Etna is not only the highest active volcano in Europe, it is also a mountain full of natural wonder. There are recent lava flows where life is still absent and very old lava flows-where larch, beech and birch trees have flourished.
At low altitude, there are alternative strips of oak and chestnut groves on the carved sides of the mountain terraces, a sign of farming activity.
To preserve the fauna, flora and the unique landscapes of the volcano, a natural park, the first of its kind in Sicily, was established in 1987. Etna natural reserve was subsequently divided into two areas corresponding to different levels of protection, from the top of the volcano to the upper belt villages of Etna.
The upper part (Zone A); 19,000 hectares, is dominated by the volcano. No human activity or settlement is allowed here, giving way to a great wilderness. In this protected area, the objective is to allow nature to take its course with minimal human intervention.
The lower part (Zone B); 26,000 hectares, is composed of small plots of privately owned land. This area is distinguished by its splendid ancient farms, animal shelters, wheels, and austere manor houses. In this area you can really feel the presence of an traditional farming culture. Here the objective of the park is to encourage farmers, especially through financial aid, to continue their traditional activities so that this cultural heritage continues.
There is also an area of ”Pre-Park” of 14,000 hectares surrounding the reserve. This space allows, where appropriate, the creation of tourist facilities whilst also respecting and protecting the landscape and nature. Urban areas are not allowed in the perimeter of the park and only very small groups of buildings can be found within the protected area.
Countless hiking routes are available on and around Mount Etna. We will mention only the most common one between Sapienza and Provenzana. From Sapienza, there is a short hike to visit the Silvestri craters located right next to the station. These beautiful cones stand on either side of the road down towards Zafferana. They are easy to climb and offer a beautiful view of the southern slopes of Mount Etna to the Ionian Sea.
Tourists can learn more about the park, by visiting the Parco del Centro Visita Etna (Fornazzo). This centre provides free documentary materials to the public. There is also a facility to view films in a screening room and an educational museum of minerals, volcanology, the flora and fauna of Mount Etna. All these facilities are for the sole purpose of educating the public about the environment.
The unison of fire, air and snow all in one place creates a unique haven for wildlife in this region which is sure to enchant visitors.