Italy is bursting with many natural treasures, though we Italians tend to keep them well hidden. Are we just jealous and over protective of our natural beauty or simply missing out on great opportunities for exploration? Discovering this corner of Sicily is definitely not to be missed, where natural beauty and myth combine to create a magical destination unknown to most tourists.
Canyons in Italy? Why not?
The Gole di Alcantara, a natural canyon in the area of Messina, looks like a shining gem in this desolate panorama: the valley of the Alcantara has been turned into a natural reserve and the local Parco Botanico e Geologico delle Gole di Alcantara institution manages its activities and promotes its protection.
The Park has mapped and cleaned up the web of 10 km-long country lanes and is investing in marketing itself, creating special itineraries to invite visitors to find out more about local activities and the enogastronomic delights on offer.
Venus lovers and a little corner of Greece in Sicily
The locals used to walk down narrow country roads to reach their fruit fields in the area around the Alcantara river, with the company of a small donkey or even a heavy firearm, just in case.
Visitors can now step over the footprints of these old Sicilian countrymen and reach remote beaches, country houses, the local masserie (large farms), converted into eco resorts and discover the sweeping orange fields and the secular olive ones.
The winding roads have symbolic names such as Sentiero di Artemide (the path of Artemis), the Greek Goddess of wisdom or the path of Hermes, the Greek God of speed.
The name of the Alcantara river, Arkesinis, was of Greek origin, as are the mythological tales of this valley: the goddess of beauty, Venus, used this corner of paradise as her private boudoir and garçonnière. Her angry husband, Vulcan, god of fire and metal, therefore decided to cool down the water of the Arkesinis in a final attempt to stop his wife’s libertine tendencies. There are no records to show his attempt was successful but the waters of the previously named Arkesinis, now known as the Alcantara, can be icily cold.
The very origin of the gole is actually less poetic and rather more frightening: approximately 350,000 years ago an underground earthquake broke the compact platform of solidified basalt stone. The sound must have been terrifying and the result was a long and deep fracture in the rock through which the Alcantara river flowed.
Yellow gold and green gold: the eco treasures of the Alcantara park
Venus was enchanted by the Alcantara valley, charmed by its remoteness and its rich and flourishing nature.
Spring covers the river banks with anemones, poppies and violets while the shadows of the tall willows protect men and animals from the burning summer sun. Eagles, pilgrim falcons and hawks fly high in the bright azure sky and the migrating flocks heading for Africa can be seen throughout autumn.
Focusing on these natural assets, the park management designed and scheduled a plan of activities.
The Yellow Gold itinerary: the Alcantara was and still is covered by endless fields of orange trees, lemon trees and grapefruit trees. Tip: plan a visit at spring time when the lemon trees are in blossom- the zagare fragrance is said to be inebriating.
The Green Gold itinerary: the olive trees and their olive oil are real historical treasures .
Nowadays olive oil is the most evocative ingredient of the Mediterranean cuisine. Bread with a few drops of virgin olive oil and some salt can be mouthwatering and the perfect starter for a great dinner (known as “bruschette”) Want to know more about this secular tree and its fruit? Plan a visit and take part in the seasonal olive picking. And for the few lucky ones it’s even possible to bring the olives to the grinding machine.
The Alcantara river and canyon trekking: wearing green and grey waterproofs and boots, walking stiffly like little penguins, you can reach the bottom of the canyon and walk along the river, splashing cheerfully in the icy cold waters and discovering the incredible shapes of the caves while sheltering from the Sicilian sun.
A final note: legend has it that those who take on the icy waters and plunge naked into the river will have their virginity and strength restored. Once again, no official records of these miracles have been reported but just in case it happens to you please let us be the first to hear about it!
Visit the Parco Botanico e Geologico delle Gole dell’Alcantara: Terra Alcantara or call 0039 0942/985174
If you are arriving from Messina, drive along the SS 114 and join the SS 185 towards Francavilla di Sicilia. Exit at Giardini Naxos and follow road signs to Larderia di Motta di Camastra.
And if you want to stay a little longer in the area, check availability at Il Poggio for your next holiday in Sicily.
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