World Traveller September 2019



olidaying within spitting

distance (almost)

of Mount Etna, one

of the biggest active

volcanoes in the world,

certainly adds a small element of danger

to what would otherwise be a classic

mix of sun, sand and sea in the Med.

Sicily’s landmark attraction has an

explosive history, most recently ‘waking

up’ in May this year with an eruption

that created clouds of ash and sent

flowing trails of red-hot lava down two

sides of its New Southeast Crater. Its

fiery displays have captivated people

through the ages. As legend has it, the

Greek philosopher Empedocles threw

himself into the crater in an attempt

to discover the secrets of its eruptive

activity, while Theoderic the Great,

king of the Ostrogoths, ended up being

dragged in by his skittish horse. Like a

moth to the flame, I too could not resist

the mountain’s magnetic pull, which

is how I found myself careering over

the rocky landscape in a four-wheel

drive one crisp spring morning.

“We consider Etna to be a female

mountain – she throws out lava every

once in a while, but she rarely kills

anyone,” jokes my driver Alberto, as

he parks up to allow his passengers to

explore on foot. “My father brought

me here after one particularly large

eruption when I was just eight years

old. I remember it well, as the lava

hadn’t quite cooled down yet and

I burnt the soles of my shoes.”

Of course, the locals have grown

savvy to Etna’s temperamental ways,

taking the good with the bad. The

volcanic landscape that surrounds

the peak is covered in hauntingly

beautiful fireweeds: vibrant red,

pink and yellow flowers that are a

result of the mineral-rich lava that

has hardened on the ground.

The mountain is also home to thriving

vineyards, including the family-run

Fischetti, which is best reached by

boarding the historic carriages of

the Ferrovia Circumetnea railway, a

110-kilometre line that almost encircles

Etna. Designed to connect Catania and

Riposto, the concept was presented by

British civil engineer Robert Trewhella

in 1885, with its first part inaugurated

in 1895. Today, it offers visitors an eyepleasing

trip around the mountain, with

its characterful steam train popping

out on rare occasions to transport

people on foodie tours of the area.

Fischetti, nestled on the North-

Eastern side of Etna, looks just like

the house that Vito Corleone retired

to in The Godfather – no stretch of the

imagination considering many scenes

for the acclaimed mob drama were

filmed on the island. Covered in lush

green vines and surrounded by fruitful

gardens (pomegranates, aubergine, and

artichoke were all ready for plucking),

it’s a warm and welcoming place to

go for an intimate feast of delicious

Sicilian dishes washed down with the

aged results of Fischetti’s best harvest.

From cherry tomatoes rich with flavour

to gambero rosso (red prawns) caught


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