What do you get if you mix an assortment of volcanoes with a temperate climate and delicious Italian food? Answer â€“ a fantastic week of walking in Sicily and the Aeolian Islands.
Bex Powney, our Customer Support Manager, had long had an ambition to visit a volcano and this trip would give her four.
The â€˜daddyâ€™ of them all is Mt Etna, currently towering at some 3,300m. The dark, brooding and immense slopes of Etna dominate the eastern side of Sicily, on clear days providing anyone arriving at nearby Catania airport with magnificent views. Once seen, this volcano just has to be climbed for a closer look and thatâ€™s exactly what we did. With the help of a 4WD to get us up to 2,500metres, we started to walk through a landscape which wouldnâ€™t look out of place on Mars.
Trekking in loose ash and over recent lava flows, the terrain can be a little challenging but when we finally emerged at the rim of the main crater - a yawning chasm almost 1km wide â€“ are efforts were well rewarded. Standing in swirling clouds of steam, the depths of the crater were hidden from view but occasionally brief clear spots gave us tantalising glimpses of the immense craggy crater plunging below. Etna hides her size well, but you can never escape the feeling of formidable power that emanates from every inch of this volcanic giant. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world; luckily this particular day Etna chose not to spew rocks and lava into the air.
It was hard to think how Etna could be bettered but Stromboli was about to out-compete in spectacular style. A two and a half hour sunset climb to the summit created some suitably sweaty and dusty individuals hoping for a good show. As darkness approached, Stromboli was ready for action, working up to the first of five dramatic eruptions. Lava flows are rare here but she has got spitting rocks off to a fine art. The sight and sound of red-hot rocky projectiles suddenly being ejected high up into the air is better than any firework display Iâ€™ve ever been to.
The descent of Stromboli is almost as exciting as its eruptions. In complete darkness, head torches are a necessity but the visibility gained is quickly lost by the clouds of dust kicked up by fellow walkers, ensuring that the true extent of the steep drops to the side are hidden from view. Hot, sweaty and dusted with a fine layer of ash â€“ Iâ€™ve never been so happy to get so dirty. Stromboli has been erupting continuously for over 2000 years; long may it continue to do so.
After all this volcanic excitement it was time to relax a little on Lipari, a pretty little island whose volcano is now extinct. The rich soils now support an array of vegetation and colourful flowers and provide perfect conditions for growing lemons. Any aching limbs were soon soothed in the hot springs â€“ a reminder of the heat which still exists far below the surface.
Suitably refreshed, it was time to take a boat across to the next island â€“ Vulcano. This is the volcano from which all others take their name. Unassuming in stature, Vulcano nevertheless possesses an absolutely perfect â€˜geography textbookâ€™ crater. Dramatic, vertiginous slopes of loose rock and ash plunge down to an innocent-looking flat centre which covers the lava chamber below. Trekking up any volcano requires some effort but Vulcano has a little trick up (or perhaps that should be down) its lava tubes to remind visitors that its calm exterior is just a smokescreen for the maelstrom below. On one side, numerous fumaroles vent noxious gases into the air. Breathe at the wrong moment and the inside of your nose will sting and your eyes water. But Vulcano is just encouraging you not to linger too long.
Back on Sicily, a trek to the summit of Rocca Novara gave us the chance to view the mighty Etna once again. As I trekked, I thought about the quartet of volcanoes I had enjoyed throughout the week. If I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be Stromboli. Not only had my ambition to visit a volcano been satisfied but Stromboli had delivered eruptions as well. Itâ€™s an experience that I will remember forever which will be hard to beat.
Why not go and see all four for yourself on our Sicily Trekking Tour