How to climb an Italian volcano

According to a recent article in a glossy travel magazine, volcano tourism is a thing now. And while the article listed some impressive volcanoes (Iceland and Hawaii of course both made the list), there was no mention of Italian volcanoes. But I frequently include volcanoes in my clients’ Italy itineraries, so here are some tips on how to include one (and which one) on your Italy trip. For all of these volcanoes, bring: shoes with ankle support, sun protection, and extra layers of clothing. There is no shade on a volcano, and the weather at the top can be much chillier compared to the base. Walking sticks are also a good idea if you have them.

Mount Vesuvius: quick and conveniently located

If you have just an extra half day in a busy itinerary, Mount Vesuvius is for you. It’s on the Italian mainland, is easily accessible from Naples, and the whole excursion will take just a few hours. It’s also the volcano that buried Pompeii two thousand years ago, so a visit to Pompeii would be a good way to spend the other half of your day.

What to know about climbing Mount Vesuvius

You can either go to the tourist route, and take the bus that gets you close to the summit, then walk the wide and not-too-difficult 30 minute path that circles the crater. (You can even buy souvenirs at the summit!) Or, you can hire a volcanologist for a longer, more in-depth and tourist-free hike.


Mount Etna: crowd-pleaser


What to know about visiting Mount Etna 

The first thing to know is that this volcano is on the island of Sicily, not on Italy’s mainland, so either fly to Catania or take the train or boat from the Italian mainland.  That said, it’s a great addition to an itinerary with people of varying hiking abilities and interests. The kids will love the round-the-volcano train, while older kids and the young at heart will have a blast on a 4×4 jeep tour. If you’re short on time but not on money, do a helicopter tour, often described as the highlight of the trip. Serious hikers can contemplate whether to do the longer more difficult hike from Etna Nord and less serious hikers can opt for the shorter hike that includes the lift. Or, forget the walking and just focus on food and drink from Etna’s fertile soil. The main thing to remember, however, is that this is an active volcano and at the time of this writing, Etna has already erupted more than a dozen times this year. So check Etna eruption updates.

One more thing: don’t shortchange this volcano. The first time I climbed Mount Etna, I didn’t allow enough time and didn’t wear the right shoes. I found my self running down the mountain at the end of the day trying to beat the fading light as my running shoes filled with thin, sharp shale rock.


Stromboli: a logistical challenge


What to know about climbing Stromboli

This volcano is tougher to get to because it’s one of the Aeolian islands off Sicily – and the furthest away. If you’d like to hike beyond Stromboli’s tourist viewing platform, plan for a tough hike and book a guide. Since Stromboli has short eruptions on a regular basis, try to schedule your arrival at the volcano about dusk to see it in the dark. Don’t try to shoehorn Stromboli in to a packed itinerary: unless you are staying on the island itself, you’ll be relying on boats to get you there and back. Even in high season, boats won’t run if the weather is bad, so give yourself at least one extra day as backup.

Last year, I was working with some clients who wanted to hike Stromboli but they only had time to do it as a day trip from the Sicilian city of Messina. Even with the most meticulous planning, it was going to be a long day with no flexibility in case a boat was late or canceled, so they decided to hike Mount Etna instead.


Vulcano: short and off the beaten path

What to know about climbing Vulcano

Vulcano is also one of the Aeolian islands, so still somewhat tough to get to, but not as far out as Stromboli. Because of that, and the fact that it’s not active, it doesn’t get as much press as the others and so has remained a little bit under the radar. Unless you are staying on the island itself your day will be structured around boat schedules, but once you get there, Vulcano is not a difficult hike. There’s a 2.5 hour path and a 1 hour path, and although you still need a hat, water bottle, sun protection, and good ankle support, I’d do it with my 6 and 8 year old kids. A day on Vulcano can be a perfect dolce vita day: after the hike, have a long lunch, then relax at one of the island’s famous black beaches or hit a thermal springs.


Photos: Etna and Vulcano by an Italy Beyond the Obvious client; Stromboli by Madeline Jhawar

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  1. Kate Bailward
    June 13, 2013

    Ooh, good article, and thanks for the link. I love volcanoes – and Etna is, of course, particularly close to my heart given that she’s so close to home. Incidentally, I’ve never had such delicious potatoes as the ones that come from her slopes. Seriously!

    The Aeolians are on my list of places to see this summer. See properly, that is. From Calabria, where I lived before Sicily, you could see them on a clear day, but it’s about time I actually visited them properly.

  2. Madeline
    June 13, 2013

    Kate, Happy to link to your great article about the circumEtnea railway and thanks for the tip re the potatoes, they are definitely on my list for my next visit (along with almonds, cheese, wine…. yum) I look forward to reading about your adventures on the Aeolian islands this summer!

  3. Anita
    June 13, 2013

    Very informative post – thank you! I hope to be able to see Mt Vesuvius up close and personal.

    • Madeline
      June 14, 2013

      Thanks Anita! Circle back when you do – I’d love to hear all about it!

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