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138. X-mas at Mount Etna

It was time to prepare the crossing through the Strait of Messina from Calabria to Sicily.

We choose the smallest part in the Strait, in the north, which is 3 kilometers wide (maximum width is 8 km). It doesn’t sound very difficult, but it is a lot different than planning a trip along the coast, hopping from 1 place to another. Now you have to deal with the Shipping lane: the ‘highway’ reserved for large containerships and ferries that can’t or won’t swerve for a sailboat. And current: in channels (like the Strait of Gibraltar we crossed in December 2022) there is always current or a tide difference, because the water is compressed into a funnel, or going from an ocean into sea water.

In this case, December and on a weekend, the traffic is quiet in the shipping lane and to our surprise the current or tide is negligible! Also the depth in the Strait of Messina vary a lot: from 20 meters to 1.000 meters and almost 2.000 meters deep more south in the Strait. Geologically, the Strait of Messina has several active fault lines that result in earthquakes and tsunamis in the past.

The crossing went smoothy, there were about 8 ships in the shipping lane that morning at 8.00h, but we could cross easily, the weather was very clear and before we knew it, in 30 minutes, we had crossed the Strait and were sailing along the coastline of Sicily! We noticed already in Calabria that the mountains were a lot higher than on the Italian mainland. Our sail would be 37 miles towards our harbor and in the distance, we saw Mount Etna, our destination for that day and for the Christmas period. It was great to see the mountain, with snow on top. We were lucky to have a clear sky and a sunny day!

We arrived 23 December around 15.00h at Porto dell’Etna and it was great: we had a direct view on mount Etna and our place at the harbor was very sheltered. I made a reservation for 5 days in this harbor.

I was also looking forward to celebrate my birthday here on 25 December! We sent this X-mas card to our family and friends and Gilles took this picture the morning of my birthday with the snow-capped mount Etna in the background, I am wearing a festive Santa hat and a Christmas-themed sweater 😉.  

We would go up mount Etna, so I collected 10 interesting and impressive facts about his volcano:

  1. Etna is 3,329 meters high and is the highest volcano in Italy. After Stromboli, Etna is the most active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the world.
  2. Etna currently has five active main craters. The ‘southeast crater’ is the most active and has also grown about 200 meters in recent years due to the large number of eruptions.
  3. Etna has erupted every year since 2001 with the exception of 2007
  4. The National Park around Etna has a basic perimeter of 140 kilometers and 25% of Sicilians live ‘on’ the  slopes of Etna.
  5. Researchers have found evidence that humans existed as early as 15,000 B.C. lived in caves at the foot of Etna, indicating a long human history surrounding this active volcano.
  6. The volcanic soil surrounding Mount Etna is very fertile, resulting in the production of some of Sicily’s most prized wines. The Etna DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is an important wine region.
  7. Mount Etna is home to a network of lava tubes, formed by flowing lava that cools and solidifies at the surface while hot lava continues to flow below. Some of these tubes are accessible to cavers and tourists.
  8. Astronaut Training: due to its lunar landscape and geological diversity, Etna has been used as a training site for astronauts to prepare for lunar missions.
  9. The first seismographic observation post was built on Etna in 1908, making it one of the longest continuously monitored volcanoes in the world.
  10. You can ski on the slopes of Etna with a view of the smoking craters. The area offers two ski areas: one on the southern slope and one on the northern slope

It was time to up mount Etna during Christmas! We rented a car and with sunny weather we drove up the curvy routes to the about 1900 meters high.

Already from our catamaran we saw smoke coming out of the craters and the closer we came, the more clear the smoke was. Also the variation in colors of the landscape surprised us!

We booked a tour with a quad and a guide, and we drove on the black lava landscape on mount Etna, also getting a lot of information about the mountain and walking into an old lava tube.

I made a video of our activities driving around on mount Etna:

After a great tour, we walked around on the volcano and visited a small crater called Silvestri. There was still areas with snow in the crater and it was impressive to walk around on the edge of the crater mouth.

I really enjoyed a day up mount Etna!

Also the city around the harbor was fun to see as well. There was a fish market, which was well visited because of shopping for Christmas dinners.

We saw an old man selling roasted chestnuts from his street cart. We bough a bag to take to the boat.

Like in the Netherlands, Italy also has 2 days of X-mas: “Natale,” is celebrated on December 25 while the second day of Christmas is known as “Santo Stefano,” is celebrated on December 26. It’s funny to see there are more palmtrees in the village to be seen than Christmas trees.

X-mas tradition in Italy is to collect wood on a square and burn the wood to banish the darkness and welcome the longer days. We saw this smoldering pile later that day.

I really enjoyed staying in the harbor beneath mount Etna and walking on the volcano.

Especially the different faces the mountain had during the different hours of the day. At sunrise or sunset the mountain looked different again. Or in the evening, when it was dark, the lights of the villages on the mountain were clearly visible. It was a wonderful destination to celebrate Christmas here!

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