It was a short walk from the apartment to the small Catania Borgo station located near the main Via Etnea thoroughfare. A rack railway operates from this station taking passengers around the perimeter of Mt. Etna and we decided to travel as far as Randazzo, a small town nearest to the summit of the volcano. Trains runs daily except on Sundays and public holidays.
Tickets are reasonably priced at €8.20 each return. We took the 9.45 a.m. departure taking just under two hours to reach Randazzo. The charming small train has just one carriage with leather seating and although it lacks air conditioning, its large windows can easily be opened to provide fresh air and are ideal for taking photos.
The train connects villages and towns at the foot of Mt. Etna and is one of the finest ways to admire the towering volcano and the ever changing landscape. It’s actually possible to transfer to another train in Randazzo and to continue on to Riposto to complete a full circle of Mt. Etna.
This historical railway has operated since 1898 and along the route we admired landscapes created from lava, passed fruit orchards brimming with oranges and lemons and countless fields of olive groves. The railway was originally used by farmers to reach the fields and tend to their crops.
Continuing on our journey, the landscape became wild and rugged made up of lava flows and shortly after leaving the station of Bronte a spectacular group of lava flows came into view. The railway reached its highest point on the Maletto plateau and from the carriage windows we had spectacular views of the craters lying on the surface.
Our chosen destination, Randazzo is the nearest town to the summit of Mt. Etna and because of its location it was used by the Germans as one of the last outposts before leaving Sicily in World War II.
The station was just a few minutes walk from the town centre which has retained its medieval character made even more distinct by the colour of its buildings, built using dark, lava blocks. Brightening up the dark stone, flowers were blooming everywhere. A special feature of the town is its summer flower festival which was in full swing. As well as traditional window boxes, flowers were displayed in upturned umbrellas, on doorsteps and in many other imaginative ways.
Our first impression of Randazzo was that it seemed very small, but it is deceptive as its main road stretches along for quite a distance. It seemed very quiet with few people about and many of its shops and cafes were closed on the Monday afternoon of our visit. We chanced upon a delightful cafe in the main square where we sat on its inviting terrace enjoying glasses of beer and a selection of pastries.
The Basilica of Santa Maria dominates the square so we decided to look in there next. The church is an imposing building dating from the 13th century and has a Gothic Sicilian entrance adorned with marble statues. The Basilica’s interior was equally beautiful with its marble altar and exquisite artwork.
A little more exploring followed before returning to the small station for the train back to Catania. Unlike the outbound journey when few passengers were on board, the train’s one and only carriage was crowded for most of the journey with people going into the city centre but as we managed to find seats, it wasn’t a problem.
Later in the evening we enjoyed another a meal on the lovely roof terrace of La Capannine, a restaurant just down the road from our apartment. Our main dishes of Sicilian style chicken and beef were both delicious and we lingered quite some time over a bottle of local wine.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also be interested in the following: