Sicilian Nature Parks

Over zillion of years Sicily was shaped by the Mother Nature and today her hand can be seen in dramatic scenery, hilly landscapes - often protected as national nature parks....

Meet Sicilian Mother Nature 

      Your Sicilian Odyssey wouldn’t be complete without making “up-close-and-personal” contact with the local Mother Nature.

     And the first thing that comes to mind is obviously Mt. Etna – towering North-Eastern part of the island. Visible from far with its snow-capped summit contrasting with bluishness of the sky, mostly “fuming” and from time to time also spitting-out streams of lava, Etna is an icon and landmark of Sicily. 

It’s hard to pass-by untouched by this sheer embodiment of raw power. And you can feel and see its presence even during cloudy days. It’s because you will find layers of lava that more than on one occasion annihilated Catania, you will see facades of buildings made from chiseled lava bricks in contrasting colors of black and grey… It’s because since “forever” the Etna is a permanent part of everyday life, land-and-cityscape in eastern Sicily.

Etna in all her majesty (seen from the road Catania-Taormina)

And here we jump to the west-coast: Marsala (winter)

       Although trip to Etna seems to be mandatory part of your Sicilian Journey, do not let it to overshadow the rest of Sicilian nature. Wonderful cliffy coastline, but also sandy beaches, lagoons, hilly landscape, mountains – they all have hidden heavens of unspoiled nature. Some are protected Nature Reserves (Vendicarie Nature Reserve, Riserva Naturale Orientata (Pantalica, Bosco….), Parco Naturale (del Nebrodi, della Madonie…), some are still not recognized as such, but nevertheless, offer not lesser charm……

Agrigento: Kolymbetra Garden 

Spring in the Bellini Garden (Catania)

Charming Taormina certainly will be one of your destinations when in Sicily. Once in the area consider visiting nearby Alcantra Gorge.  This nature’s wonder was carved through black layers of lava by waters of Alcantra River. It displays an amazing contrasts of blue water, black rocks and lush green vegetation – all under sunny, blues Sicilian sky!

Public gardens are some of the best places to relax after long hours on the streets of Sicilian towns. Some of the best are:

  • Taormina Public Gardens – surprisingly large and vibrant botanic garden “squeezed” within the limited area of land on top of the mountain occupied by Taormina.  
  • Palermo’s Garibaldi Garden (Piazza Marina) as well as Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico and Villa Gulia – at Via Abramo Lincoln)…
  • Catania’s Giardino Bellini (next to Via Etnea) and eventually small Botanical Garden (Via Antonino Longo)….

      Traditionally you will find that these charming urban escapes are favorite places for “tête-à-tête” meetings of young lovers. But I’m almost sure that once you spend some time in Sicily, you will share their passion for at least this beautiful island (if not for your “other half”…). Falling-in-love again, it’s as wonderful feeling as when it happened for the first time, especially if the chosen one is your already long-term spouse!

Central Sicily - typical landscape

Sicilian coastline

       Well, "not surprisingly" Sicily has some of the most beautiful beaches. Quite often they will be crowded and your attention may "drift" to other (“mostly” natural) beauties. However when the crowd is gone what stays is the beauty of sand, water and surrounding nature….. And such forms of land (and sea)-scape leave lasting impressions!

Gulf of Castellammare

Most Sicilian beaches are sandy, however some on the eastern shore will show volcanic influence....

     Sicily is also a paradise for bird watchers, as the island is a “mandatory stop” for migrating birds between Africa and European mainland.

      And now more good news – The local Mother Nature is home to great achievements of many civilizations that throughout the millennia made Sicily their “Chosen Land”…. Follow the imprints they left in Sicily during your vacations on the island….

Palermo Gardens: Villa Giulia

Diogenes is part of the "permanent" Open Art Gallery in the Giulia's Garden 

      In a way, the park Villa Giulia is “restoring” an old tradition going back to the Arabs domination of Sicily when a large “Geonardo Gardens” (from Arabic Jannat-al-Ard meaning “Heaven on Earth”) were spreading at the southern outskirts of Palermo. While the park Villa Giulia is much semaller than the Geonardo, it does not lack its splendor. In fact, designed for local nobility rather than “common Palermitans”, the park is an open art gallery displaying works of renowned Italian sculptures.....

See details at: --> Villa Giulia

Alcantara Canyon Park

Alcantara Gorge: lava rock formations

       Alcantara Gorge (Gole dell’Alcantara) is an amazing stretch of landscape located not far from another Sicilian jewel - Taormina. Contrary to typical canyons carved out by waters in soft limestone rock in the course of “zillions” of years (like Cavagrande or Pantalica), the Alcantara canyon is the result violent forces of nature. 

 It all started relatively recently in a geological scale. Apparently, few hundred thousand years ago two elements of nature – lava from the nearby Etna and water stood-up to each other in a short but brutal fight. As the result the thick ocean of lava invading .......

See details at: --> Alcantara Gorge

Canyon Cava Grande

Cavagrande Cassibile River

   ..... It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach the water lakes, but there is no need to rush. While for your safety it is necessary to watch where you put your foot, you will miss a lot of enchantment if not taking breaks on the way down. So take a time to marvel at unfolding forms and shapes of nature, to gasp a scent of flowers or hanging in the air aromas of wild herbs like oregano, sage, mint or rosemary, to follow the changing pattern of colors reflected by lakes and a spectacle of shadows produced by sun….. Because only this “combined” experience makes complete the adventure called “Cavagrande Nature Reserve”.....

See details at: --> Cavagrande del Cassibile

Zingaro Nature Reserve

Zingaro Nature Reserve: Cala Beretta (one of small, hidden pebbles beaches)

      The Zingaro Nature Reserve is accessible from San Vito lo Capo (North Entrance) and from Scopello (South Entrance). The latter access point is more popular, but mainly because nearby Castellammare is a large urban center well connected to the Sicilian network of roads.  

Out of the three major trails traversing Zingaro the most common one (and easiest) is the Shoreline Trail (Sentiero Principale). The 7 km (4.2 miles) long path meandering along the irregular coastal line gives access to hidden beaches, fresh water spots and offers lovely views on fantastic shapes and colors of nature. Near the southern entrance, on the gentle slope ....

See details at: --> Zingaro Nature Park

Palermo Botanical Garden

Turtles in Palermo's Orto Botanico

 ...... For many, Palermo’s Botanical Garden is a reminiscence of past centuries with its rough, wilderness-like look and an apparent luck of “symmetry” and round-shapes so typical in modern parks. Others see it as an attractive feature because this luck of clearness allows visitors to make their own discoveries, to emotionally “detach” from the hectic city life, to “get lost’ in the "controlled wilderness" ….

Today, the Gymnasium does not serve anymore as the center of administration and place for lectures.  But while it lost the administrative functions, it preserved its past glory from the period of Sicilian Enlightenment.  Former offices were converted into little museum displaying the history of the Botanic Garden as well....

See details at: --> Palermo Botanical Garden

Isola Bella

Isola Bella - "secret" path to the sea

       Isola Bella is one of the most charming coastal spots oin Sicily. Located in the middle of the little bay protected by two promontories – St. Andrea and Capo San Leo (now Capo Taormina) the island is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of sand.  While depending on weather and tides the path can sometimes disappear under a tiny layer of water, the island is accessible by foot.  Actually, due to this “umbilical cord” connection to the Lido Mazzaro beach some  consider the Isola Bella to be an outcrop (offshoot) rather than the island.

 Island’s fantastic landscape and charming surroundings earned it the “label” of The Pearl of the Ionian Sea. In the past the island was called Santo Stefano ....

See details at: --> Isola Bella - "Paradise Island"

Pantalica Nature Reserve

Pantalica Nature Park: Cave dwellings

 ...    One of Sicilian most scenic plateau areas shaped by the Mother Nature is located at the confluence of Anapo and Cava Grande Rivers. Because the final stretch of the canyon just before the confluence of rivers is called  Valle Calcinara, this part of the Torrente Cava Grande is also known as Calcinara River (or Bottiglieria River). The steep canyons overgrown by all sorts of lush vegetation form a characteristic V-shape which subsequently transforms into one meandering ravine carrying waters towards the nearby Ionian Sea.  In the upstream direction, both canyons (valleys) are separated by the saddle-ridge of Filipporto extending eastward towards Ferla. Shortly – the area is commonly known as the Gorges of Pantalica.....

See details at: --> Pantalica- World Heritage Site

Vendicari Nature Reserve

Vendicari Nature Park - migrating bird

 ....   Vendicari is an extraordinary example of an environment where the living nature (plants and animal organisms), “non-living” elements such as soil and water with their chemical and mineral composition and “external factors” (like temperature, humidity, sunlight…) formed an ecosystem of “mutual dependence” (symbiosis). In other words, it’s an environment where existence of species strongly depends on fragile equilibrium between all mentioned components.

Vendicari it is also a great habitat for migrating and nesting birds and so a paradise for birdwatchers. And as if it this is not enough – Vendicari is also an archeological site ......

See details at: --> Vendicari Nature Reserve

Beaches of San Vito lo Capo

San Vito lo Capo: mixture of crystal-clear water and sand

If you are beach-goer, then do not miss the opportunity offered by secluded beaches of --> San Vito lo Capo

BTW- if you are planning to visit the Zingaro Nature Reserve, San Vito lo Capo is actually the western access point to the park.

Once you "load your batteries" in the nature, you may want to explore:

--> Sicilian Top Tourist Destinations

or refresh your memory reading the "illustrated history of Sicily:

--> Sicily across Millennia

or simply figure out: --> Why Sicily is 4U?

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