The Circumetnea Train Part One – Riposto to Linguaglossa
Jonathan and I love watching travel shows for inspiration for future trips. One such show featured a cute little train, the Circumetnea which went from Riposto through Linguaglossa, to Catania and around Mount Etna. A journey of 110 kilometres.
Ooh, we have to do that, we thought, but finding information wasn’t so easy. The website for the train was, to put it mildly, pretty useless. However, with a little bit of help from our guesthouse in Taormina, we discovered that we needed to get to Riposto and there should be a Circumetnea train departing at 08:55 which conveniently for us, would stop at Linguaglossa, our base for the next two nights.
All went well, we took a bus from our hotel down to Taormina station and immediately jumped on a train to Giarre-Riposto station. We had been told that from Giarre-Riposto Station to Riposto Station was just a 15-minute walk and we had 40 minutes- what could go wrong?
So What Could Go Wrong?
Well, the level crossing closed and we had to wait. Five minutes, ten minutes, 15 minutes. Traffic was building up. A guy made a run across the track. Maybe we should do that, we thought. Suddenly a train shot passed, umm ok, perhaps not! We waited longer, now getting the train was going to be really tight. So, we did end up sneaking through the gap, and we ran across the track. We arrived at Risposto station, but alas, we had just missed the train. And it was five hours to the next departure.
We headed into town, dragging our cases behind us. Riposto, according to the guide books, was a pretty little Baroque town on the Ionian coast. Half an hour later, having explored the entire town, we sat down for coffee, and thought just four and a half more hours to go!
We caught the 13:50 train – we were the only ones on board. Next stop was Giarre Station. Guess what? Giarre Station was right next door to the Giarre-Riposto train station. We could have caught our morning train, after all, 🙄 Oh well, we got to see a new town!
The forty-minute journey to Linguaglossa on the Circumetnea train passed in no time. Travelling on a narrow-gauge railway through gorgeous countryside, passing small towns, farmland, lava fields, we were pleased we had waited for the train.
We both wanted to see Mount Etna and thought it would be fun to stay in one of the towns close to the summit.
Linguaglossa is the gateway to Etna Nord. The town is located on the quieter northern side of Mount Etna, and during the winter months, is quite a popular ski resort with views of the Ionian Sea.
The name Linguaglossa comes from the Latin and Greek words for the tongue, but Linguaglossa said in a Sicilian accent sounds so much better than Tongue Tongue.
The old town is quite well preserved with narrow streets to explore, ancient doorways, Baroque buildings and of course, being Italy a lot of churches. It’s not a huge town and was certainly very quiet when we were there -a sharp contrast to Taormina.
But we had come here to see Mount Etna. Most of the hikes from the northern side start from Piano Provenzana, which comes under Linguaglossa but is still another twenty kilometres away. Makes sense that you wouldn’t want to have a town too close to the summit of an active volcano.
As so few tourists, there were no buses. We considered hiring a car, but limited availability. Umm, we were beginning to understand now why people usually opt for the day trips from Catania and Taormina.
Over a glass of wine in our local piazza, we came across online a pleasant-sounding half-day hike that was leaving the next morning from Linguaglossa – yay! But on closer reading, when they say Linguaglossa, they really meant Piano Provenzana. We contacted the tour company Vulcanologiche Etna and explained our predicament. No worries, the guide Vincenzo lives in Linguaglossa, and he would pick us up.!
Visit Mount Etna
Vincenzo picked us up in front of the train station, and you know some people you meet you just like instantly – that was what it was like meeting Vincenzo. Friendly, amiable and he just loved everything to do with volcanoes, having grown up with Mount Etna is his backyard.
There were just six others in our group that morning, a nice size and fortunately all around the same walking ability. The starting point of our trekking route was just along the dirt road that runs from Piano Provenzana to the summit craters of the volcano.
Our first stop on our walk was at the ruins of the Hotel delle Betulle destroyed by the lava flow of October 2002. Fortunately, everyone had been evacuated by the time, the lava flow reached the hotel, and it was rather weird just seeing the top of the hotel sticking out of the earth.
On our walk, it was fascinating learning about the difference volcanic forms we saw along the way and hearing about the many different eruptions. I want to be a volcanologist now when I grow up!
At our highest point on this hike, we reached 2,100 meters as we stood at the edge of the craters formed in 2002. Coming down Mount Etna through a very sandy channel back to the start was interesting, a little nerve-wracking and the reason why you need to wear hiking boots on this walk.
It cost us €25 each for the three-hour hike, and it was totally worth having a guide. Without Vincenzo, well apart from getting lost, we wouldn’t have known what we were seeing. And I have to say Vincenzo was an excellent guide. He was so enthusiastic, a true volcano nerd. For more information, visit their website https://www.guidevulcanologicheetna.it/en/.
By the way, if like Jonathan, you don’t have the right footwear with you for walking on Mount Etna, you can rent a pair of boots in Piano Provenzana for €3. There’s also a place to buy coffee and refreshments and of course, Mount Etna souvenirs.
Recommended LinguaGlossa Restaurants
Ristorante Boccaperta – after Taormina, it was so lovely to have good food at reasonable prices again. I had ravioli, and Jon had a meatball dish – both delicious.
Vincenzo recommenced In Cucina Dai Pennisi, but unfortunately, it was fully booked when we turned up.
Also, if you have your own transport, there were some nice looking restaurants on the drive back down to Linguaglossa.
Circumetnea Train Part Two – Linguaglossa To Catania
We decided to make our way to Catania by continuing on the Circumetnea train. The train timetable at Linguaglossa Station was out of date, and the ticket desk was closed. But we should have arrived originally at 09:30, so we aimed for that train.
In my dreadful only three weeks on Duolingo Italian, I managed to buy tickets at the station bar. ‘No treno,’ he kept saying. ‘Autobus, go bus. Treno 3 hour.’
But a train did arrive at 09:30, and we were rewarded with stunning scenery, leafy vineyards, gorgeous countryside views, ancient lava flows, prickly pears and plenty of trees – coming from Malta, it’s so lovely to see trees. We had to change trains at Randazzo with an hour’s wait but found a shady spot to chill. Jonathan ran off to find an ATM while I watched the bags. On his ten minute scout around town, he said maybe we should stay in Randazzo next time!
The next train departed at 11, and we continued our journey through the fertile lands around Mount Etna. Brakes were squealing as we climbed to a height of 960 metres above sea level. We passed the pistachio fields of Bronte – stunning. Actually, after the amount of pistachios, Jonathan ate in Sicily, I’m surprised there’s any left!
As we turned to the south side of Mount Etna, well the journey got rather shall we say, ordinary. More of a commuter train for the Catania Suburbs. At times we were underground- and the last hour was a tad dull and normal. We pulled into Catania Borg at 1 pm. Jumped on the metro (yes, Catania has a metro line – just 11 stops but hey who knew?) Seeing as we were the only two on the platform – looks like nobody else knew! Our Circumetnea train tickets worked on the metro too.
With just over an hour to go before taking another train to Siracusa, we popped into the all-you-can-eat sushi next to Catania Central Station and ate all we could eat.
Top Tips For Taking The Circumetnea Train
If you plan to use the Circumetnea – the prettiest section is from Riposto to Bronte. However, you will have to change trains at Randazzo.
If coming by the main rail line, just board the train at Giarre which is just across from the Giarre-Riposto Station. Although, we were advised to start at Riposto because sometimes a lot of people board at Giarre and if you have luggage and want a seat, then Riposto is your best bet.
Tickets can be bought at the train station. The ticket office at Riposto opens ten minutes before the train leaves. The fare is just a few euros. If like us, you were using a train app to book and pay for tickets -well, the mobile apps don’t work for the Circumetnea trains.
Would We Recommend Taking The Circumetnea Train?
Yes, but really only for the first section from Riposto to Bronte. I can see why they recommend the bus, it’s much quicker, but trains are just so much nicer.
Next stop: Siracusa