GEOGRAPHICAL NOTES about THE ALCANTARA VALLEY
The surface area of the Alcantara valley is 550 km2. The tourist boundaries of the Valley are not clearly defined, while the administrative and geographical ones coincide with the catchment area into which the surface rainwater coming from the Sicilian Apennines (Peloritani and Nebrodi) and the melted snow of Etna are channeled , which through a system of underground channels feed the Alcantara river. The Alcantara Valley formes at 800 meters above sea level, near the mountain town of Randazzo where ancient lava flows have crept between the north-west side of the volcano Etna and the south-eastern side of the Nebrodi, channeling the waters of the river inside basaltic rocks, which further downstream in the stretch of Gole of Larderia (Alcantara Gorges) the walls of the canyon reach an height of thirty meters and have basalt columns that produce a majestic landscape. The Alcantara river originates at 1250 meters above sea level at Monte Serra baratta, in the Nebrodi mountain range. The Alcantara river flows for 52 km, before flowing into the final portion of the Alcantara Valley where it meets the Mediterranean sea near the coastal municipalities of Giardini Naxos and Calatabiano.
The Alcantara wine district
The union between Etna and the Alcantara river has contributed significantly to creat a fertile soil rich in minerals on which food excellences are grown, ranging from hazelnuts and vineyards in the upper portion of the valley, to avocados, citrus fruits and mangoes which are grown further afield theValley. Olive cultivations are found throughout the Alcantara Valley and excellent extra virgin oils are produced. Between the municipalities of Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo and the hamlets of Verzella, Passopisciaro and Solicchiata, wines are produced with native grapes (Caricante, Cataratto, Nerello mascalese and Nerello capuccio ) which take the name of D.O.C. wines of Mount Etna. For wine enthusiasts, the splendid Alcantara Valley along the wine route offers the opportunity to visit numerous wineries immersed in a landscape of exceptional beauty. "The wine tasting tour" is the ideal way to exploit the beauty of The Alcantara valley and discover some sicilian wines.
Best tours to discover the Alcantara Valley
Cliff Jumping Alcantara
This exciting Body Rafting excursion will allow you to discover a stretch of the Alcantara river far from the confusion and difficult to reach without the assistance of a guide. With an adventurous two-hour river descent you will visit the Gurne lakes and see uncontaminated nature. Among other things, at the end of the tour with €1.50 you can visit the Alcantara Gorges independently, which are located only two kilometers from the alcantara lakes known locally as "Gurne".
Etna e gole dell'Alcantara
Anyone who visits the Alcantara valley cannot fail to also visit Mt.Etna, given the geographical proximity and the close naturalistic connection. This tour which includes a trek on Etna, a visit to a cave and in the afternoon a visit to the Alcantara Gorges canyon is one of the best in terms of quality and price and will show you two of the most iconic landscapes of Sicily, Etna and the Alcantara gorges.
Hiking from castiglione to the Gurne Lakes
This Trekking excursion sourrounded by the bucolic Sicilian country side is ideal for those who love walking off the beaten path. With this activity you will visit one of the most beautiful villages in the Valley, Castiglone di Sicilia, walk along a splendid path and finish the excursion along the banks of the Alcantara River or at the Alcantara river lakes the Gurne.
Mountain Bike Tours
For lovers of cycling excursions, the Alcantara valley offers a series of off-road cycle paths that wind through evocative nature and breathtaking landscape views. The bike tour from Linguaglossa to the Alcantara Gorges is one of the most interesting. The other mountain bike tour that wind through this beautiful sicilian valley is the one that depart from Mount Etna in the Ragabo Forest and end up at the Alcantara Gorges.
What to see in the Alcantara Valley
Sleepy villages steeped in history, hospitable mountain communities, evocative nature and markets. This is what the Alcantara Valley offers. Let's discover some towns and sites that are worth visiting.
This town marks the beginning of the Alcantara valley and is the watershed between the Sicilian Apennines and Etna. The landscape views alone are enough to visit Randazzo, if you then add that excellent wines are produced and there are a series of churches and monuments to visit, Randazzo deserves to be in the top 5 of places to visit. On Sunday morning in Randazzo there is an open-air market where you can taste the products of the Alcantara Valley.
Castiglione di Sicilia
This splendid hill town has been part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy since 2004. Castiglione has 13 churches, a Norman palace, a Greek tower from the 4th century. B.C. and an enchanting view over a portion of the Alcantara Valley. Castiglione di Siclia produces excellent D.O.C. wines. and in the alleys near the market square there are wine bars.
Motta Camastra is a small village perched on a rock spur, made famous by the director F.F. Coppola for having filmed some scenes of The Godfather part I. Be careful, however, that this enchanting village has much more to offer in addition to its cinematic fame. Motta Camastra is the municipality in which the Alcantara Gorges fall, it has families who have joined the "Mamme del borgo" circuit and cook for tourists by hosting them in their homes. A walk through the alleys will take you back in time, and then the view from Piazza Belvedere where you can enjoy an enchanting view of the valley, the village of Castiglione and the summit part of Etna. Between the end of September and October in Motta Camastra the walnut festival is held which has become the most important event after the patronal festival
This small and sparsely inhabited village in the Alcantara Valley is not particularly beautiful from a historical and architectural point of view, but within its territory there is the small volcano of Mojo, which is an eccentric crater formed by a branch of the magmatic basin of Etna approximately 30000 years ago. An easy path takes you to the top of the Mojo crater and I assure you that the view of the Alcantara valley and Etna is sensational. Mojo Alcantara produces high quality peaches.
La Cuba Bizantina and the small gorges
The Byzantine Cubes are churches with an octagonal plan built in volcanic stone dating back to the 5th and 7th centuries. A.D. Near the hamlet of Verzella, solitary in the countryside, there is one of these ancient places of worship and a few hundred meters away you can admire a stretch of the Alcantara river flowing between the volcanic rocks produced by ancient flows. This walk is ideal for those who are near Castiglione.
the Alcantara Gorges
This stretch of the Alcantara river is undoubtedly the most visited and the most publicized. The volcanic rock walls up to thirty meters high, the incredible shapes of the rocks and a series of small waterfalls (alcantara water fall) make this site an unmissable stop for anyone visiting eastern Sicily. If you want to do body rafting I recommend you opt for the Alcantara Lakes Gurne where the experience is undoubtedly more adrenaline-filled and you will visit a stretch of river that a few people get to see. You can visit the Gorges on your own, just bring some river shoes which will be enough to go inside the Canyon. Between July and August the number of visitors reaches such high numbers that it becomes unpleasant to visit this splendid place. If you visit the Gorges at the peak of the summer season I recommend you arrive at opening time (8 a.m.) and enjoy this place in peace. Check our Alcantara Gorges guide to learn more about this canyon and the best tours at the Alcantara Gorges.
Festivals in the Alcantara Valley
This ancient valley deepens his roots in old traditons and festivals that gather the small mountain comunities together with pride and joy. If you are one of those traveler visiting Sicily who want to get away from the main tourist circuits and you are eager to blend with locals, than one of the many Festivals in the Alcantara Valley will full fill your desire of uncover old traditions.
Scenic drive Giardini Naxos to Randazzo
For those who love driving or traveling by motorbike, taking the road from Giardini Naxos to Randazzo passing through Francavilla di Sicilia and then continuing towards Mojo will give you many opportunities to take photos and get away from the most beaten paths. From Giardini Naxos to the Alcantara Gorges I recommend you drive along the S.P. 185 which winds through the citrus groves of the lower portion of the Alcantara Valley.
Alcantara Valley Sourrounding
Taormina and Castelmola
The city center of Taormina does not fall within the administrative and geographical boundaries of the Alcantara Valley but falls within the tourist area of Etna and the Alcantara Valley. Taormina is only six kilometers from the mouth of the Alcantara river and without a doubt this hilltop village should be visited, also because a visit to the Isola Bella marine park and to one of Taormina's beaches is a must. Eight kilometers upstream from Taormina there is the small and charming village of Castelmola from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view that goes from the blue of the Mediterranean sea to the summit of Etna. Both Taormina and Castelmola offer countless solutions in terms of accommodation and restaurants.
Giardini Naxos is the coastal town located at the mouth of the Alcantara river. The town doesn't have many monuments but if you are looking for a beach Giardini Naxos is the place to go. Boat excursions depart from the port of Giardini and reach the Isola Bella of Taormina.
Historical notes of the Alcantara Valley
The archaeological remains found in the territory of the municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia unequivocally attest that already in the Neolithic, 6000 BC. settled peoples used a series of caves in the Alcantara valley as homes. In the 7th century B.C. with the arrival of the Greeks on the coasts of the Ionian Sea, the first urban centers were formed, which in the following centuries were occupied first by the Romans and then by the Arabs, who invaded Sicily in the 8th century. A.D. The presence of some octagonal churches called Byzantine Cubes prove that between the 5th and 8th centuries, when Sicily was Byzantine, the Alcantara Valley was a place of worship in which communities of Basilian monks settled. With the arrival of the Normans in 1061, the Alcantara valley was once again enriched with Latin-speaking communities, who lived in communities also inhabited by Arabic and Greek-speaking groups. This period of great splendor for the whole island of Sicily was responsible for the construction of the Castle of Lauria, built at the behest of Frederick II. In the following centuries the valley was controlled, first by the Swabians, followed by the Angevins and finally by the Spaniards who in June 1729 near Francavilla di Sicilia faced the Austrian troops in a bloody battle, imposing themselves on the latter who were defeated . In 1896, hydroelectric production in Italy was successfully experimented in the Ciappa mill area along a stretch of the Alcantara river. During the Second World War the Valley was occupied by Nazi troops who, between 12 and 14 August 1943, executed 20 men and injured 16 others in retaliation. After the war, some small industries contributed to creating jobs even if the Agriculture has continued to represent the main source of employment for the inhabitants of the Valley. In the sixties the tourist use of the valley gave input for the construction of hotels, farmhouses and for the birth of tourist operators.
THE ALCANTARA RIVER PARK AUTHORITY
Both the river and a large part of the Alcantara Valley which goes from Randazzo to Giardini Naxos are under the protection of the Alcantara River Park Authority. This body was established in 2001 with the aim of promoting, protecting and enhancing this wetland in eastern Sicily. The municipalities that are part of the Alcantara Park are: Roccella Valdemone, Randazzo, Mojo Alcantara, Malvagna, Francavilla di Sicilia, Castiglione di Sicilia, Motta Camastra, Calatabiano, Graniti, Gaggi, Graniti, Calatabiano, Giardini Naxos and Taormina.