Mount Etna: clear sample of the power of nature
Mount Etna, when the TV broadcasts its eruptions, I am totally involved by the show in which beauty and devastation are at arm’s length. So, when I decided to go back to Sicily, based in Taormina, I accepted with the enthusiasm to be able to see up close the grandeur of this volcano that the people of Catania call “A Muntagna” and try to understand much better this island through the passion, the commitment and the pride of the different people who work daily to give back to this territory the beauty that passes through the dignity of places and people, civic culture, a clear “no” to the stereotypes and prejudices, the mafia and the small illegalities of our society is permeated.
The Mount Etna was the place of starting of the feelings between Maria and Nino in Zeffirelli’s “Sparrow”, and George Lucas used the 2002 eruption as the background of the fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the third episode of the Star Wars saga.
I visited the north side of Etna, more naturalistic and less traveled by tourists hit and run because here there is no cable car or ski slopes, but there are the southest birches of the world, the pyroclastic cones lined up along the lateral eruptive fractures called Sartorius Mounts that reach 1667 meters, and silent walks that lead you to see the sea on the clearest days.
Then I moved to where the first activities of Mount Etna are visible, in Acitrezza where the underwater eruptions about 700 thousand years ago caused the erection of entire blocks of magma beyond the coastline forming high rocks.
In the “Riviera dei Ciclopi” the myth comes to help men to explain the mysteries of nature: the noise that makes Etna and the fire that is free is caused by the workshop of Hephaestus, the blacksmith of the gods, who had among the helpers the Cyclops Polyphemus, who, in order to avenge himself against the blinding caused by Ulysses to free his comrades from death, throws huge rocks into the Greek boat, giving rise to the stacks.
Each trip to Sicily can only end at the table where the stories become flavors and aromas that will make their way through the memories, this time my gastronomic discovery is called Gente di Mare 1991, a restaurant far from the tourist area, as well as the fishing cooperative that manages it is far from the dynamics of the big multinationals of the fish that end up squeezing an ancient and tiring trade not adequately rewarding the work and not respecting the times of the sea. Here I rediscovered the pleasure of eating fish, even that in a way called poor, with flavors enhanced by herbs, vegetables and fruit of the territory, in plentiful dishes and not at all shaked by modernity.
If you want to complete your meal in the best way, do not finish it with a granita, which was born according to tradition in these areas where the Etna snow was stored in the lava caves, but stop at a kiosk and order a seltz. They will bring you a glass of sparkling water, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, you will immediately feel lighter and you can continue to appreciate what Sicily is ready to reveal.
Where to stay
Set just a short, albeit hilly, walk to town, the well-located The Ashbee Hotel offers classy service and drop-dead gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea. Set in a 1908 villa built for an English colonel by renowned Arts & Crafts architect Charles Robert Ashbee, this sumptuous retreat is small by Taormina’s standards, just 24 rooms and suites but big on service. Inspired by the house’s history, the owners aim to mix the best of British and Sicilian tradition: discreet waiters serve Prosecco from silver ice buckets, the restaurant’s bay windows look out over citrus groves, and elegant antiques mingle with flashes of Italian exuberance (striped wallpaper, marble columns, red glass chandeliers). All guests should check out the organic and locally sourced breakfast buffet, featuring an array of Sicilian sweet and savory dishes. This year, the property became a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. For foodies, the glamorous The Ashbee Hotel, with its acclaimed St. George Restaurant by Heinz Beck (oh yes, the 3 Michelin star Chef of La Pergola in Rome), is a delightful gem where you can enjoy your lunch and dinner (plan for about two hours for the full gastronomic experience) with the best food in town.