My Journey Through the Hidden Jewel of Italy

By  //  December 17, 2020

Italy is one of the most desirable travel destinations on the planet. Each year this European nation ends up in the top five countries for the numbers of visitors who choose Italy for their holidays.

This small country relies heavily on tourism revenue, last year alone; fourteen per cent of the national GDP came from the tourism industry.

When we plan a trip to the country of “la dolce vita”, we cannot help but think of cities like Florence, Venice or Rome and the food and wine that these three regions of Italy have made famous all over the world. However, there is a region of Italy that has many pleasant surprises, yet, vacationers often overlook it. This region is Sicily.

Sicily island rich in history, food and culture

With parts of the island at the same latitude as the North African coast, Sicily has a mild climate, which makes it an attractive destination for much of the year: spring and autumn are a real treat, and even if the summer temperatures (July and August) are high, however, sea breezes in coastal areas mitigate the heat.

This southern region of Italy offers a different Italian culture and some of the most striking landscapes in the Mediterranean basin. Traveling along the island roads, you can come across Roman ruins, built next to ancient Greek temples dating back to the 7th century BC. This rich Arab architecture blends with the Norman rational one.

At the same time, the Spanish churches show incredible beauty. Biodiversity is not second to history. This island is home to two of the most active volcanoes on the planet it has lush forests and rivers, an infinite number of beaches. The archipelago of the Aeolians islands enlisted in the UNESCO world heritage is another of the many treasures of Sicily.

Sicilians tend to be more laid back than their northern countrymen, so if you ever go on vacation to this beautiful corner of the Mediterranean be prepared to live with their concept of “being on time.”

Taormina and Mount Etna

The coastal town of Taormina is the undisputed top destination of the island of Sicily. Perched on the hills, Taormina overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the stunning marine park of Isola Bella.

This enchanting town encloses the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Taormina offers a comprehensive option of accommodations, a bubbly nightlife and a significant number of historical buildings, among which a greek roman theatre.

The proximity to Mount Etna and other bigger towns like Catania and Siracusa make this pretty town the ideal location for those who want to enjoy a vacation close to the sea and not far from some unspoiled nature. But what about those travelers who are looking to escape crowds of tourists and want to get off the beaten path discovering the real rural Sicilian Lifestyle?

The answer lies in a place nestled between the super trendy Taormina and the wild Mount Etna. This place is the Alcantara Valley.

The Alcantara Valley, off the beaten path in rural Sicily.

Just twenty minutes away from the east coast of Sicily and twenty kilometers from Taormina, we find the lush, beautiful and wild Alcantara Valley. This Geological marvel enclosed between Mount Etna, and The Sicilian Apennine stretches from 900 meters above sea level to the sandy beaches of the coastal town of Giardini Naxos.

The biodiversity within this small portion of Sicily is impressive, while the hillside villages are still treasuring old traditions and friendly dwellers. To explore the Alcantara Gorges, the Valley and the river we rely on Sicily Active an agency of native Sicilians proud of their land and eager to takes us off the beaten path.

The attitude of the guys of Sicily Active is light years away from their counterpart of Taormina. They are never in a rush to finish their excursions, and they treat you like a friend. To fully appreciate and explore this authentic corner of beauty, we decided to spend three days in the Alcantara Valley.

Day 1 Randazzo, horse riding and wine Tasting.

We decided to sleep the first night in of Randazzo. This beautiful town is located seven hundred meters above sea level between Mount Etna and the Alcantara valley. Since this district of Sicily offers a large number of the winery, we decided to try one of them for dinner, and we loved it.

The red wine we tested had a complex structure, but still, they were easy to drink, the food that a local woman cooked for us was simply delicious.

Next morning soon after sunrise Ivano, woke us up and prepared a genuinely Sicilian breakfast, “Pani Cunzatu”.

He grilled some homemade bread, and it tops it with some delicious tomatoes, some oregano and a touch of the best olive oil I ever tasted, he sliced some pecorino cheese and served some black olives.

The horse riding adventure on the west flanks of Mount Etna took us through some beautiful lava deserts, pine forest and finally on the river banks of the Alcantara River.

We chilled out by the river’s banks. We enjoyed the sound of the clear water of the river and the view on the smoking crater of Mount Etna Towering over the Alcantara Valley. I could not have asked for a more relaxing experience away from crowds of noisy tourists.

Day 2 Castiglione on a Mountain Bike

On our second day Ivano took us for a twenty kilometers Mtb tour through an old railway to the town of Castiglione di Sicilia. The view of the steep flanks of the hills and Mount Etna in the background was phenomenal.

After one hour on top of our mountain bikes as we exited the last tunnel of the old railway, there it was the beautiful town of Castiglione.

Perched on a rock rising above the green fields of the valley and the Alcantara River, this little village has so much history to keep busy for weeks the most experienced historian.

At the center of the village, there is a Greek tower dating back to the 7th-century b.c. Above some Roman walls, the Normans (Vikings) in the x century built a palace; there are byzantine tombs.

At the same time, the Spanish quarter has fourteen beautiful churches, and all of this beauty is available away from mass tourism. After dinner, we sat on the main square with the locals, and we felt what it is like to live in a rural village of Sicily, and being part of such a small community.

Day 3 the Wonder of the Valley. The Alcantara Gorge.

On our last day, we traveled further down the Alcantara Valley to an altitude of three hundred meters above sea level. We stayed to the pretty village of Motta Camastra counting a population of just one thousand dwellers and home to the Alcantara botanical and geological park. The temperature in this part of the valley is hotter compared to Randazzo.

At the same time, the vegetation is lush and much greener due to the humidity delivered by the Alcantara River. The next morning after wearing a wetsuit, a helmet, a life jacket, and we entered the cold water of the Alcantara River. We started our body-rafting excursion walking inside the canyon; the black walls up to thirty meters high displayed the most unusual shapes.

I heard that this place was beautiful. However, I was not prepared for such a wild and unique landscape. Our river trekking inside the Alcantara gorge required some agility as we climbed over rocks, swam against the current and overcome some rapids. After one hour, we reached a waterfall plunging inside an amazing crystal water pool.

Here we stopped and relaxed enjoying the beauty of this corner of Sicily, before using our body as a raft to slide along the rapids to the starting point. We had fun with this body rafting adventure while discovering the pristine nature of the Alcantara Valley.

The Alcantara Gorge an unmissable place to see.

For those of you who are planning a holiday in Italy and do not want to stay in busy places but are looking to discover a rural culture and enjoy some outdoor activities, the Alcantara Valley is the place to go.

The valley offers plenty of villages off the beaten path with affordable accommodations. There are lots of excursions and activities to choose from. The food is one of the most delicious you will find in the whole of Italy, and the locals are friendly and hospitable. Traveling in Italy and miss out on such beauty would be a shame.