The month of August means holiday in Italy; people leave the city to head to the coast and enjoy long days on the beach. The climax of the summer is 15th August, known as ferragosto, which dates back to Roman times under Emperor Augustus as the “Feriae Augusti” (Festivals of the Emperor Augustus).
For our Ferragosto we headed to the East of Sicily, to the foothills of Mount Etna. With its winding lanes spread over Etna and beautiful coast roads, Sicily makes a perfect destination for cycling for pretty much 12 months of the year.
We started our ride from Zafferana Etnea, a town famous for its honey due to its proliferation of chestnut trees. It acts a gateway to Etna, with one of the several climbs to Etna Sud starting from its basula (volcanic) stone streets. We headed north out of Zafferana, hugging the side of Etna along the Strada del Vino, climbing up through Milo and Fornazzo – following the same route as Stage 5 of this year’s Giro d’Italia.
On reaching the North East corner of Etna, we arrived at Castiglione di Sicilia. A hilltop town at 621 metres overlooking the Alcantara Valley. The approach to the city reveals a crop of colourful houses perched on the hills, and amongst them signs of its historic past including a Byzantine and Norman churches and fortifications.
From Castiglione we dropped down into the Alcantara Valley, passing a mass of tourists around the ‘Le Gole dell’Alcantara’ getting ready for a day of rafting and enjoying the rapids. It’s a fast and rolling road along to Giardini Naxos, which passes several hilltop towns overlooking the valley.
At Giardini we joined the Strada Statale to begin the ascent up to Taormina. This is a one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sicily, however the winding climb with multiple hairpins is quiet for cycling aside for the occasional tourist bus. On reaching the centre we continued up to Castelmola, a tough 5km climb in the midday heat. At the summit we were rewarded with a great view of the coast and mainland on a clear day, as well as a good bar for a granita and brioche to help the legs recover.
With most the climbing done it was an ascent back down to Taormina to re-join the SS116 and head back along the coast, passing Isola Bella, a private island owned by Florence Trevelyan until 1990, when it was bought by the Region of Sicily and turned into a nature reserve. The final 30km along the coast road were spent dodging sun seekers attempting to park on the lungo mare, before a final kicker of a climb back up to Zafferana.
The ride on Strava, 113 km with 2,392 metres climbing.
Photos and route courtesy of @hazbun who can be currently found cycling around Sicily on his Cinelli Experience, built by Palu Bicycles.