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Etna is not just a volcano, but a great universe apart, all to be discovered. Nothing is “normal” up here … you can find Nordic birch trees, grazing alpacas, camels and mountain chestnut trees. And again, deep fractures in the ground, craters transformed into orchards, streams … even a glacier. The volcano develops to a height of 3346 meters which varies continuously, due to the eruptions that shape the top.

There is not a single itinerary on Etna, but dozens. Today we want to advise you on some beauties to admire in the territory of the Regional Park,  above 1000 meters in height. Where the human environment ends then only the natural, wild and beautiful one owned by the volcano remains. If you have good legs and lungs for your hikes above this altitude, you will see a lot of interesting things. Here we mention some of them.

Silvestri craters

This buttonhole line of craters opened on the south-eastern flank of Etna between July and December 1892 . They are at a height of about 1900 meters. Of the five mouths that constitute them, today two in particular are famous: Silvestri Superiore and Silvestri Inferiore. They are named after the volcanologist Orazio Silvestri who died shortly before the great eruption.

Not far from the two main Silvestri Craters stands the Sapienza Refuge and the starting point of the cable way. It takes you up, at a short distance from the summit craters. Those who do not have time, or courage, to go to admire the active craters can stop at the Silvestri. In addition to the spectacular colours they offer, they are the perfect volcanic landscape to explore. In complete safety, because they are now extinct.

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sartorius craters landscape

Sartorius craters

On the road that goes from Fornazzo to Citelli Refuge, on the north-east side, you can stop at an altitude of 1700 meters,  to the Monti Sartorius path. You walk among spectacular birch trees, along easy and not at all strenuous paths that lead to seven button craters. They were named after the German geologist Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen. The craters opened in 1865, between the end of January and June. Today they are beautiful scenic hills of black lava, dotted with pine and birch trees. They are almost all very easy to climb, accessible even to untrained people and children. A few kilometers from the Sartorius you can choose to visit the Citelli Refuge or turn towards the ski resort of Piano Provenzana.

Summit craters

Going up by cable way and van, or directly by off-road vehicle, from the Sapienza Refuge you can reach 2600 meters at the base of the Montagnola. This gigantic extinct crater stands on the south side of the esplanade that climbs up to the summit craters. It can be climbed too, if you are trained and experienced enough. But if you want to visit the summit craters it is good not to waste time with other paths, because seeing the main mouths of Etna is already challenging.

In times of lesser activity, or normal degassing, groups can be led to the base of the Central Crater, or the North East Crater and perhaps go up and admire the Bocca Nuova, Voragine and the South East . It is increasingly difficult to have the green light to climb up here, though. Over 3300 meters, it is easy to find yourselves under sudden explosions and sometimes dangerous puffs. Alternatively, you can “console yourself” with other craters close to the summit ones of Etna: the Barbagallo craters, for example, or the Crater Laghetto.

Monti De Fiore

These young craters date back to the eruption that split the earth at an altitude of 1670 and 1650 meters, in the year 1974. They are located on the western side of Etna and rose up to 70 meters in a few weeks. Today, De Fiore 1 and De Fiore 2 are a destination for hikers who visit them continuously, given the relative ease of the route. Not far from the De Fiore you can also admire Monte Nuovo, Monte Arso and Monte Ruvolo.

Caves and grottos

There are dozens of caves and grottos on Etna, and it is impossible to visit them all in a short time. The

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silvestri craters

most famous, among hikers and tourists, are mainly Grotta dei Lamponi (raspberry cave), Grotta della Neve, Grotta del Gelo and Serracozzo. The first is a tunnel grotto created by the lava flow channel. It is a very long tunnel that flows over a second, shorter tunnel. Grotta della Neve (the cave of Snow or of the Thieves) can be easily reached from the road that goes up to Citelli and can be recognized by the rocky steps. Once, snow was stored here for making ice cream.

Serracozzo is a spectacular cave, thanks to the play of light given by the openings at the top. It can be reached starting from the Citelli Refuge and walking along the Serra delle Concazze path. A rather difficult but not impossible path for a unique show to enjoy upon arrival. The situation is different for Grotta del Gelo (the grotto of Ice). Located at over 2000 meters high, along a steep and heavy path – mostly recommended for trained people – it contains the most southerly perennial glacier in Europe. In theory, nothing of this ecosystem should be disturbed. Therefore it would be advisable not to enter the cave. If you really want to do it, however, only follow the truly experienced and qualified guides and obey their advice.

Along the way to Grotta del Gelo you can admire the rock formation called Monte dei Morti ( Corpses Hill), due to the lava ropes that appear from a distance like massed corpses.

Valle del Bove

The desert belly of Etna, Valle del Bove, can be reached both from the valley – from Zafferana Etnea – and from the Montagnola, descending along huge sand gullies. The beauty of this route is knowing that you are in the point where almost all the lava of Etna does collect, having the summit craters in front of you in all their splendor. It is also a very exposed place, so it is advisable to go only with a good guide and only if the safety conditions allow it. PHOTOS BY G. MUSUMECI

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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