Sicilian sun, Italian flair, the azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea, and a surreal volcanic landscape. We 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.
For this adventure, fly directly to Catania. Just about every major European airport offers direct connections to this area, with many flights being available at a bargain price. Unfortunately, however, the airport does not offer luggage storage, which would be useful for storing your bike bag. As a great alternative, you'll find adequate facilities in the city center (visit: atripical.it/en/luggage-storage-catania), so plan in a trip back at the end of your ride to pick up your bag. From here, cycling to the ride's starting point is also relatively easy. If you'd prefer not to cycle on busy Sicilian streets, however, you can take the train from Catania or rent a large-capacity taxi.
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, we 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.
In front of you are 1500 crisp meters in altitude. Today's the first time high on the Etna. You start with the south side. And you do well to take warm clothes with you, even if it is still warm down there: Especially up in the mountains it can get very cold. Pack warm clothes to cover, then you do not have to freeze and later enjoy the downhill ride.Maybe you enjoy a coffee in the starting point Zafferana Etnea. But then it really starts. Slowly but surely pedaling you turn back up the pass and enjoy the wonderful view and the increasingly bizarre landscape, which is characterized by the volcanic rock. The higher you come, the more striking the lava desert. There are hardly any big trees and you can almost feel the frightening mood that once must have prevailed at the last eruption of Etna. Again and again, you cross an obviously very "fresh" trail of devastation. 1991 was the last really big eruption of the volcano, which, however, is still extremely active and always "pushes open". The lava flow of the past is still jet-black - at first glance still a dead mark of devastation. Only on closer inspection does one discover how nature and life slowly return. The result is bizarre, yet incredibly exciting, impressive and rich in contrasts. Deep black lava rock paired with the fresh green of the various grasses and shrubs and the rust-colored foliage of the autumn forest in those places that have been spared from the fresh lava flow for a while. Now and then you come across abandoned houses or their remains: Sometimes only the roofs of former accommodations look out of the ground. The rest is buried under meters thick lava rock.Once at the top, the touristy restaurant greets you at the valley station of the Etna cable car. No matter. Also on the Etna you get, as everywhere in Italy, really delicious coffee! So why not take a little break for a reward? If you want even higher, we recommend a ride on the gondola. It brings you up to 2500 meters altitude, from there you can either ride on a sporty single trail or on a super fast Gravel road by bike back to the valley station. The gondola ride up the mountain will give you an action-packed descent and a great extra adventure on the Etna.Back at the valley station, the actual reward for the hour-long uphill follows. The now following descent is amazing. Permanent this view! Either you have a clear view down to the coast or a scary lava landscape opens up in front of you. Either way, an impressive backdrop. Even if the weather does not play along and it is misty-cloudy. Then the mood becomes all the more mystical.So slowly but surely you return to civilization. Biancavilla is a larger city just before the finish line. If you still want to buy something, do it here. Because the agriturismo, which we recommend you to stay, is lonely located on a country road, there you get far and wide nothing. The culinary recommendation of the day: Pizza. Since no Italians can do much wrong ...
Today, a lot of "Gravel" is on the program. Starting from the Agriturismo, it's a bit uphill to the small town of Santa Maria di Licodia, where you can breathe a bit of real Sicily: tight, loud, hectic but somehow cozy and warm. If you feel like it, look no further than a small café and start the tour with a delicious, Italian espresso. As soon as you leave this and two other little towns, there will be no opportunity to do so soon.Instead, you push slowly, but steadily over narrow mountain roads and loose forest roads through the middle of the "Parco dell'Etna". Overstimulation for the senses "Powered by Fahrrad". Once at the top, a surprise awaits you: an absolutely stunning view of Mount Etna. The lava rock is repeatedly interrupted by splashes of color in places where life has taken control again. In the background the snow-capped peak of Etna. Just wow!It follows a breathtaking descent over a washed-out farm track. High speed with a view. At the end of the descent, you drive directly to a hut that looks like a building from the back, but turns out to be a mountain hut, including catering. Here you can enjoy the warm oven and strengthen yourself with the pasta served by the friendly Italian. A great atmosphere - take care that you do not forget too much the time. It is still 40 kilometers to the finish.Today's agriturismo in generous country house style is beautifully situated amidst vineyards and has large rooms that offer enough space for bike and bikers. Shower, pasta e buona notte!
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This is how a day can start! In a wonderful Italian country estate surrounded by vineyards it is not difficult to feel the holiday feeling. The tour starts with a climb of about 1000 meters on the eastern side of the Etna. Here it is very different, as in the north and south. You drive mainly through forest but it opens again and again, lets the sun through and offers great views.At the top, the forest clears and suddenly you are back in this typical, surreal volcanic landscape. Here, however, the effect is much more contrasting, because in the midst of green forests, a gray strip of desolate volcanic desert stands out even more clearly.At the top of the Bergcafe there are some cars parked, with a bit of luck you'll meet other bikers. This route is great for cycling and seems to be relatively popular. Why exactly do you find out right away. Because the descent back to Zafferana Etnea calls. Pure enjoyment, even if you are in Italy from time to time and wish that one or the other Italian motorists would take a little more consideration for other road users. It's best to keep your eyes open for a moment and watch what the other road users are doing.Arriving down in the Italian town bustle you will agree that this was a great departure! And the best thing you do is do what every Italian would do now - have a nice espresso and take a break. You have enough time to review this great tour in this unique volcanic landscape.From Zafferana Etnea the return journey to Catania is waiting for you. Again you have three options: taxi, train or bicycle. The latter makes sense on the return journey, as it only goes downhill. In Catania you can reward yourself with a trip to the beach.