Driving Tour: Etna's Western Flank

  • Start Catania
  • Finish Randazzo
  • Length 78km; one day

The five small towns on the western side of the Parco dell'Etna offer a wonderful escape. Tourism has largely passed by these towns and each has a unique character.

Heading west out of Catania on the SS121 brings you to Paternò, a scruffy workaday town built around an 11th-century Norman castello (castle). Built in 1072 as a defence against the Saracens, the castle has been rebuilt over the centuries and now all that remains is the keep. But most impressive are the sweeping views up to Etna.

Continuing on the SP229 you'll pass huge fichi d'india (prickly pears) and orange groves (and piles of litter) on the way to Biancavilla, a small town founded by Albanian refugees in 1480 but now typically Sicilian with many baroque churches. The market town of Adrano, 3km further, boasts a robust Norman castello rising from a huge fortified base, commissioned by Count Roger II in the late 11th century. It now houses a small museum. Nearby, on Via Catania, you can see the remains of Adranon, a 4th-century-BC Greek settlement.

The SS284 heads directly north through acres of nut groves to Bronte, famous throughout Italy for its pistachios (make sure you try a pistachio ice cream from the main strip, Corso Umberto). Beyond Bronte, the road leads through an increasingly rugged landscape, interspersed with chunks of lava flow, as it heads up to Randazzo, the most interesting of Etna's towns.

Heavy bombing in WWII meant that much of the town's grey medieval centre had to be reconstructed. The main sights are the three crenellated churches, Cattedrale di Santa Maria, Chiesa di San Nicolò and Chiesa di San Martino, which in the 16th century took turns to act as the town cathedral. Round off the day with dinner at San Giorgio e Il Drago, a Slow Food–recommended restaurant with outdoor seating in the historic centre. Note that the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.