Published: June 18th 2010June 13th 2010
Today has been a long and tiring day. Up at 4 am, but awake at 2.30 am, to leave at 5 am to get the 7 am catamaran to Sicily for our day trip.
We managed to get a good parking spot just outside the sea terminal gates so no fees to pay. The trip was Sicily was about 90 minutes and the Med was as smooth as can be. We had a couple of cups of coffee and breakfast on board. This was a much bigger vessel than the one we got from Penang to Langkawi so there was hardly any pitching and rolling. It actually steamed at about 35 knots which is 40 miles per hour and yet there was no sensation of that speed.
On arrival at Pozzallo, we boarded our coach for our trip to Taormina and Mt Etna. This was the longest bit on the bus and took about three hours, including travelling 3km in forty minutes at the toll gate to enter the autostrade. It would have taken half the time if the car drivers didn’t drive down the hard shoulder and push in. There must have been some Italian drivers that learnt
to drive in Australia.
We travelled most of the way on the motorway past the towns of Syracuse, Augusta and Catania. We must have gone through a dozen tunnels on the way, ranging from as short as 44m up to nearly 4km. Just a normal part of life here, if a hill is in the way put a tunnel through, a gorge, build another bridge.
We left the motorway at a place called Lido Spisone and we descended down to sea level. This coastal area is just stunning with several little coves just looking so inviting. There are two coves separated by a small island called Isola Bella (beautiful island) - a very apt name for this lovely place.
We then started to climb up the hill to Taormina. This is literally a cliff face and the hairpin turns are quite tight. The views of the Ionian coastline are quite startling in their beauty and the higher you get the better the view. Taormina has been here for thousands of years and clings to the mountain. Once in the town itself, the streets are narrow with many narrow alleys running of up the hills.
is very quaint and as such is a tourist magnet. Although we didn’t get to see it, there is a Greek/Roman theatre which goes back to the 3rd century BC. For lunch we had a genuine Italian pizza and really enjoyed it. We then strolled through the streets just enjoying the sights of this town.
We had about two hours here and then it was back onto the bus. Our next stop was a small town at the foot of Mount Etna called Nicolosi. This northern part of this town was damaged twice by lava flow in the last 20 years and yet is 20 kilometres from the summit of Etna. Here we sampled some local flavoured honey and some liqueurs. There is once called Etna Fire and it warms all the way down to your toes - not surprising as it’s 70⁰ proof.
Once we left Nicolosi, we started almost immediately to head upwards towards the operations centre on the southern flank of Mount Etna. Etna has had an eruption almost every year since 2000 and several during the 25 years prior to that. As we went higher the landscape became more barren because of recent lava
flows in the past 40 years. The guide pointed out to us areas that were inundated and the years that they occurred.
At one place, there are two houses side by side, one destroyed and one completely untouched and a little further on, one completely buried. There is a church which although surrounded by lava, the tower remains standing along with the church itself. The road is new, the old one obviously destroyed in the last eruption in this area. You cannot get insurance, yet there are new hotels being built which could be destroyed next week in a new eruption.
Further up, we passed the house of Robert de Niro who happened to be in Taormina whilst we were there. We reached the base camp known as Etna Sud where there are a lot of souvenir shops and we decided to go up on the cable car to the next point. This meant going from 2000m up 2500m. We then walked a bit higher above the cable car station and probably got to over 2700m. This is approximately 500m higher than Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. You know you are up that high as you do become a
little breathless at that altitude.
W only had a short time up there before it was time to come back down the mountain. The cable car had stopped running so the only way down was by the huge Unimog all wheel drive buses. They hold about 30 passengers and they got us down the mountain in time to catch our bus back to Pozzallo. The trip to Mount Etna was certainly a highlight of this day tour and I can recommend it to anybody visiting Malta.
We then had a two hour drive back to Pozzallo town where we had about 30 minutes break walking around before heading to the ferry and our trip back to Malta. We arrived back in Valletta on time about 11pm and by the time we disembarked and drove back to villa arriving just after midnight. A very long day indeed, but in the end, extremely worthwhile, and well worth the money.
There are more photos below