Note: This travelogue is based on a trip I took to Sicily in 1995, so the pictures and information are rather dated and may not accurately reflect the modern appearance. I welcome updates and corrections.
Mount Etna is the dominant terrain feature on Sicily. Looming ominously over Catania, Mount Etna's occasional (but not infrequent) eruptions would seem to make many Sicilians nervous. However, the locals seem to have accepted Mount Etna's mischief as a fact of life, and instead capitalize on the fertility and sturdiness of the volcanic rock. Meanwhile, tourists such as me are able to enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the volcano during its periods of calm.
Mount Etna is a difficult volcano to get a clean photo of. It is normally covered in clouds, even during the drier season (this being the complaint of several tourists I've encountered). Even in the first photo, when it was abnormally clear, the thin haze made for my only getting a silhouette. C'est la vie (oops, sorry, that's French, isn't it?).
A minor highway encircles the base of Etna (from a reasonable distance, that is), and dotted along the way is plenty of evidence of past eruptions. The second photo is a roadside view of a lava flow left bare. Untouched lava flows are actually a rarity -- most have been converted to vineyards or orchards of olives, lemons, or figs. All along the way, you will find chunks of volcanic rock cut away and formed into cinder blocks for use in roadside walls and gates. Other lava flows grow over with vegetarian very quickly, so I was left to wonder if this particular flow was left over from the previous eruption (don't recall the date).
There are several towns dotted around the outside of Mt. Etna. I recall many of them being small farming communities, but a few of them, such as Malletto shown here, were pretty large.
Malletto is located on the back side of Mount Etna, tantalizingly near the base of the mountain, yet safely outside the normal lines of the lava flow. Malletto is a very active town, with a huge marketplace and several active wineries (my travel companion and I surveyed some of the wine-making equipment on sale). This trip was taken on a Sunday, and on Sunday afternoons the locals congregate among some of the finer restaurants to partake in a standard multi-course all-afternoon lunch. Although I am a fairly good-sized person, I was severely challenged to make it through all seven courses. I capped the meal off with my first-ever taste of grappa, which was unforgettable (even after drinking more than my fair share of soju in Korea, I had never tasted anything that resembled pure paint thinner).
Further down the road lies the city of Randazzo, which is fairly big and not too far away from Taormina. In this final photo, I show the train station at Randazzo, with the title "Ferrovia Circumetnea", which more or less means "Train that travels in a circle around Etna". Yes, if the drive (which took us the whole day) is a bit much for you, you can easily take a train to Malletto and several other stops along the way.
I really enjoyed this day trip. The scenery through the drive was grand, and the towns were all worth stopping at. Just be careful when you go, you never know when Mount Etna will blow her top next!
Trip taken 28 August - 9 September 1995 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin