In Sicily there are three big natural areas and other little ones.
The first one in the Etna Park. Mount Etna is not only a volcano - it also has a lot of paths and trekking opportunities. The best ones are the excursions on the summit craters on the south side starting from Rifugio Sapienza in Nicolosi (Catania).
The second park is the Nebrodi Mounts. This is between Messina and Catania. This park is full of forests the most known is the "Bosco di Malabotta". The park is a little less accessible so it's advised to use a four-wheel drive vehicle and take a good map.
The latest park is the park of the Alcantara river. This is a river formed in a lava eruption thousand years ago. The river is walkable.
Etna Park - Nicolosi (Catania)
Nebrodi Park - Between Messina and Catania
Alcantara River - Near Francavilla di Sicilia (Very near to Taormina)
The nearest station for Etna Park is the Circumetnea. From here, a rail road goes around Etna and its villages. You can take it in the Catania central railways station (Piazza della Repubblica) or in the Station of Giarre if you come from Messina by train.
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For a slice of unpolished Sicily, catch the hydrofoil from Trapani to the Egadi, a mini-archipelago off the north-west coast. We stayed on Marettimo, the smallest and most remote. There are walking trails across the island but the real joy is in the simple pleasures — sunning yourself on an empty, rocky beach, ordering a brioche con gelato in La Scaletta, the local ice-cream parlour, watching the fishing boats offload their catch on to wooden trolleys to be sold through the village.
When you arrive at Marettimo’s tiny harbour you’ll be greeted by locals offering rooms in fishermen’s houses. To guarantee a bed for the night — and more space — book into the Residence, the island’s only hotel. May and September are sleepy; in July and August the Italians pile over.
Beautiful old town that's perfect for mooching around and seeing the sights. Grab a limoncello or three at one of a strip of waterside bars as the sun sets and go for a stroll amongst the locals. Clear your head the next day by exploring the ancient ampitheatre at the edge of town (catch a bus from the central station).
South-east Sicily. Rent a car for max flexibility when touring the island.
Sicily has many stunning beaches, but the 7km string of coves that run along the coastline of this nature reserve are particularly special. Grab a map at the information hut in the car park, and make your way along a winding cliff-edge path for 20 minutes and you will come across the first white pebbled beach 20 metres below.
If you can resist the lure of the dazzling crystalline waters a little longer, it is well-worth trudging on another 3km to the next series of bays, which will be less crowded.
A word of warning: it can get painfully hot in July & August, & the path enjoys little shade, so the walk can be torturous without sufficient clothing or litres of water.
There are entrances to the Nature Reserve to the South near Scopello, and in the North at San Vito Lo Capo.
These hills are beautiful, high, and very little visited. There are some wonderful towns where you can feel the atmosphere and brooding isolation - Castelbuono, Petralia Soprana. The beach at Cefalu is beautiful. Just don't expect to drive at more than 30mph on the hairpins!
Every town we visited on the island seemed to have an abundance of beautiful public gardens. The best ones are probably the ones you stumble on by accident just by walking around, but make the effort to find Giardino Garibaldi (complete with a bust of the man himself) when in Palermo - the incredible visible roots on the fig trees are worth going in search of.
If you find yourself in Taormina (which is where most tourists end up) make sure you find the wandering road down to Giardino Pubblico (the public park). As well as stunning flowers and great views out over the sea and Etna, you'll also find many little brick follies round each and every corner, and various bits of war paraphenalia, including a mini-submarine. Bizarre, and fascinating.
Giardino Garibaldi is on Piazza Marina, just off Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Palermo and Giardino Pubblico is on Via Bagnoli Croce, Taormina.
As you take a well-earned rest after ascending 1000m, a feeling of warmth seeps into your trousers - which is par for the course when you are sitting on an active volcano. Regular and spectacular eruptions, as well as the sight of all the cruise ships watching these from the water, are the very convincing reason to make the three hour guided climb up here.
Coming down, although slightly disconcerting as you slide down the ashy slopes, is much quicker. The climb is enlivened by the amazing variety of flora and fauna and of course, the views. It's necessary to have a guide, and trips can be booked from Lipari and the other Aolian islands.
Stromboli, Aolian Islands
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