Etna, Madonie, Vendicari, Zingaro, Nebrodi
National Parks don’t exist in Sicily, but the island is blessed with many beautiful protected natural landscapes. Indeed Sicily has nearly 80 regional nature reserves, even one protected wetland, offering nature lovers a very different experience.
Mount Etna, Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps, dominates eastern Sicily. The eruptions, which occur frequently from the summit craters, are monitored by seismic stations and just occasionally the park does have to be closed to visitors.
Companies, with guides who know the mountain like the back of their hand, offer escorted tours up to the top, and can direct visitors to the most spectacular points. It is a particularly awe inspiring trek along the northern slopes of the volcano. There are four craters, but the two most visible are Cratere Sud-Est, which is black, conical and the most active, and Bocca Nuova, the youngest of the four. Perhaps not surprisingly, the region has always been awash with legends, with the ancient Greeks believing that Vulcan, god of fire, had his workshop there.
Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie
Best explored by car, the beautiful 400 sq kms regional park is easily accessible from the historic town of Cefalu. This is much more than a nature reserve; it’s where Sicilians live and work and is home to some of the very best restaurants. Walkers come in spring to see the colourful wildflowers that carpet the hills and in summer to escape the heat of the day and soak up the truly spectacular mountainous landscape.
Riserva Naturale di Vendicari
A true gem on Sicily’s southern-most part of the east coast, enjoy gentle strolls in the peaceful Reserve, with its aromatic herbs, lagoons, marshes and quiet sandy beaches – perfect for picnics. Its wetlands are a stopping-off point for migratory birds on their journey between Europe and Africa. At the entrance to the Reserve, there were once saltpans, now inhabited by 250 species of birds, including flamingos, one-fifth of which are resident species. Swimmers find it hard to choose between the numerous beaches and rocky coves.
Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro
With over 40 species of birds, this is considered among the best locations in Sicily for birdwatching. Twitchers are likely to be rewarded by seeing Bonelli eagles, kestrels, buzzards, hawks as well as the Greek Partridge of Sicily – which is endemic to the island. The Reserve is also excellent for diving between April and October, visiting a couple of shipwrecks and a series of underwater caves.
Parco Regionale Dei Nebrodi
Comprising the single largest forested area in Sicily, the gently undulating park is covered by beech, oak, maple, ash, cork, elm and yew trees. As well as wildlcats, porcupines and San Fratello horses, many birds of prey have made this Park their home. Among them are peregrine falcons, griffon vultures and golden eagles. Higher up on the pastures, farming communities produce delicious produce including hazelnuts, ricotta and mushrooms. Don’t miss the Lago di Biviere which is visited by herons and stilts.