"I had heard about the stupendous iridescence of the aurora upon the Ionian Sea, when you contemplate it from Etna's summit...The earthly and marine vastness revealed to our sight stretched as far as Africa, clearly visible, and Greece, as far as you could have guessed. It was one of the supreme moments of my life. Nothing was missing, not the golden fringe of a cloud, nor the eagles..."
Adapted from "Adriano's Memories", Marguerite Yourcenar.
Etna or not Etna? For sure, Etna played a role in the creation of the "Timpa". Just look at the smooth basalt walls on the trails to realise it. By the way, as it is a separate nature reserve, quite distant from the mountain trails on Etna, we decided to classify it as a no-Etna trail. The "Timpa" is a craggy hill, densely covered with Mediterranean scrub; in many sections it drops sheer into the sea (especially in Acireale), and for this reason it has been protected against property speculation. Officially, there are 3 trails on the reserve:
This is what it (sometimes) says on the signs placed at the beginning of the trails. There's another walk that goes from the hill to the sea, "Santa Caterina", we hope we'll track it as soon as possible. You can download the most beautiful pictures we took in the area reserved to the registered users. We visited the trails on September 2010.
According to us, this is the most beautiful path. It is the old street between Acireale and Santa Maria la Scala. You can reach it straight from Acireale (Piazza S. Maria del Suffragio), walking on the bridge above the rail and the state highway. You can also leave the car on the state highway, where there is a prking area really close to the beginning of the path. However it is possible to park only a few cars there. The descending path begins witha small chapel. After a few meters, the green vegetation and the blue sea show us a fantastic panorama. We suggest watching the sunrise from here. At the first bend we find the fortress "del Tocco", an ancient Norman bastion against pirates incursions. It seems that the nature reserve management offices will be moved here soon. On the southern side you can see the green hill falling into the sea, with the dark basalt rock shores. The path is mainly carved through the lava stone, and on the walls grow the omnipresent prickly pear plants. We keep on going down towards the sea, and the panorama gets even better; the small village of Santa Maria la Scala (where we are heading towards) is on the northern side. At the barrier is possible to go straight on, to reach the village center. We suggest that you turn right, walking through the last wonderful section of the path, descending the stairs among the trees, that lead you to the sea.
Old rail path:
Although this trail is shown on the reserve maps placed inside the park, according to us it should be fixed up a bit in order to be fully usable. You can find the entrance going back to the top of "Le Chiazzette" trail. Follow the state highway in north direction (toward Giarre) for a few hundred meters; at the traffic light, go right on the descending road. After the petrol station, on the left you will notice the entrance to the path. As you can see from the picture, the entrance is not indicated and it is also in bad conditions. The path is also in a bad condition: the thorny briers make it difficult to walk through it. We hope the trail will be fixed soon; The panoramas are wonderful but it is a real shame to see the path in such conditions. From here, you can also see the two small vilages Santa Tecla and Stazzo. We reach the first tunnel of the path, but since we have forgotten the pocket torch we have decided to go back.
Acque Grandi path:
It is an easy descending path towards the sea, with a difference in height similar to the one of "Le Chiazzette". The entrance, indicated by a reserve sign, is in "Acque Grandi" street, very close to the "Nostra Signora dell'Aiuto" church. Our path starts under a suggestive natural plants covering; to the north we observe the hill falling sharply into the sea. The path is in good conditions, with wood handrails and a stairway surrounded by the Mediterranean scrub. The trail ends in front of the shore.
Santa Maria la Scala:
This small village deserves a section on its own. It seems one of the villages described in Giovanni Verga's books. It essentially consists of a street in front of the sea, with its small harbor, the green hills reflecting into the sea, and the chance to swim in a usually clean sea. If you want to eat one of the best "granita" of Catania and province, look for the bar in the square (the bar is named guess what "La Timpa"!). If you book in advance, this bar can also offer you a really good fish lunch or dinner. There are other restaurants in the village, but our favorite is this bar with its rustic service and unattractive looks. The owners speak mainly in Sicilian dialect, so get ready to have a funny conversation!
For further information:
This is just a short guide to the "Timpa" trails. There are other interesting points: grottos, strange lava formations at the sea level, typical flora and fauna, water sources and so on. In the web there are many sites about "la Timpa", tipically available just in Italian language:
http://www.aciinfo.it/territorio/la-timpa?lang=en: "Timpa" description - AVAILABLE IN ENGLISH
http://www.parks.it/riserva.timpa/index.php: "Timpa" description on Parks.it - Italian language
http://www.kiwanis-acireale.it: The "Chiazzette" history - Italian language
http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortezza_del_Tocco: Interesting focus on the fortress "del Tocco" - Italian language