We left a very cold wintery morning behind at Manchester, so stepping off the plane to be met with a glorious crisp winter’s day with clear blue skies and sunshine was wonderful! Staying on the East coast of Sicily means we have the benefit of the North African weather. Our driver Maurizio, who proved to a great asset throughout the tour, was there to greet us and we were soon swiftly on our way. With Catania airport just on the outskirts of the city the journey took just under an hour to the picturesque sleepy holiday seaside village of Sant’Alessio di Siculo. Our host at the family run Hotel Solemar, Claudio, was there to greet us with a warm welcome and 50 weary students were soon revived with a hot two course lunch.
Our afternoon was not wasted as we headed out by coach the short journey along the delightful coastal road to the more vibrant seaside resort of Giardini Naxos. Here sat on the low wall overlooking the bay, where the students were soon at work completing the field sketches w/book section- a perfect introduction to the area; looking at and evaluating the lay of the land. A late afternoon stroll along the promenade followed with students grouping in to small teams to carry out the w/book questionnaire challenge – lots of questions and excitement guessing what shops might be and how they compare with those back home.
With lots of excitement, and lots of warm layers, we set off from a sunny Sant’Alessio for a snow capped Mount Etna; wherever you are along the 170 miles of the east coast the cone of Mount Etna known locally as ‘Big Mama’ dominates over the landscape. Etna is the highest mountain in Italy south of the Alps, and the tallest active volcano in Europe standing at a staggering 3350 metres height, a good two and a half times taller than its sister Mount Vesuvius – Sicilians love their volcano and are used to its daily influence with black ash having to be swept up with its continuous uninterrupted activity.
The coach journey offers a real insight in to the everyday life of the locals, and the further we travel into the hills the less people there are around, with mainly only the older generation still living in the almost abandoned towns. On approaching the town of Zafferana the effects of Mount Etna soon become apparent, with a visit to the 1991-93 lava field which saw the town threatened by the lava flow. A successful diversion took place, with the construction of earth barriers saving the town with the loss of only one building just a few metres from the start of the town. It’s quite incredible to be able to walk on the lava field today with the submersed lost building visible; a great way to understand the cause and effects……
Onwards and upwards, our journey continues with the temperature dropping to -4 degrees as we reach 2000 metres, where the landscape gradually becomes more and more barren. Eventually we arrive at the rifiugio sapienza with plenty of snow and wispy clouds, all adequately wrapped up and ready to continue our adventure. Taking the cable cars to the highest viewing point at 2500 metres is quite something with the silvestri craters seen from overhead, and the fact that we are on a grand master volcano becomes a reality… at the top we are even above the clouds, unbelievable! On our return to base it was time for hot chocolates and souvenir shopping before departing on the North Road route for Catania – time for some relaxation with a bowling session Sicilian style!
A small piece from the post tour questionnaire…
If I were to sum up our tour in one sentence I would say…”Educational tour experiences do not get better than this!”