[ blog » 2021 » 07_Tour_Italy ]d05: Etna ( by Philipp Gesang, location: A campsite at the beach)


After a rich breakfast I went on my way a bit later than usual. One of the key destinations of this trip was waiting, the town of Vizzini. To get there, naturally, I had to descend down into a valley from Licodia and then climb up again to a neighboring hill on top of which Vizzini is located.

I had long wanted to visit the location of Verga's short story "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the Mascagni opera of the same name, and now that day had finally come. I took an extensive tour of its center; as far as it could be reached by bicycle anyways. The town is incredible ensemble of architectural highlights, and not just the churches. Secular buildings like schools and the town hall as well. And on every side a vivid panorama of the valleys that surround it.


Saying goodbye to beautiful Vizzini I took on the descent into the plain of Catania. En route I wasted some more time trying to navigate some closed off plot of land whose portals denied me access to a road I had planned to take.

In Catania the sun already stood high and temperatures rose to 40 degrees. Again the labyrinth of one-way roads that is characteristical of Sicilian towns. Spiced with shoddy road surfaces that slowed me down more than I had liked. In the chaos I missed out on the Roman ruins I had intended to visit but nevertheless I managed to get a fair amount of sightseeing done.

Mt. Etna

The Etna climb starts already in Catania at sea level though until Nicolosi the road leads through a contiguously settled area. I made the mistake of buying carbonated water that gave me heartburn for the rest of the day, and lost some more time buying some actual regular water at a gas station to compensate. When I arrived at Nicolosi, the highest settlement along the route, it was already past 16:00 h.

As a fallback I noted that Nicolosi has a campsite so should I bonk I could just roll down the mountain again and get some rest. Luckily that wasn't necessary in the end.

A bunch of road cyclists passed me and we had a chat. Their guide, a local guy from Catania, was rocking a stylish omafiets. We rode together for a while and then occasionally met again during the final 10 km.

The Etna is a monster of a climb. Not particularly steep but incredibly long, with alternating easy sections of around three percent slope, and hard ones of up to ten percent. Not quite as hard as say the Ventoux but just as grueling. It was already past 19:00 h when I reached the Rifugio Sapienza at the pass.

After enjoying the superb view on Catania for a few minutes I donned my jacket and went on to tackle the descent. Of the three options I had picked the east road because it would take me closest to the campsite. Getting there proved another small side-adventure of its own. The volcano had erupted the day before and unloaded tons of ash on its eastern slopes. Which also covered the first five kilometers of the road. A fast descent on a dirt road, that's not at all what I was expecting of this classic climb! Not that the road surface was much better than the ash. It seems to have eroded quicker than the cold lava it was built on. The hairpins were fun though, especially after the ash subseded.

The sun had already set when I arrived a the foot of the mountain. I still had some kilometers left to go though which I thought wouldn't be a problem with the dynamo powered light on. I assumed the campsite would close its doors at 21:00 h so I pedaled hard until I ran out of road. The final kilometers turned out to lead across an unsurfaced sand track. Yay more dirt roads! It even included a ditch of standing water that I took cyclocross style. I arrived just before 21:00 to a closed reception but luckily the campsite was still open and I tracked down the proprietor in the bar who let me take a pitch.

Food of the day: an incredibly expensive but tasty pizza "scampi e pistacchio" from the posh beach restaurant.


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