taste of sweet almond wine (vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options available upon request).Etna People
After all of this we were super ready for our lunch. Giuseppe had taken our panini orders back at the vineyard, and they were freshly made for us at Chalet Clan Dei Ragazzi. Hidden among the trees off Via Mareneve, this chalet had proper ski vibes, with warm wooden panelling and retro travel posters adorning the walls.
Giuseppe treated us to some local red wine, and after apple pie for dessert we all tried some almond dessert wine. These loosened everyone up considerably and we started exchanging stories of how we came to be in Sicily. Most of the rest of the group had spontaneously booked their trips, Italy being one of the last countries you could visit without quarantining. Matt and I were the only ones who had planned their holiday months ago. The story of our double postponed wedding fuelled the conversation for quite a while, and then it was time to get back in the bus and make our ways home.
Neither of us was sure what to expect from the day trip, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the whole holiday! Mt Etna is such a crucial part of Sicily, especially this part of Sicily, it really would be a same to pass up the chance to learn more about it. And if you love a view like we do, you really can’t beat these!