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The landscape of eastern Sicily is dominated by Mount Etna, but the massive, brooding presence of Italy’s highest volcano (3329 metres) - and the biggest active volcano in Europe - is felt nowhere more keenly than in Catania. The elegant black and white Baroque palazzi try to assert themselves over the city squares filled with lively bars, clubs and restaurants but cannot compete with the sheer menacing presence of Etna in the distance. The volcano and its slopes are part of a National Park, the Parco dell'Etna, that covers 590 square kilometres and includes snow-capped mountaintops, surreal lunar landscapes created by lava flows, tranquil beech woods and lush vineyards that produce the region’s DOC wine.
Catania - The almost total destruction of the city in the 17th century has gifted it a delightful Baroque architecture that will repay exploration. In its squares there are a number of vibrant bars, clubs, cafes and restaurants that will try and hold your investigations back. Take your time and enjoy the city.
Mount Etna - This volcano of mythic proportions is rightly steeped in legend. The Greek god of fire, Vulcan, was said to have his workshop here, and the Cyclops, Polyphemus, resided in a cave on its slopes. This is a volcano to be seen and experienced but it is also highly active: as recently as 2007 a 400 metre-high ash-cloud issued from its craters and closed Catania airport.
Parco dell'Etna - The National Park that encompasses the volcano merits exploration on a guided tour on foot, by cable car, from the air or by 4x4. Covering an extensive area it includes ski slopes in the winter, challenging hikes, eerie volcanic landscapes formed by solidified streams of lava and even delightful vineyards renowned for their wines.
Novara di Sicilia - Sitting snugly in the gorgeous surroundings of the province of Messina, on the northern side of Mount Etna, you will discover a picturesque medieval town cradled by mountains that overlook the ancient sites of Tyndaris and Abacaenum. Drop by to visit this medieval town when you are exploring Italy’s more ancient past.
Things to See around Catania
The prize draw has to be the volcano itself which dominates the landscape. There are many ways to see its dramatic landscapes - so choose the tour that fits your fitness levels. Don’t forget to take in the varied landscapes of Etna’s slopes or to enjoy the sights (and tastes) of the lush, local vineyards. Back at sea level there are grandiose Baroque palazzi and churches that have been built out of the black volcanic rock that Etna has rained on the city. Since the early 2000’s these have all been delightfully restored and make an impressive backdrop to your stay in Catania.
A vineyard tour offers the chance to view Etna from another angle altogether, as do skiing opportunities in winter. Keen hikers can explore the slopes on walks that range from challenging to contemplative. Architecture buffs can find classic examples of Baroque architecture and travel to explore medieval towns and ancient Sicilian sites. The rest of us can just thrill on a tour of the volcano and chill in the elegant bars and restaurants that line the squares of Catania.