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Dancing on the volcano — a three-day bikepacking adventure around Mt. Etna

Martin Donat | lifeCYCLE magazine

Dancing on the volcano — a three-day bikepacking adventure around Mt. Etna

Mountain Biking Collection by Martin Donat

3

Tours

17:18 h

112 mi

18,050 ft

Sicilian sun, Italian flair, the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea, and a surreal volcanic landscape. I have packed something that sounds like an elaborate vacation program into an intense, three-day bikepacking adventure on the beautiful island of Sicily. Over a long weekend, you'll ride around Europe's highest volcano, surrounded on all sides by the breathtaking scenery of Etna National Park. And if you follow our plan, you'll see the best of the region, all in a mere 76 hours.

The magic word: Bikepacking
Just pack up the essentials, strap them to your bike and go: Bikepacking gives you so much freedom and independence you can do and see things you barely thought possible. You can go where you want, cycle as far as you want and sleep where you want. All you need is a couple of items of fresh clothing, a toothbrush, and some soap—just don't forget a power bank and a charging cable so you can still see your plan. That's all you need for a weekend in the great outdoors; a packing list that makes the simple life that little bit simpler.

Bike and trails
The roads and paths of this ride will not present you with any technical challenges. Not all the climbs and distances are going to be easy, however: Some will be physically demanding and may take you across 'bumpier' terrain. Therefore, bring a light cross-country or gravel bike, and make sure you're in decent physical condition. To make sure that your luggage is safely and securely stowed away, appropriate bike packing bags such as a saddlebag and a handlebar roller also make sense. As it is known to get cold in the mountains, you'll also want to pack something warm to put on in the evenings and something to keep you dry should it rain. Emergency tools and a sufficient number of spare innertubes should also make it onto to your don't-leave-home-without-it list, especially considering that this route will have you covering long distances way outside of Sicilian civilization.

Travel
This adventure starts right in Catania. If you're not in the area anyway, you can travel by train or fly. Pretty much every major German airport offers direct connections here. If you are packing your bike for the trip, you can drop off the bag or box here: atripical.it/en/luggage-storage-catania. To get to the starting point of the tour, you can of course take your bike. If you want to avoid the relatively busy road from Catania to Zafferana Etnea and save some energy, take the train from Catania central station.

Accommodation
One of the cheapest and most beautiful places to spend the night in Italy are the so-called Agriturismi. Roughly speaking, it stands for "holiday in the country". Most of them are farms or monasteries and they tend to be relatively remote. The rooms themselves are mostly simple and rustic, perfect for those who like it quiet and down-to-earth. For both stops of this adventure, i have planned in Agriturismi. At both, you'll find food and a place to store your bike overnight, so don't worry about anything other than booking it in advance.

When to go
The climate on the largest island of the Mediterranean is unsurprisingly Mediterranean: in summer it is hot and dry, in winter it is mild but humid. Spring (March to May) is best for cycling. In midsummer, it can get a little hot and muggy, making it less than optimal (although bearable) bike weather. In principle, it is also very nice in October and November, but in this time of year heavy rainfall can occur, for which you should be prepared. No matter when you go on the trip: You'll be riding around an 11,000-foot (3323-meter) high mountain; a place where the weather can change at a moment's notice.

By the way: If you can add another day, it is worthwhile spending another day in Catania. The baroque town at the foot of the Etna is considered one of the most beautiful in Sicily. The second largest city on the island, a short stop is definitely worthwhile, giving the opportunity to experience true Italian flair and to sample innumerable Italian delicacies.

PS: I made this journey before I renounced flying. Today I would approach it differently. Like this: I would take the train to Milan and in the evening I would get on the night train to Catania. If you have enough time, you can also spend a day or two in Milan. This way of travelling is more time-consuming, but the adventure starts at the station back home!

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    06:32
    40.5 mi
    6.2 mph
    8,300 ft
    9,575 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    In front of you are 1,500 crisp vertical meters. Today we are going up the Etna for the first time. You start with the south side. And you would do well to take warm clothes with you, even if it is still pleasantly warm downstairs: it can get very cold, especially up in the mountains. Pack warm clothes to put on so you don't have to freeze and you can enjoy the descent later.

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  • Difficult
    06:40
    47.4 mi
    7.1 mph
    5,525 ft
    4,200 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Today there is a lot of "gravel" on the program. Starting from the agriturismo, it first goes a little uphill to the small town of Santa Maria di Licodia, where you can breathe a piece of real Sicily: narrow, loud, hectic but somehow cozy and warm. If you feel like it, it's best to find a small café and start …

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  • Difficult
    04:06
    24.2 mi
    5.9 mph
    4,250 ft
    4,250 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    This is how a day can begin! In a wonderful Italian country estate surrounded by vineyards, it is not difficult to get that holiday feeling.The tour begins with an ascent of around 1,000 meters in altitude on the east side of the Etna. It is very different here than in the north and south. You mainly drive through the …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    3
  • Distance
    112 mi
  • Duration
    17:18 h
  • Elevation
    18,050 ft

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Dancing on the volcano — a three-day bikepacking adventure around Mt. Etna

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