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If you have never visited river Alcantara’s Gorges, you must do it at least once in your life. But before you do it, let yourself get to know less famous, less touristy places, and perhaps for this reason still wild and beautiful. The Gurne of Alcantara, in the territory of Francavilla di Sicilia, are an example of that. They are that part of the river which precedes the jump into the gorges: here, river Alcantara still flows on a flat bed interrupted every now and then by differences in height and pools dug by the same action of the water. Small pools, waterfalls and whirlpools form all the time, often surrounded by magical atmospheres. The “Lago di Venere” – lake of Venus, or waterfall of Venus – is among them. Let’s go and find out about it together.


The Gurne of Alcantara

cascatedivenere_ (2)The Gurne of Alcantara are located a short distance from the much more famous “gorges”. Unlike these, however, the place is little exploited and therefore less known by great tourism. There is not the charm of the deep silver-gray basalt canyon, inside which the most famous river in Sicily howls; apparently it looks like the scenery of just another river.

Yet it is precisely here, in these sixteen natural pools, that Alcantara “trains” iself for the great jump that will then take it into the gorges. And it does so by sliding between flat rocks and creating waterfalls and natural pools of extraordinary beauty. Accessing the gurne is difficult, the paths often collapse with the floods of the river, and therefore tourists do not like to venture among these rocks and bushes. In doing so, however, they lose a unique spectacle.

Access to the Gurne of Alcantara is free, and takes place from a dusty road located in the territory of Castiglione di Sicilia. The course of the river, though, falls entirely within the Francavilla municipality area. If you are adventurous enough to find this itinerary, you will discover surprising places.

The lake of Venus

The Lago di Venere is one of the pools formed by the Alcantara river in its route into the gurne. The river flows into this round space forming two small waterfalls, which is why it is also knowncascatedivenere_ (3) as “falls of Venus”. The water fills the pool completely, creating an intense blue-green colour due to its depth. And then drains elsewhere, continuing its run towards the gorges.

Whether you see it in the sun or in the rain, the show is truly captivating and full of extraordinary beauty. The name derives from an ancient Greek legend which saw the gods Vulcan and Venus as protagonists. She used to bathe in the beautiful pool that you can still admire today, washing herself under the falls. And Vulcan, madly in love with her, heated the river and turned it into a thermal pool, so to impress her. Venus, however, never returned the love of her admirer . He then -furious! – one day made the water of Alcantara so cold that no one could ever swim in it again.

Trying to swim today at the lake of Venus is still not recommended. Not so much for the cold waters, or for the depth crossed by the currents of the river, rather to preserve a special place as long as possible. Such a pure, wild, primitive lake with aggressive tourism could be ruined forever.

Around the lake of Venus …

In the surroundings of the lake of Venus there are interesting places. Along the access path that leads to the gurne, in fact, you shall admire an ancient Byzantine church: the Cuba of Santa Domenica. Built entirely of lava stone, it was also used in the past as a mosque and then as a stable and sheepfold, before being recovered in recent times.

A few kilometers before the entrance, there is the medieval church of St Nicola. The town that dominates the landscape from the top of the hill above is Castiglione di Sicilia. It is worth a visit to admire its baroque churches, its ancient castle still accessible, the tower of Cannizzu with the view of Etna in the background. Also visit the town of Malvagna, with its eighteenth-century convent, the church of Santa Anna and – here too – a small Byzantine chapel in lava stone. Francavilla is also an interesting destination with its ancient churches, castle ruins and archaeological sites.

How to get to the gurnes and the lake

To reach the gurne of Alcantara it is better to arrive by car via the A18 Messina-Catania motorway. Exit in both directions at Giardini-Naxos. From here, take the State Street 185 towards Francavilla and, after passing the junction for Motta Camastra, turn left onto a dusty country road (with little visible tourist signs). You can also arrive from Francavilla, following Via Orsini street and turning right at the signs.

The nearest airport is Fontanarossa of Catania. It is less practical to arrive by train: you get off at Giardini-Taormina station and then you have to organize yourself by public transport or with tour operators.

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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