As the fierce summer sun retreats and autumn colours appear, Sicily undergoes something of a personality shift. The sun is still warm enough for beach-goers but for visitors who want to hike across rural landscapes and along rugged coastlines, the temperature couldn’t be more perfect.
In addition to the gentle temperatures, you’ll be treated to some dazzling colours. Warm reddish-brown hues shroud the slopes of the Madonie and Nebrodi mountains, in sharp contrast to the island’s dazzling blue sea and rocky coastlines. Some of these trails are busier than others but visit in October and there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself.
Best mountain hike
Not surprisingly, Europe’s most active volcano is going to attract bigger crowds than some of Sicily’s more remote trails but it’s hard to beat in terms of sheer spectacle.
Our advice for keen walkers is to join a guided walking tour. Tours usually meet at Rifugio Sapienza, then travel on the cable car and a 4×4 bus to the hike start point. A full day crater hiking tour includes equipment hire (hiking boots and poles, helmet) takes you on a 2-hour ascent, across spectacular lunar-style landscapes to the summit craters.
For independent explorers, if you’re up for the hike and prefer to avoid the cable car, the hike from Rifugio Sapienza to the Moutain Hut at the top of the cable car ride takes around 1.5 hours along a wide volcanic gravel path. Or, if you don’t fancy doing too much hiking, book on to a day tour departing from Catania or Taormina, which includes the cable car from Rifugio Sapienza to the Mountain Hut. Terrazza sul Mare, just outside Acireale, is an excellent base for visits to Mount Etna.
Best coastal hike
A gentler and more off-the-beaten hiking option is Capo Milazzo peninsula where you can follow the trail through olive groves and cactus before descending to the sea. The gentle 1-hour hike starts and ends at the Chiesa di San Antonio, looping round the peninsula. On a clear day, you can see Vulcano island, the closest Aeolian island to Sicily.
Leave time to drop down for a dip in the clear waters of the natural pool, the Piscina di Venere, and to visit the ruins of the 13th century Santuario Rupestre di San Antonio, a tiny chapel carved out of the rockface.
The Capo Milazzo is a short drive from Villa Alma, a 4-bedroom villa with extraordinary views over the surrounding countryside and Aeolian Islands.
Explore Sicily’s nature reserves
If walking is top of your agenda, be sure to visit one of Sicily’s nature reserves. Head to the Zingaro Reserve, Sicily’s first nature reserve, in the west for views of rugged cliff faces, pocket-size coves and azure seas. Two entrances to the park, one just beyond Scopello, another close to San Vito Lo Capo, provide access to a series of good hiking trails across the reserve.
Alternatively, holiday at Casa Ulisse, on Sicily’s most southerly point, and the white sands on your doorstep won’t be the only attraction. Stop by the Cassibile Nature Reserve, with its 10 kilometres of trails and gorgeous scenery, and also at the Vendicari Nature Reserve, fringed by white sandy beaches and inhabited by migrating flamingos and nesting turtles. You can also see the remains of a historic tonnara and the 15th century Torre Sveva.
For a truly away-from-it-all experience, head for the wildflower-strewn paths of the UNESCO Necropolis of Pantalica in the Anapo Valley Nature Reserve. A 4-hour hike through the Anapo River Valley takes you through a limestone gorge formed by two rivers and dotted with 5,000 burial chambers, caves and temples that date back to between the 13th and 7th century BC.
From your base at Casa a Ortigia in Syracuse, set off early to the food market at Via de Benedictis for picnic provisions, then head for the Sortino or Ferla access points, less than an hour’s drive from Syracuse. From here, stroll through the ravine carved by rivers that have flowed for millennia through the narrow valleys. Pause to admire Byzantine frescoes and the ruins of the Anaktoron, a former palace thought to have been built around 1100BC, before winding down the slopes to the bottom of the gorge for a picnic alongside the turquoise waters of the Anapo river.
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