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Mount Etna. What does that bring to your mind? Drama and eruptions? When we planned our trip to Catania, Sicily, a visit to Mount Etna was highest priority for me.
For the first time in all of our many travels with our children (now 7 and 9 but their first international trip was ages 2 and 4 and lasted 2 months), we booked to join a tour. Mount Etna is an active volcano and we wanted to learn about the volcano from an expert while staying safe.
Through Trip Advisor we chose Etna Experience because the tour is led by a geologist and they take small groups.
We were very pleased with our choice. Both of us studied geology at university and I work as a geologist but neither of us specialised in volcanology. We wanted an expert to teach our children about the fascinating and active aspects of geology.
The guide picked us up from outside our accommodation in a Land Rover and we picked up a family of three in Zafferana before heading onto Mount Etna. Our first stop was a view of cow valley. Until less than 70 years ago, this valley was perfect for grazing cows, hence the name. A lava flow covered everything and now it’s black basalt. It’s a reminder of how active and dynamic Mount Etna is. Our guide drew a model in the volcanic ash and enthusiastically explained and demonstrated the geological history of Etna.
Our second stop was a lava tube. I’ve never been inside one of these so I was pretty excited. Upon reflection it was the highlight of the trip so far for our 7 year old son. We put on jackets because it’s cool inside the tube, and put on helmets and held torches and walked about 50m into the lava tube. Our guide explained the processes that formed the tube. I wished I’d had an outdoor laboratory like Etna when I was studying geology!
Our third stop was the site of a series of 6 craters from an eruption in the 1800s. We walked up to the crater, stopping to learn about the plants and animals and hear about the eruptions from our guide.
It was breathtakingly beautiful there. The fresh basalt is black, the older basalt is covered in grey lichen, then the pioneering then colonising plants take root and the landscape is transformed. Late June is a great time to visit because it’s not hot, the wildflowers are in bloom but it’s also not covered in 3 m of snow like in winter!
At the crater we stopped to look at the view and learn more from our guide. A group of three middle aged Polish women asked me to take a photo of them. I returned the greeting in Polish and the woman was so pleased and surprised that she nearly hugged me. I love the warmth of Polish women.
Afterwards we went to a quiet park away from the tourists and had a delicious lunch of tavola calda (warm savoury pastries) and a light Mount Etna red wine for the adults and water for the children. It was lovely.
After lunch our guide took us to an Etna honey farm where we tried honey made from the different types of vegetation that grows on Mount Etna, including some endemic pants. We also tried olive oils, olives and for the adults wines and liqueurs. He also showed the inside of a beehive to our children. It reminded me of when I was growing up on our farm, watching my father tending to our bees.
It was a great tour. I enjoyed chatting with the guide afterwards about his difficulties in getting research funding for his PhD, about corruption in Sicily and more.