Volcano fever: Scale Etna in Sicily

FROM the peaks of Hawaii to the uplands of Iceland, whether they be active or dormant, volcanos inspire the imaginations of numerous travellers. Relaxnews has gathered all of the necessary information to choose a volcanic destination for every type of vacationer. En route for Sicily and Mount Etna, which dominates the skyline in the city of Catania.

Curriculum vitae

Rising to 3,350 meters, Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. Its most recent eruption, which injured 10 people, occurred in March of this year. Sicilians have grown used to living with the fearsome anger of this huge mountain, which is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Dominating the Sicilian landscape, Etna is visible from several points on the Ionian coast, most notably Taormina and Catania, which was destroyed by the volcano's most destructive eruption in 1669. Etna has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site since June 2013.

Who should visit?

A natural monument that is as awe-inspiring as it is intriguing, Etna is also astonishingly accessible. The Sicilian volcano is a destination of choice for travellers who wish to visit one of these natural wonders for the first time. The Aeolian Islands, which are not far from Sicily's northern coast, also have their volcanic attractions of Stromboli and the aptly named Vulcano. These are certainly worth a visit. However, a trip to the archipelago requires much more organization than an excursion to Etna, which is a feasible destination for a family outing.

Why this destination?

The volcano, which has been active for 500,000 years, is interesting for several reasons. It is surrounded by unique ecosystems with flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else. Once you pass through the scenic vineyards at its foot, the terrain varies as you approach the summit, changing from orchards of citrus fruit to a lunar landscape of black sand and volcanic rocks. Lava tubes and oozing lava flows offer a visible reminder of Etna's ongoing activity. Travelers who approach the summit craters will be rewarded with the sight of steaming fumaroles.

How to get there?

Etna is easily accessible from the city of Catania, which is the gateway to the natural park that surrounds the volcano. Numerous hiking trails of various levels of difficulty, offer a point of departure for the scaling of Etna. Inexperienced hikers have the option of participating in a walking tour organized by an agency. Once they arrive at the Rifugio Sapienza, which is at an altitude of 1900 meters, travellers board a cable car that takes them up to 2,500 meters. Thereafter the final approach to the summit craters, at 3,000 meters, is via four-wheel drive or Jeep. — AFP Relaxnews