Sicily has 70 nature reserves and I have still only visited a handful of them. They make it a paradise for nature lovers, but there are other irresistible natural attractions all over Sicily, too.
BEACHES AND MOUNTAINS IN LO ZINGARO NATURE RESERVE
This was the first nature reserve in Sicily and it has mountains, a beach, lots of pathways to follow, a barbecue site where you can cook your own lunch in stone grills in the open air, and several museums and information centres. Oh, and lots of flowers and animals.
You could find enough things to do here to fill a week’s holiday, in my opinion.
RARE BIRDS IN THE MADONIE NATURE RESERVE
This mountainous nature reserve on Sicily’s north coast contains several enchanting villages in the mountains as well as vast acres of unspoiled countryside and a cliff haunted by rare Golden Eagles. It is a major holiday attraction for bird watchers.
Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie [official website in English]
AN EXOTIC PARADISE IN THE PALERMO BOTANICAL GARDENS
The gardens are 200 years old and crazily cheap. The entrance is in Via Lincoln, Palermo.
These gardens seem to be a a hit with children as well as adults because there are so many things to do. The plant collection includes some vast and truly weird specimens, including a bamboo thicket, sprawling trees children can run inside and climb up, vines to swing on like Tarzan and a pond with fish and turtles.
Orto Botanico official website [in English]
EDIBLE PLANTS THE GARDEN OF THE KOLYMBETRA, AGRIGENTO
This botanical garden, inside the archaeological site of Agrigento, is well over 2000 years old. It began as a peaceful public garden with a reflecting pool to appreciate nature, designed by the Ancient Greeks, before being modified into a botanical garden by the Arabic invaders of Sicily, who chose to focus on edible plants.
FEEL THE HEAT OF MOUNT ETNA
Everyone knows that Europe’s largest volcano is active all the time and that it is almost always hailing at the top, yet the ground is burning hot to touch, right?
Etna is one of Sicily’s 70 nature reserves and this official website (LINK BELOW) is a goldmine of information. Sicilians cannot mention Etna without talking about the delicious foods that grow in the volcanic soil, so don’t miss the section called “Local products.”
Visiting Mount Etna is one of the unmissable things to do for all visitors to Sicily.
MUD GEYSERS IN THE MACCALUBE NATURE RESERVE
This nature reserve, near Aragona in southern Sicily, is full of mud geysers which blast hot, muddy water into the air at fairly frequent intervals. They are called vulcanelli in Italian which is usually translated as “mud volcanoes.”
You are allowed to go right up to them and dip your hands in the mineral-rich sludge, which is apparently good for your skin. As in all parts of Sicily, nature is wild and you are expected to use your brain to decide what is safe or not. Some dangerous areas are not fenced off. There have been deaths at this nature reserve so, please, don’t do anything silly.
Official website [be warned, this site is meant to be an “audio visual experience” (or something) and it will give you fancy sound effects and, if you’re like me, mild dizziness. Sensitive individuals may experience grand mal epilepsy.]
BEACH COMBING FOR SICILIAN AMBER
There is a particular type of amber which is found only in Sicily. It dates from a different period of prehistory from Baltic amber of Brazilian amber. It can be found on some of Sicily’s beaches, usually washed up after a storm. If beach combing is one of the things you like to do on holiday, you may pick up a small fortune in Sicily, because Sicilian amber is rare and highly valuable.
The ancient Romans had a beautiful legend about amber being the tears of the daughters of Helios, god of the sun.
This blog post tells you more about it and which are the best beaches to look for it.
FLAMINGOES AND SUNSETS IN THE TRAPANI AND MARSALA SALT FARMS
You only have to look at the photos to realise that salt flats of Western Sicily offer a unique and extraordinary landscape to explore. Some years they are frequented by flamingoes, visiting from North Africa. At the Ettore Infersa salt works, you can join in harvesting the salt if you feel energetic!
The blog post below describes the most traditional salt works, in Marsala, and has links to the official site.
If you want to see flamingoes you need to visit Trapani (they don’t come to Marsala any more).
Here’s the official site (Italian only)
DAZZLING WHITE MARL CLIFFS FORM THE SCALA DEI TURCHI
This beach in the province of Agrigento, Sicily, called the Scala Dei Turchi or The Turkish Steps, is snow white thanks to the millions of years of deposits of calcium-rich marine animals. You can swim around the dazzling rock in summer and walk along the entire area in winter.
Here’s the Tripadvisor entry, which include a map.
AN ENGLISH WOMAN TAKES ON PARENTHOOD, THE MAFIA AND A SICILIAN MOTHER-IN-LAW, ALL AT ONCE
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TIMES OF SICILY