Introducing Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie
This 40,000-hectare park between Palermo and Cefalù incorporates the Madonie mountain range and some of the highest mountains in Sicily after Mt Etna, including the imposing Pizzo Carbonara (1979m). The wild, wooded slopes are home to wolves, wildcats and eagles. Forests cover vast areas of the mountains and include the near-extinct ancient Nebrodi fir trees that have survived since the last Ice Age. In summer, agriturismi offer a good way of exploring the area and enjoying the distinctive rural cuisine, which includes roasted lamb and goat, cheeses, grilled mushrooms and aromatic pasta with sugo (sauce).
The park is actually an inhabited area, rather than simply a nature reserve, so you can combine walking with visits to handsome mountain towns such as Castelbuono, the colourful capital of the Madonie. Castelbuono has fine restaurants and excellent pastry shops such as historic Fiasconaro (www.fiasconaro.com; Piazza Margherita 10), with its exclusive hand-wrapped Mannetto sponge cakes spiked with candied fruit or chocolate. Other lovely old towns are Petralia Soprana and Petralia Sottana perched across from one another on hillsides. And in winter Piano Battaglia is the only place in Sicily, other than Etna, where you can ski.