From the white sandy beaches and rocky coastline, to the charred slopes of volcanos and the lush greenery of National Parks, Sicily is filled with startling and enjoyable contrasts. Throughout the timeless scenery of this beautiful region you can find a multitude of hiking and walking routes that showcase the stunning variety of landscapes Sicily has to offer.
Here, Sicily holidays specialist Think Sicily has picked some of the best walking spots in the region, as well as some ideal times of year for hiking there.
No trip to Sicily would be complete without taking in the imposing sight of Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano at 3,323m and the region’s most prominent landmark. The Parco Naturale dell’Etna covers around 590 sq km with a varied natural environment. There are several routes to the top and hiking enthusiasts can spend days trekking around the 165km circumference of the mountain.
A popular option with many is to head to the summit craters of Etna from Rifugio Sapienza. From here you can hike up along the 4WD tracks, get in a 4WD minivan or take the cable car to Torre del Filosofo and walk on to the summit from there via a number of two to four hour routes.
The most extensive trek is the high trail, which takes three days to walk the wooded slopes of Etna, between 1300m and 1800m from Rifugio Brunek to Rifugio Sapienza.
Another great option for volcano walking are the Aeolian Islands, all of which are either dormant or active volcanoes. Two of particular interest for walkers are Vulcano and Stromboli.
Vulcano is easily attempted without a guide and trails are marked fairly clearly. From the summit visitors can peer over a ledge down 50m to the bottom of the main crater, now lying dormant.
Stromboli sees an average of two major explosions a year and is best attempted with a guide. After a five hour hike to the summit walkers can gasp at the dramatic sight of molten rock belching from fissures in the rock. Some tours allow visitors to reach the summit as night falls, the best way to truly appreciate this stunning pyrotechnical display, but hikers on these trips need to be prepared to descend in the dark.
Be aware that both Stromboli and Etna are active volcanos, so make sure to seek advice and up-to-the minute information before tackling routes on either of these.
The Nebrodi Nature Reserve
The Nebrodi Nature Reserve, in the north east of Sicilyoffers a diversity of landforms, rich vegetation and wetlands with lush forests, green pastures, quiet lakes and bubbling streams. The landscape here is hugely different from the image of dry and sun-scorched Sicily and has led to the area being termed ‘an island within an island’.
Hiking trails lead through the Nebrodi Park from west to east, taking in, amongst others, the largest remaining beech forest in Europe complete with a wonderful lake circuit. The forested peaks are scattered with charming hilltop towns, all of which make excellent bases for hikes.
The best way to enjoy Nebrodi is to take a few days of carefree exploring, as an unassuming-looking path can provide a route to a beautiful wood or lake and a seemingly simple village might hide a fantastic church or a wonderful trattoria.
The Zingaro Nature Reserve in the north-west is an excellent walking destination if you want to combine hikes with a swim, as it takes in beautiful stretches of coastline filled with coves and well-planned walking trails. As Italy’s first nature reserve, a trip to Lo Zingaro can reward visitors with glimpses of rare birds and unique flora, as well as some of the most beautiful scenery in Sicily.
There are two entrances to the park, from San Vito Lo Capo in the west and from Scopello in the east, and a walk from one to the other takes around four hours along this rugged and beautiful coastline. Between the two lies a variety of virtually deserted coves and beaches with crystal clear water.
Best time to go
Summers in Sicily are hot, peaking at around 35°C in August, so be aware that walking at this time of year requires careful precautions. Take plenty of water, protect yourself from the sun and try not to hike during the hottest times of day. One of the most ideal times for hiking the region is spring, with warm days, gentle breezes and rich landscapes with blooming flowers. Autumn also offers excellent hiking conditions, with warm coastlines and cooler inland temperatures, but with stunning gold and bronze contrasting scenery and the much-anticipated grape harvests taking place.
When hiking mountainous regions or volcanic slopes, be aware that temperatures can be much colder at higher altitudes and peaks can be covered in snow, so be prepared to face varying climates on a single walk.
Who to go with
Villas in Sicily specialist Think Sicily can arrange for anyone staying at one of their villas to have the services of professional guides who can provide fascinating insights into the various regions, as well as years of experience on the best walking routes and safety advice. See www.thinksicily.com for more information.