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The western flank of Mount Etna is not well known, as far as tourism is concerned. This is why it has kept its beautiful wild aspect, so natural, primitive. There are few humans, there, and so much natural wonder which expresses itself in many ways and colours. Recently, tourist plans to exploit this side of the volcano have been proposed. Tourism is certainly a good thing, and a blessing, but such a unique and wild territory on Etna must be protected in all its rude nature.

The hope is that all new tourist itineraries will respect this wild nature which shall remain free forever. However, you certainly do not lack interesting places on the west side. You can visit so much and not necessarily climb the volcano. Here are two itineraries, simple and nice, for you to visit some towns and natural places in full respect of the beauty of the west.

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Bronte’s old town

Etna West, from Maletto to Piano dei Grilli

Our first itinerary on Etna West starts from Maletto, the tiny capital of strawberries! This small town is famous, in fact, for the cultivation of some varieties of such fruits but also for a lovely medieval core reminding its origins. According to someone, Maletto was founded by bandits. Others say it was home to a rebel princess, Marietta or Maretta (hence the name), who used to lead a small army. But the truth is Maletto was founded as a land feud by the noble family Maletta.

Maletto has a historic core made of alleys, stairways, churches set between small houses. Do visit, here: Nibali Archaeological Museum, the main church, the church of St. Michele, that of St. Antonio da Padova and the ruins of the Maletta castle located on top of a panoramic point. From Maletto to Bronte is a very short distance. Although this town is famous for Nelson’s Castle (yet out of the municipality!) and pistachios, its old town and nature trails are worth seeing. The old town of Bronte is full of sixteenth-century churches, including the Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Annunziata, the main church of the Trinity, St. Maria della Catena, the Badia, St. Sebastiano. One of the historic buildings of Bronte is the Capizzi college. It is worth stopping here for lunch so to taste the local meat-based specialties and obviously the king of the territory: the pistachio. Try it in every recipe and variety.

After lunch, you can go and discover the various nature trails in the surrounding areas: the Centorbi Wood, the Simeto gorges, the  waterfalls at Balze Sottane and the fascinating Piano dei Grilli. This route crosses the spectacular “rope shaped lavas” of 1651 and reaches a small refuge. From there begins a wonderful path, which – among  broom woods (real trees even a few meters high) – leads you to discover ancient craters such as Monte Ruvolo, Monte Minardo, Monte Tre Frati. And a well cave that served as snow stock.

Etna West, from Cesarò to Gurrida via Maniace

Second itinerary to discover West Etna. The morning will be dedicated to the discovery of

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piano dei grilli and broom trees

Cesarò. This strange town located at the intersection of three Sicilian districts is perched around the ruins of a castle. It dominates a valley full of woods where wild boars and horses run wild. Cesarò offers few monuments, but from the road that connects it to the nearby town of San Teodoro you can enjoy one of the most spectacular views of Etna. From Cesarò move right towards Etna, and along the way you will stop at Maniace.

Not so much in the small town as in its municipal area,  you can admire the Nelson’s Castle. Although the building appears today as an eighteenth-century noble palace, it still retains some parts of the perimeter walls of the time in which it was built as a castle (12th century). The beautiful church of St. Maria di Maniace also dates back to that period. Do admire its stuning carved portal! The property was donated to the English admiral Horatio Nelson who, however, never came to see it. However, his descendants lived there, this is why many tombstones are written in English.  Also for this reason the castle includes a small English cemetery .

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lake Gurrida

From Maniace you can go and visit Lake Gurrida, perhaps after having had a great lunch in a farmhouse in the area. The lake formed in 1536 when an eruption of Etna blocked the flow of the Flascio river, creating a dam. This has collected the river’s waters ever since. The Flascio in fact fills the lake by overflowing into it during the autumn rains or in spring, with the melting of the snow. Then it flows out very slowly, infiltrating the lava subsoil. Gurrida is also a farm that sells delicious local products, including wine. It comes from their vineyards which – due to the presence of the dam – sometimes are flooded creating a unique show …. on which Etna is reflected .

How to get there

To reach the beautiful places of Etna West we suggest to base yourself in Bronte. From Catania – which is also the reference airport – you get to Bronte via the State Roads 121 and 284. You can also have the meeting point in Nicolosi, halway between Catania and Bronte. Have a nice breakfast full of Sicilian sweets, over there, before continuing towards Bronte via the SS 284. (PHOTOS BY  G . MUSUMECI)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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