Sicily is one of the most geologically fascinating places in Europe. From its pristine beaches to the rugged interior and foreboding volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, the diverse landscape and unique melting pot of culture make for a truly memorable experience. |
If you're bringing the children on holidays to Sicily, clearly you'll have to work pretty hard to convince them to take some time off from the beach! (And probably yourself for that matter.) But for any young visitors with even a passing interest in the natural world, I think the opportunity to get 'up close and personal' with a few of the island's well-documented geological phenomena is too good to pass up.
Talk about the elephant in the room! When you arrive on holidays to Sicily it's impossible to ignore the brooding omni-presence of Mount Etna and, with 25% of the Sicilian population making their home on its slopes, it's more than a tourist attraction, it's an icon for the local inhabitants.
Even if you're not staying in the immediate vicinity, exploring the landscape (and views) of Mount Etna is a must. As Europe's highest and most active volcano, a firsthand look at this incredible natural phenomenon is the most exciting geography and geology lesson you could ever give your children.
The first 2,000 metres or so of the ascent is done by car, then from Refugio Sapienza you can take the cable car some 600 metres further up the southern slopes. The cable car is, in itself, memorable, but, in my experience, the next stage is even more thrilling for young hearts and minds. Travelling by a 4x4 minibus, you can head up even further, to reach the summit of the beast. It's impossible not be awestruck by the spectacular views and striking lunar landscape of Mount Etna and, even after several times, this experience is one that never gets old for me.
The Salt Pans
Historically, the production of salt has played a vital role in Sicily's history – dating back to the times of the Phoenicians, 2,700 years ago, and continuing to this day. While younger children may be too young to comprehend the importance of this heritage, it won’t stop them being captivated by the austere and somewhat eerie landscape of the west coast salt pans.
Situated between Trapani and Marsala, there are two main salt production areas, at Nubia and Stagone – the latter of which is also a 2,000-hectare marine nature reserve. The sight of countless giant cones of salt offset by a procession of silhouetted medieval windmills is a jaw-dropping sight, and the fact that these salt pans (and even some of the windmills) are still operational makes it all the more fascinating.
After exploring the salt pans, if you've still got the energy, you can take a fun boat ride across to investigate the ruins of the old Phoenician town on the nearby island of Mothya.
Le Gole di Alcantara
To the north of Mount Etna, Gole di Alcantara is an enduring testament to the awesome power of Nature, and the ragged path of this 20-metre deep gorge has been gouged out of the solid basalt by the relentless waters of the Alcantara River over thousands of years.
There's a trail (which is of medium difficulty) that takes you above the gorge for some incredible bird's eye views, and you can also head down to the riverbed – either by stairs or using the access lift. If you're confident in the water, you can don waterproof trousers and a helmet (available to hire) and wade upriver to view the incredible graduated basalt walls of the ravine from a closer vantage – however, this is not an experience suited to younger children.
No matter how many times I've returned to Sicily over the last three decades, its incredibly diverse landscape never ceases to surprise me. It's a raw, unadulterated beauty, which is so rare a find in our thoroughly developed world. For anyone travelling with children on holidays to Sicily, I believe that exploring these fascinating geological sites of the island (and many others) makes for an engaging and truly enriching experience.
John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing luxury holidays to Sicily, Bermuda, Croatia and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.
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