Discovering Sicily: in the shadow of the volcanoes (Part 3)

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 third and final instalment before we head home on Friday morning.

On Thursday morning we checked out of our hotel and headed to the Alcantara Gorge. The gorge, 25m high and characterised by symmetrical rock formations when the red-hot lava flow has hit the water, is part of the Gole Alcantara Parco Botanico e Geologicia. This is a location used to catering for large crowds with picnic tables marked by ‘no picnic’ signs as the large cafeteria style cafe is clearly the food they want to promote. There are also areas for farmers’ market style stalls and a bit of a gift shop. The toilets are for those with wrist bands to prove they’d paid admission only!

Once you’ve paid the admission charge, a lift takes you down to the bottom of the gorge (the alternative 200+ step route being closed for winter) where a small beach like area sits on one side of the icy waters. Returning to the top level you can walk through a series of planted areas and observe some parts of the gorge further along from viewing points. There are signs about the plants and geology and some displays about traditional agricultural practices adopted in Sicily. Most of the walk (and the bike route – you can hire a bike if you wish) is fairly flat with steps down to the viewing points. Given that I walked the walking route and the bike route at a fairly leisurely pace in 40 minutes, it’s not a particularly strenuous ask! But for those looking for a bit more adventure, the majority of the group skipped the lift and the walk and headed off to don wet suits for river trekking (in lieu of river tubing due to the water levels) and there are plenty of signs round the entrance advertising these water activities.

Leaving Gore Alcantara we drove back towards the sea to the resort of Giardini-Naxos with its long beach. This is a slightly cheaper option than Taormina any is popular in summer but, again, as it’s the end of October, it’s quiet and a bit shut up for winter!

After a 4(!) course lunch and a bit of time on the beach for those who wanted it we set out for Taormina for a little bit of late afternoon sightseeing. Perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea, Taormina is one of Sicily’s top tourist resorts – and even in October there are tourist and souvenir shops galore! It’s highlights include the 3rd century BC Greek amphitheatre claiming to be the most dramatically situated in the world. And it definitely is a highlight having been the first stop on our brief walking tour of Taormina with a spectacular view towards Etna as you sit on the (now wooden) seats – the Greeks certainly had the right idea with that backdrop to their musical performances. Unfortunately the two Roman revisions, first to a theatre and second as a home to gladiator shows, blocked the view so it’s now only a partial view through the gaps where the old frontage has come down.

After visiting the theatre we wandered round a few more sites including the much smaller Roman theatre before a bit of free time (read shopping and drinks in a square as the sun went down) and make your own pizza night. As someone who has never had pizza due to an allergy, it was an experience and, for anyone else with allergies, they were really good at making sure the cheese or any utensil that has been in contact with cheese didn’t come into contact with my pizza! Looking back on the visit to Taormina, it added a different dimension to the trip and would give a chance for students to have a little added culture and the obligatory souvenir shopping in a small pedestrian area, however, you need to make a judgement call on the attention span of your students in listening to a tour guide (in the Greek theatre audio guides are available for an additional charge) for the theatre and walk around the town.

Waking up on the last morning the clouds had cleared and Etna’s summit made its last appearance for us with a fantastic view from the hotel’s rooftop terrace before we head to the airport.

It’s been a fantastic few days in Sicily and a big thank you to Nancy and Becky from Discover the World and Rosie, their Sicilian agent, for an inspiring geographical trip (and keeping us very very well fed!).

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