Eastern Sicily in spring – Around the Etna

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We wanted to escape the last of the Copenhagen winter feeling and enjoy spring in Sicily. Spring in Italy is soft and with winters not as harsh as their nordic counterparts you sometimes almost don’t feel the move from one season to the other. But when chestnut roasters on the streets are swopped for artichoke vendors you know it’s there! Mighty spring!

Flying to Catania on Sicily’s eastern coast gave us a really good starting point for exploring the sights of the area. We stated with a three night stay at the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna (yes, the volcano) at a rather new Agriturismo. (Agriturismi being old farms reconstructed as hotels or B&B’s.)

From there day trips with the hired car brought us around the area. To Taormina, driving a circle around the Etna and its’ small hill towns, exploring Catania.

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Market day in Linguaglossa.

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The lava and snow topped Mt.Etna.

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Pistacchio trees waiting for their leaves in Bronte. Bronte claims to have the world’s best pistachios. I wanted ice cream with said pistachios. But everything was closed when we came around noon, everything! Not happy.

IMGP9099 IMGP9104In spring the fertile slopes of Mt.Etna are covered in wild fennel which makes them a bright green colour. Sicilians use the tops of the wild fennel – finocchietti –  in pasta dishes and salads.

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Pasta with salsiccia and wild fennel tops for lunch. You can use regular fennel tops at home.

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Pretty hill top towns, lush gardens and lava sand on the roads.

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Cookie shopping and sun down in Catania.

When to go
If you consider going to Sicily, the end of April or maybe beginning of May would be ideal. When we were visiting at the beginning of April the temperature was perfect for sightseeing and moving around. (In the summer Sicily get quite packed with local tourists and the temperatures get steaming hot.) But a lot of the places we visited were also still not opened for the season. I would thus recommend to travel a little later than we did.

How to get around
Hire a car! There is public transportation but with a car you will get to all the small towns and will be able to stop at the roadside to stick you nose into one of the many flower covered fields. It you don’t stay in a city but instead chose an agriturismo like we did, you will have no problem with finding parking in the evening. Also in the cities we always found a spot quite easily. Driving requires attention but Sicilians do not drive like crazy people even if it may seem so in the beginning. They are extremely attentive. When they see that you hesitate they will go first – regardless if you have right of way. If you keep on driving they will hold back.

My top five to-do’s around the Etna

  1. Dipping your toes in the icy water of Gole di Alcantara, a narrow canyon formed by the snowmelt of Etna.
  2. Driving around Etna and stopping in the small towns on the way: Linguaglossa, Randazzo, Bronte…
  3. Almond cakes (pasta di mandorla) at Papotto on the main square in little Sant’Alfio. They don’t only have almond but also walnut and pistachio and of the many cakes we had during our trip, Papotto’s were my favourites.
  4. Exploring the Etna with a guide. You can drive quite a long way up on the Etna by your own but when going with a guide you will learn about lava bombs, craters and eruptions. And you won’t get lost when nature suddenly seems to look the same in all directions and clouds are creeping up on you.
  5. The 3000 year old chestnut tree near Sant’Alfio which has been buried in ashes many times throughout the years but always has emerged again.

 

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