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Mount Etna, Europe’s highest (3,323m) and most active volcano, is located in the north east region of Sicily. It is a recognised landmark dominating the landscape with incredible views from the towns and villages on the east coast.
Just Sicily has a range of accommodation in the north east of the island in the towns, on the coast, in the countryside and some on the slopes of the volcano, ideal for those wishing to visit Mount Etna National Park.
There are a number of trekking and 4x4 excursions that can be arranged by the hotels.
Since 1987 the volcano and its slopes have been part of a national park which encompasses a varied natural environment, from the fertile lower slopes with vineyards, citrus orchards and olive groves to the severe volcanic upper slopes, where just thorn bushes and Etna's own violets survive. The park is divided into 4 zones, all of which have varying levels of protection, with zone A being the highest, allowing minimal human intervention.
In 2013 Mount Etna was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompassing 19,237 uninhabited hectares of north east Sicily. It is the highest Mediterranean island mountain and the most active strato-volcano in the world with its eruptive history traced back 500,000 years a influencing volcanology, geophysics and other Earth sciences.
Mount Etna - History
Mount Etna rose out of the sea some 600,000 years ago. It is a composite volcano, made up of alternating layers of lava and ash. The volcano was formed after the African tectonic plate moved beneath the Eurasian plate, causing magma to erupt at the surface as lava and ash built Etna in the process.
Mount Etna’s eruptions have been documented since 1500 BC which occur frequently from the 4 craters at the summit and on the slopes of the volcano, which are littered with fissures and old craters. The volcano’s most devastating eruptions occurred in 1669 and lasted 122 days when lava poured down the southern slope engulfing part of Catania and dramatically altering the landscape.
1886 experienced a 3 week long eruption causing many dense clouds of steam and ash to form as well as an earthquake, forming a new crater which spewed ash and lava for several days. Considerably more recently in 2002, lava flows from Etna caused an explosion at Refugio Sapienza, which destroyed two buildings and temporarily wiped out the use of the cable cars which access the summit.
Etna continues to erupt almost every year and smoke rises into the sky on a daily basis. For example, there were 19 eruptions in 2013 when residents and tourists witnessed the volcano lighting up the sky with its sporadic bursts of bright lava. Locals and specialists understandably keep a close eye on the smouldering peak.
Standing as the tallest and most active volcano in Europe, it is possible to see this majestic mountain from nearly any part of the island and it has played a central role not only agriculturally, due to the rich, volcanic soil that surrounds its slopes, but to the Sicilian tourist industry.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the volcano, its slopes are occupied by a number of beautiful Sicilian towns and villages, with the mountain providing a truly breathtaking backdrop.
Visiting the Craters
With its constantly changing landscape, exploring Etna provides a great day out to visit the craters or even the summit. There are guided excursions from the coastal towns, as well as the towns and villages situated on the slopes of Mount Etna or visitors can drive up the slopes to various points on each side of Etna or the Park Headquarters located on the south side in Nicolosi.
There is a cable car (Funivia) at Rifugio Sapienza, also on the south side at 1,900m where it is possible to park with a small selection of amenities, which take visitors up to 2,500m and then connect with a specially adapted 4x4 tour bus to continue the journey up to 2,800m where there are guided tours to some of the craters (maximum height of 2,920m). Alternatively experience the majestic volcanoes’ landscape by train starting in Catania and travelling in a loop around Etna’s base.
From December through to February it is possible to ski or snowboard on the slopes of Mount Etna (snow fall dependant) when the cable cars and ski lifts are open 9am-3.30pm and ski equipment can be hired on site.
Please make sure that suitable layered clothing is worn on trips to Etna as although it may be warm in the summer months at the base of the mountain, it will be a lot cooler at the summit. Also ensure that sensible footwear is worn as the landscape is made up of sharp lava stones.
We recommend visiting Etna in the morning to allow plenty of time for this experience and the cable cars operate from 9am-5.30pm April to November.
Recommended Accommodation to Visit Etna:
Monaci delle Terre Nere > Zaffarana Etnea
Donna Carmela Resort & Lodges > Carruba di Riposto
UNAHOTELS Naxos Beach Siclia> Giardini Naxos
Castello di San Marco > Calatabiano
Villa Greta > Fiumefreddo di Sicilia
Villa La Torretta > Zaffarana Etnea
Relais San Giuliano > Viagrande