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Sant’Alfio is a small town located on the eastern flank of Mount Etna, around the main church and on a very rich territory. The volcanic soil, in fact, favours an agriculture that produces very tasty and particular fruits, be they apples, grapes or chestnuts. For the locals, Sant’Alfio is famous for its chestnut woods and for two monumental trees – still chestnuts – which attract tourism. For foreigners, Sant’Alfio offers some of the most beautiful views over the top of Mount Etna and the coast. All this “seasoned” with excellent local wines.

The village of Sant’Alfio


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church of Magazzeni

Sant’Alfio was born together with its agricultural production. In the 17th century, in fact, some noble men from Catania and Acireale obtained from the bishop the purchase of some land properties. The richness of the local vineyards allowed the birth and development of farms and the workers of the fields settled in the area.

Together with the settlements, the church was also built. It then took on its present shape in the 18th century. The village grew around the church and the vineyards, passing over time under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Giarre and then, at the beginning of the 20th century, becoming an autonomous municipality. The economy of the town is still based on the production of wine, on the production and trade of fruit and chestnuts but also on a tourism. A shy and yet growing tourism, once again thanks to the chestnut trees. The monumental ones!

The historic chestnut trees of Sant’Alfio

Totally surrounded by lush chestnut woods, Sant’Alfio is however known for two of these trees in particular. The chestnut of One Hundred Horses and the chestnut Nave.

The chestnut of the One Hundred Horses bears this name because -according to legend- it offered shelter to an entire royal court. That of Queen Joan of Anjou with the escort of her hundred knights! Surely very old, even if its true age has been debated for some time (it could be about 2000 years old!), the tree develops with three large branches that have become as many trunks over the centuries. It has a circumference of 23 meters and a height of 22. Today it is protected by a fenced area that can be visited, also equipped with picnic and refreshment areas . It is one of the largest trees, officially registered, in the world.

The chestnut Nave is instead located inside a private property, on the border line between Sant’Alfio and Mascali. It also has a considerable size and a funny nickname, “arusbigghiasonnu” (awaken from sleep). The nickname is perhaps due to the din of the enormous quantity of birds that the tree can host on its branches. Or it is due to the length of the same branches that ended up on the face of the peasants, when they returned home -tired and asleep- on the back of a mule!

Collecting chestnuts in Sant’Alfio

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chestnut woods

Between October and November, after the rains and the mild climate of the Etna autumn have matured the chestnuts, there are many places around Sant’Alfio where you can proceed with the harvest. In private fields, of course, but also in groves open to everyone.

Many people love to walk on the paths that go through the chestnut groves close to the little church of Magazzeni. The small temple, built where the 1928 eruption’s lava miraculously stopped without overwhelming Sant’Alfio, dominates a spectacular view of Etna. And it is surrounded by flourishing chestnut trees besieged by tourists, hikers but also by professionals in the sector – such as the “toasted chestnuts sellers”.

The Etna chestnuts you can harvest in this area are not particularly large, but they are very tasty, with a dense pulp and a particular flavour. They are used for many excellent local recipes. The flowers of these trees then provide the raw material for the production of chestnut honey, a typical delicacy of Etna territory.

How to get there

If you want to enjoy a sunny Sunday, in the districts of Sant’Alfio, collecting chestnuts for all tastes, you will have to take the A18 motorway or the State Street 114 up to Giarre. From there take the provincial roads following the signs for Etna and Sant ‘Alfio. You can also get to Sant’Alfio and its chestnut groves from Zafferana and Milo, passing the Fornazzo hamlet in the direction of Giarre. (photos by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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