Rain showers were forecast for the weekend, so we adjusted our schedule and drove 1-1/2 hours north from Syracusa along the eastern coast of Sicily to get some great views. For most of the drive, the mountain was filling our front windshield, at least till we started our hill climb to Rifugio Sapienza (1900 meters).
As we wound up the side of the mountain, we passed vinyards, orchards and farms as well as lava flows from past eruptions. And we got stuck in a sheep traffic jam!
The Rifugio is the access point for a cable car ride up to 2500 meters. From there, you can walk or take a 4×4 up to 2900 meters – that’s the current limit for visitors due to volcanic activity. The landscape from the Rifugio is mix of volcanic ash, lava flows, craters and a few bits of vegetation taking hold.
We hiked to several viewpoints and circumnavigated a small crater from a 2001 eruption. There’s still enough heat there to create steam from warm-to-the-touch rocks – 21 years later!
Two days later, we returned to Etna for a drive through the wine growing regions on the east and northern slopes. Clouds surrounded the top and there was thunder and lightning in the distance, but we only had 1/2 hour of rain and used that time to grab some lunch.
Our afternoon destination was a wine tasting at Pietrodolce, a very fine winery on the north slope. Their ultra-modern winery was constructed in 2009, but built in the middle of 50-100 year old vineyards. We got a tour of the operation, a walk through the vineyards and a chance to sample several of their delicious and pricey wines.
Tomorrow is our last day in Sicicly, then on to Rome!