Walking holidays in Sicily

There are probably more exciting places to take a walking holiday than Italy’s Aeolian Islands, but not many. Here off Sicily’s north coast you can trek through one of the planet’s fieriest landscapes, island-hopping from Sicily to Lipari, Vulcano and Stromboli via steaming fumaroles, thermal hot springs and mud baths, rivers of lava, incredible black beaches and Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano.

“Sicily is just a completely different kind of holiday, like nowhere else,” says Valentina Chironna from our Italy walking specialists, Exodus. “You’re walking among active volcanoes, but also swimming in crystal clear waters off the Aeolian Islands, and Sicilian cuisine is some of the most varied in Italy. It has this multi-layered cultural identity that is very distinct. If I had one bit of advice for first-time walkers here it would simply be to add on a few extra days at the end of your holiday, because there is so much to take in.”
You don’t need to have a passion for volcanoes to enjoy walking in Sicily, but they’re hard to ignore. Mount Etna is famously in a near-constant state of flux, and volcanic activity has resulted in completely distinctive landscapes as well as immensely fertile soil.
“Mount Etna has this lunar atmosphere, with black and grey soil,” says Valentina. “When I was there in late October, there were red flowers everywhere, giving an incredible contrast of colours. And the wine from that area is some of the best I’ve ever drunk.”

Volcanic vibes

Holidays here are led by guides drawn from local communities, and might escort you from the port city of Catania on Sicily to Vulcano by a short ferry, then on to Lipari and Stromboli, perhaps finishing with an ascent of Mount Etna in the company of an expert volcanologist (subject to volcanic activity, of course). Walks tend to be short, but offer plenty of challenge. Poles are essential on terrain of hilly lava, ash and sand, and gaiters are recommended too, so that the ash doesn’t get into your boots.

It’s not all smoking volcanoes and sultry swims, though. Walking holidays are fantastic for immersing you deeply in Sicilian culture as you pass through villages, eating at restaurants and staying in family-run accommodations where there is always a warm welcome. Sicily is among the poorest regions in Italy, and income from responsible tourism can have a big ripple effect on the economy.

“Every part of Italy has a very distinct cultural identity all its own,” affirms Valentina, “but I think it’s stronger here than anywhere else. One of the highlights for me there was the food and the sheer variety of it. You get seafood there you won’t find anywhere else in Italy. Catania is especially good for its markets. And Sicily is great for vegetarians: you can find an amazing range of greens and pulses.”

On Lipari, you might spend an evening wine tasting, with a selection of regional cheeses and other delicacies to accompany them. And your lunches are drawn as far as possible from the area too. “Our tour leaders make a point of using local, hopefully family-run businesses,” says Valentina. “When arranging picnics, for example, they use local produce, ensure nothing is left behind, and aim for recyclable or reusable packaging. And they were doing this long before it was fashionable.”
A walking holiday in Sicily and the Aeolian Islands could take in fuming vents of volcanic gas on Vulcano, followed by a muscle-soothing soak in some of the island’s inviting thermal springs and mud baths. It may feature views over the crater of Lipari’s Mount Pilatus, which erupted in 729AD, and around that island’s distinctive geological formations created by volcanic activity over centuries.
Stromboli is a tiny island just 12km², but an unforgettable place to hit the trail. As of 2021, the summit of the volcano is closed because its activity remains unpredictable, but Stromboli boasts spectacular black sand beaches, and the Sciara del Fuoco, a fiery river of lava that plunges straight into the sea – quite a sight at sunset. When you can trek to the summit (942m), the pyrotechnics are often dramatic against a night-time backdrop.
Trips usually finish on Sicily, where you might spend a night in a mountain lodge and visit the medieval hilltop town of Taormina. Here, the horseshoe-shaped Ancient Greek theatre offers expansive views across the island and sea. Climbing Mount Etna – again subject to its recent behaviour – could well be the crowning glory of your trip. There are two routes available: one taking in a panorama of the four craters; another taking you to the summit via cable car, 4x4 jeeps and finally a short, steep trek to the rim of the Bove Valley.
But there’s no reason why you can’t stay a little longer after you’ve put your walking boots away, as Valentina emphasises. “I really recommend adding a few days on. Our trip only visits the Aeolian Islands, but you have Palermo, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the UNESCO Baroque region, Syracuse and its Greek Neapolis archaeological park, Marsala...”

Our top Italy walking Holiday

Amalfi Coast walking holiday, Italy

Amalfi Coast walking holiday, Italy

Walk in lemon groves and hillside villages

From £1249 to £1649 8 days inc UK flights
Small group travel:
2021: 3 Jul, 14 Aug, 21 Aug, 28 Aug, 4 Sep, 11 Sep, 18 Sep, 25 Sep, 2 Oct, 9 Oct, 16 Oct, 23 Oct, 30 Oct, 6 Nov, 13 Nov, 20 Nov, 23 Dec, 30 Dec
2022: 12 Feb, 19 Feb, 26 Feb, 5 Mar, 12 Mar, 19 Mar, 26 Mar, 2 Apr, 9 Apr, 16 Apr, 23 Apr, 30 Apr, 28 May, 4 Jun, 11 Jun, 18 Jun, 25 Jun, 2 Jul, 9 Jul, 16 Jul, 23 Jul, 30 Jul, 6 Aug, 13 Aug, 20 Aug, 27 Aug, 3 Sep, 10 Sep, 17 Sep, 24 Sep, 1 Oct, 8 Oct, 15 Oct, 22 Oct, 29 Oct, 5 Nov ...
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Italy walking or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Practicalities

Walking holidays in Sicily are generally around eight days long, beginning and ending on Sicily itself with short ferry or hydrofoil crossings between the Aeolian Islands. Typically these are small group tours. Numbers are capped at 16 so that you can stay at smaller locally owned properties and your impact on trails and island communities is minimised. These islands and remote villages are often dependent on tourism. Walking with our responsible travel companies means more money in the pockets of local people in areas where career opportunities and economic development may be limited.

The minimum age is 16. While you’ll walk with local guides and – in some cases – professional volcanologists, there is always going to be an element of risk in places where torrents of molten-hot lava sometimes flow. You’ll walk for 4-6 hours a day on terrain that is often steep and uneven, so poles will be very useful. And if you do manage to ascend Stromboli, then you should know that it can be dusty on the slopes, making it uncomfortable for asthma sufferers, and you’ll need a head-torch as you’ll be coming down after dark.

When to go on a Sicily walking holiday

“You generally want to avoid Southern Italy in July and August because of the heat,” says Valentina, “however, the good thing is there’s a really long season.” Walking holidays normally travel between April and mid-October but because you’ll be exposed to the weather in these landscapes, the best time to go is early April to June or from late August onwards. The Mediterranean is lovely for swimming even well into October. Late August also sees the Feast of San Bartolomeo on Lipari, when a religious procession is followed by fireworks over the sea.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: kuhnmi] [Intro: Sander Crombach] [Volcanic vibes: Sander Crombach] [When to go: nonmisvegliate]