Discovering Sicily: in the shadow of the volcanoes (Part 1)

This half term I’ve headed to Sicily courtesy of Discover the World Education to see what it offers as the potential for school visits and geography teaching – with a bit of volcano climbing along the way! We arrived on Monday evening having flown from Gatwick for the 5 day, 4 night trip. Here is the first instalment…

Landing in the evening after the sun had gone down meant there wasn’t much you could see on the drive to the airport and most evidence of tourism appeared shut up for the winter – something that was equally evident the next morning on the drive to catch the boat to Vulcano. There was time for dinner (roll on the start of the carb loading of bread, rice, pasta and potato in one meal!) and a quick wander along the promenade before heading to bed for the 6am start on Tuesday morning.

We headed up the coast to catch the boat to Vulcani from Milazzo harbour. The crossing was rougher than expected and it was a relief to be back on solid ground an hour later! On disembarking the boat we were greeted by our local guide who took us on a trek up to the Fosse di Vulcano (Gran Cratere), stopping off at regular points to admire the scenery of volcanic peaks and craters. With smoke evident from its sides and top and the inevitable aroma of sulphur, the volcano sits at 391m and is quite easily climbed in about an hour (longer, if like us, you stop for photos!) to the crater’s rim. Climbing up through the colonised slopes you can see how plant succession is occurring on its slope after its last eruption followed by transverse how the Black ash slopes before hitting the orange tinted rock that appears to be the top before you round a corner and realise you have a little bit further to climb round rocks with sulphurous gases steaming out of them. However, the view of the crater, with steam coming out the bottom is worth the climb as it gives you the opportunity to see all of the cavernous crater and the views over to Salina, Lipari, Panarea and Stromboli are stunning (even when you’re more than a little soggy from the rain as you’ve climbed!).

Coming down we opted for the short route which turned out to be walking down the ash slopes. It’s a bit like walking down sand dunes – you take a step and you slide a little bit further down again as your shoe makes contact with the ground. It’s quite fun!

After lunch some of the group headed to Vulcano’s second attraction, the Laghetto di Fanghi. This artificial pool left behind after some geological excavation it now naturally filled by a combination of water and rock to give a thick coffee coloured mud considered to be a natural cure for many skin conditions. The horrendously strong smell of sulphur from the steam rising from the pool was enough to put me off and I went for a little wander round the ‘town’ instead before catching the boat back to Milazzo. The town itself was mostly shut up but you could see how this would have been a busy tourist centre with cafes and restaurants lining the 2-3 roads all vying for customers just a few weeks ago during the main season.

Returning to the hotel by coach, there was just enough time for the mud bathers to shower away the smell of sulphur before we headed to the hotel restaurant for what promised to be another carb loaded dinner (but at least time we’d done some walking to burn off last night’s first!).

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