I might be a bit obsessed with volcanoes. And not just any volcanoes; its the active ones give me a real thrill. It’s why I couldn’t resist climbing Stromboli to get up close with spewing lava and why the one thing I just had to see when I visited Sicily was Mount Etna. After all, it is the tallest active volcano on the European continent, one of Italy’s three active volcanoes and one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
When I found flights to Palermo for just €9 each way, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add another active volcano and UNESCO site to my list. Sicily is seriously lacking in tourism infrastructure though, and flying in and out of Palermo put me on the complete opposite side of the island from Mount Etna.
It’s nearly impossible to get to Mount Etna without renting a car, so I was thrilled that Palermo Walks offers a Mount Etna and Taormina day tour. The plan was to drive up Mount Etna to 2000 meters, take the cable car up to 2500 meters and go on a jeep tour to see the spewing lava from 2900 meters.
I’ve learned that the weather in active volcanic areas is just as unpredictable as volcanoes themselves, perhaps even more unpredictable than the Northern Lights. Even though the sun was blazing when we left Palermo and for almost the entirety of the drive, it was already lightly drizzling and cloudy at the car park.
Mount Etna is moody and the visibility cameras at the tram stationed showed that you couldn’t see a thing. It seemed that Mount Etna was going to be antisocial and shrouded in clouds. The lava fountains and pyrotechnics that I was so excited to see just weren’t going to happen. My heart sank a bit.
Even though it wasn’t worth paying to go up the tram and take the jeep tour, I wasn’t totally disappointed. My guide Giorgio and I walked around the lava field and climbed the Silvestri Craters, which originated from a massive eruption in 1892.
If it weren’t for being able to see the towns rising up in the distance and the thousands of pistachio trees below, I’d thought I was back in Iceland. Or I imagine this is a bit what the moon must look like.
To make the experience even more other-worldly, just as we started hiking around the second of the Silvestri Craters hail started pelting us. As little pea sized balls bounced off my arms, I moved my legs as fast as they would go.
We made a run for Rifugio Sapienza. Wet and cold, a hot pizza sounded fantastic for lunch. And it was! In fact, the pistachio and speck pizza was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had in Italy and I’ve had a lot of pizzas. It may sound a bit weird, but eastern Sicily is the only place that they grow in Europe and the area around Mount Etna provides the perfect amount of heat and sunshine for them. I know, hard to believe when I’d been running through hail only minutes earlier. Save room for a cannoli…or three.
Still raining, it was time to throw in the towel on Mount Etna. As Giorgio told me, she’s a diva who only performs when she wants to. It wasn’t going to be that day.
We went on to Taormina for the next part of the day tour, and after failing to be wowed by Palermo, I wasn’t expecting much. Especially since it was still gray and drizzling out. But Taormina took my breath away. I can only imagine how pretty it must be on a clear, sunny day!
The town is so charming with its palazzo built by the Arabs, duomo built by the Normans, baroque fountains and Greek influences. Cute shops lined the cobbled streets and it was probably a good thing I didn’t have time to do more than window shop.
The highlight of the all-too-short visit was the ancient Greek-Roman Theater. It’s still used today for performances, as I could see with the stage set up. Even though I didn’t have an umbrella and my hair was so wet it was dripping in to my eyes, I couldn’t tear myself away from the view. The Mediterranean sparkled in fifty shades of blue and a snow-capped Mount Etna stood majestically as a backdrop. It was nothing short of spectacular and a beautiful way to end the day tour.
Know Before You Go
- Wear sturdy shoes like hiking boots, especially if you want to hike around on Mount Etna.
- Bring layers as it can be quite a bit colder on Mount Etna.
My Mount Etna and Taormina day tour was provided by Palermo Walks in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own.