I have a confession to make. I’ve been to Sicily three times but I’ve never made it to the top of Mount Etna.
I’ve seen her from Taormina and from Catania, but until recently I’d never seen her up close.
Most people visit Etna from the south/eastern side, but I have a thing about doing the opposite of what everyone else does. I’d heard the northern side is both prettier and less crowded so we set off from Syracusa, driving around the western side of the mountain, heading north to Randazzo via Bronte, home to the world’s best pistachios!. Unfortunately for us, pistachios weren’t in season while we were there.
We stayed just outside Randazzo in an old palazzo (Feudo Vagliasindi) that’s been in the Vagliasindi family for generations, and has recently been restored and made into a hotel.The family still grows olive trees on the ten hectares of land around the palazzo which looms large on the rural landscape that surrounds it. Under the hotel is a huge, two hundred year old wine cellar with an ancient wine press and barrels as big as a small house. Ask nicely and the owner will give you a tour.Feudo Vagliasindi has beautiful views over both snow-capped Mt Etna to the south and the Nebrodie mountains to the north. Rooms are ordinary, but breakfast out on the terrace was excellent!
There’s enough to keep you occupied in nearby medieval Randazzo for an afternoon. The architecture is quite different to anything I’ve seen in Sicily before and is quite austere, but still beautiful.If you go to the castle museum head downstairs to the dungeon see dozens of large Sicilian puppets hanging in rows. Simultaneously creepy and fascinating. I used to have a fear of puppets until I went to a Sicilian puppet show in Palermo. Now I love Sicilian puppets (and am still wary of all others …. they’re way too close to clowns in my opinion).
A foiled attempt at climbing Mt Etna
Our reason for staying in Randazzo was to visit Mt Etna. We had one day free to do it and as it turned out, that day was not a good one. It started off sunny and the drive up was lovely. We passed old lava flows in fields of scented wildflowers, and as we climbed higher, shady green forests strewn with pine cones. It’s some of the prettiest scenery in Sicily.
We arrived at the end of the road in Piano Provenzano, parked and then discovered the buses to the top weren’t running!!! No explanation, just not running today. Bugger.So we wandered around, had a look at some burnt trees and buildings swallowed by lava, while listening to not-so-distant thunder (or volcanic explosions perhaps?) until huge drops of rain splattered us and we made a run for the car. Raindrops turned to hail so we drove back down the mountain, stopping at a forest (or was that a fairly glen?)… to steal pine cones… to add to our stash of previously stolen lava.A delicious lunch at San Giorgio e il Drago
With an unexpected half day to fill, and empty stomachs, we headed for San Giorgio e il Drago for lunch. Housed in an old monastery, it’s both atmospheric and cool (in a temperature kind of way).And OMG delicious! We shared bruschetta, then I had orecchiette with zucchini flowers which was amazing – the pasta was handmade and the flowers so fresh. Followed by tender rabbit in a tomato, caperberry and olive sauce. So delicious I even gnawed the bones. In public.
Mr Travelling Pantaloni’s choices were equally delicious – hand made macaroni with a spicy tomato sauce and a few olives. His first choice of osso bucco wasn’t available, so he ordered the mixed grill of homemade sausage, pork and steak. One enormous meat-fest. The whole lunch a bargain at just over €40.
We had intended to drive back to Bronte for pistachio gelato but the rains came down so we dashed into a café in Randazzo instead. As so often is the case with these things, we made a lovely discovery in Pasticceria Arturo. It’s a really old school place with the most beautifully decorated ceiling, and ancient chandeliers.
We started chatting to the proprietor and he let us try two different types of pistachio gelato before he chose some almond biscotti for us to have with coffee. It all tasted home-made and as we were leaving we saw nonna in the kitchen. Of course.
If you want to visit Mount Etna I highly recommend doing this trip, but leave yourself a bit of wriggle room in case the weather doesn’t co-operate.
Where we stayed and ate
Feudo Vagliasindi, C.da Feudo S. Anastasia – Randazzo www.feudovagliasindi.it
San Giorgio e il Drago. Piazza San Giorgio, 28. Randazzo Ph 095923972
Pasticceria Arturo, via Umberto, 73. Randazzo
Until next time, happy travels,
The Travelling Pantaloni