Sicily is a hidden gem for hikers enjoying their holidays - even in wintertime. Hiking areas near the sea are popular because the winters are so mild. And with fewer tourists, winter is a great time to also explore Sicily's cities.
Monte Catalfano lets you do both: it is near the sea and right next to Palermo. And even better, it has holiday apartments right at the base of the mountain from which you can get to Palermo by train in only twenty minutes.
Of course, Monte Catalfano is also ideal in the summertime for hiking. And if you get hot and sweaty, it's no problem: go a short distance and you can take a relaxing dip in the sea.
If you rent one of the holiday apartments at the foot of Monte Catalfano, you can easily reach the entrances to the park on foot or by bike.
From Mer et Soleil and Villaggio Santino (purple Markers 1 and 2 in the map above) you'll reach the north entrance (red Marker 1) after about a ten-minute walk. It's not really worth the trouble of taking a bike.
From the holiday apartments in Santa Flavia (purples Markers 3 through 8) you can reach the east entrance (red Marker 2) in about 15 minutes by bike. We recommend that you take the route marked in brown. It involves a small detour but is much nicer than the direct route (blue line).
Note: some sections along the brown-colored route mean going the wrong way down a one-way street. Please push your bike in these areas.
If you are coming to Monte Catalfano from a different location, you can use the A19 motorway. But be careful: the two closest connections for Bagheria and Casteldaccia (see map above) are not recommended for visitors enjoying their holidays who don't have a great deal of local knowledge. As is often the case in Sicily, these two connections involve a lot of winding streets through the two cities.
So we recommend you use the Altavilla Milicia connection. It leads directly to SS113 and will take you almost perfectly to the two entrances of Monte Catalfano (red Marker 1 and 2 in the map above).
Monte Catalfano is also great for Sicily holidaygoers who want to extend their travels to the eastern part of the island. The A19 takes you straight to Catania, or you can use the A20 to get to Messina.
Monte Catalfano has several possible entrance routes. We recommend the north entrance (red Marker 1 in the map above) and the east entrance (red Marker 2), as they can both be reached easily on foot, by bike, or by car.
The way up Monte Catalfano is along a set of paths that you can see in the satellite image. Simply click on the small arrowed window icon in the upper-left corner of the map. It will open a menu. Scroll down to the bottom and click on the satellite image (square).
Using Google Maps in satellite view you can see that Monte Catalfano drops off sharply on its north side. It's no wonder that this side has many caves in its steep walls (red Marker 5). The easiest way to reach these is by the north entrance (red Marker 1).
If you reach the highest point of Monte Catalfano (red Marker 4) you'll be rewarded with a wonderful panoramic view. To get there from the north entrance, turn off at red Marker 6. From the east entrance, follow the route from Marker 3 to the summit.
Trips up Monte Catalfano are great for any reasonably active person who won't be put off by the occasional overturned tree. Just bring some good shoes. Meantime, to help orient you, here are our two compasses:
This Trip Tipp Compass describes the north hiking trail for Monte Catalfano. It takes you from the north entrance to the famous caves of Monte Catalfano and to an overlook with a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Palermo.
This Trip Tipp Compass describes the east hiking trail at Monte Catalfano. It takes you from the east entrance to the highest point on Monte Catalfano. It offers a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Termini Imerese.
Note: Part of the reason why this view is so dramatic is that you are on a nearly 200m high steep edge. Make sure to keep a few meters between you and the edge in order to remain safe.
When you hear the word "orchid" nowadays, you think of a mysterious flower growing in solitude in a far-off realm until one day it is plucked from its habitat and transferred to a cellophane wrap inside a flower shop.
In reality, you do not have to travel to some imaginary place to enjoy this special beauty. Sicily is a paradise for orchids, and an especially rich location for orchids is by the sea in Bagheria. The slopes of Monte Catalfano offer optimal growing conditions for this queen of the flowers - thirty-four different varieties of orchid have been found, including several that are unique to Sicily.
The diversity of colors and shapes is overwhelming ranging from small plants only 10 cm tall with very tiny flowers to towering specimens with robust blossoms that are white, green, yellow, red, or purple. Many species of orchid also give off a wonderful scent sometimes described as lemon-vanilla - no wonder then that the vanilla shoot ultimately comes from orchids.
While taking a walk to Monte Catalfano one can find these jewels hidden in meadows or in fallow fields, or tucked between Macchia and shrubs. Even people not especially interested in orchids are struck at first by the sight of orchids in the wild. In many places, orchids are considered endangered are cannot be picked or harvested. Their beauty is amplified when they are found in nature located unexpectedly among natural herbs.
Many orchids bloom in early February, but the main flowering season is from March to May. Holidays in Sicily that start in the winter or early spring are especially preferred by nature lovers.
The ancient Sicilian Archimedes once said that with a big enough lever and the right fulcrum he could lift the entire world. This may sound exaggerated, but the idea that the earth beneath us never moves is perhaps no longer accurate.
In fact, continents are known today to move around the globe at a very slow rate. The sea level rises and falls over time, sometimes with hundreds of meters of difference from one era to the next. Indeed, there were times when the Mediterranean was practically drying up and others where it seemed flooded.
In one of the flood periods, Monte Catalfano would have been an island and our beautiful holiday apartments - if they had existed - would have been on the bottom of the sea floor. Where the waves reached the shore, the rock was very soft, and the sea burrowed deep holes into the mountain. Then when the sea receded, the caves of Monte Catalfano were exposed and became dry.
Almost anyway. Water comes into the caves thanks to rainfall, and its runs down into every crack and even in some places drips inside the caves. Over the years, if its drips long enough, it leaves a mineral outgrowth behind that grows and grows and forms a cone. People enjoying their holidays in Sicily marvel at these outgrowths, the result of a long, long history at Monte Catalfano. You can enjoy them, too, without having to pay any entrance fee or deal with opening times (red Marker 5 - accessible via the north entrance (red Marker 2)). People who are inexperienced with caves may be content with just milling around the entrance, leaving it to the professionals (a so-called "Zubbio"). We don't all have to be Indiana Jones.
You can take a virtual look at the view from Monte Catalfano to the Gulf of Palermo:
The recording was made in January 2015.
Starting in the fifteenth century, a certain unfortunate pastime spread throughout the Mediterranean that has also had a resurgence today: piracy. The pirates in those days did more than just capture ships though: they also plundered coastal cities like Palermo and enslaved populations.
Compared to other cities, Palermo was in a good position. It was protected by mountains which also served as excellent sites for lookout towers. Monte Catalfano was one of these. From Monte Catalfano one could keep an eye on the gulfs of Palermo and of Termini Imerese at the same time.
Today, of course, satellites are able to do a slightly better job. And so the towers of Monte Catalfano are a thing of the past - with one exception: the lighthouse atop Capo Zafferano (see photo). But the wonderful panoramic views of the Gulf of Palermo and the Gulf of Termini Imerese are still there to behold, waiting for you during holidays in Sicily.
Monte Catalfano fascinates not only those enjoying their holidays in Sicily. It was also obviously very appealing to the ancient Phoenicians since they founded the city of Solunto on Monte Catalfano's southern tip.
After the Phoenicians, the Greeks and Romans came to Monte Catalfano, too, and then Solunto fell promptly into a deep sleep. It would not be until the middle of the 19th century that it would come back to life with its excavation.
It was the only ancient city in Sicily whose basic layout and structure survived into recent times. Details about Solunto can be found here.
The sections above describe only a small portion of what you'll find at Monte Catalfano There is much, much more.
Guests at Mer et Soleil, Villaggio Santino (purple Markers 1 and 2 on the map above) or the holiday apartments at Santa Flavia (purple Marker 3 through 8) very often enjoy a second or third return visit.
If your Italian is good, we recommend this book to prepare for your trip:
It was written by nature lovers from Bagheria and is also available in the Interno95 bookstore (brown Marker 1).
Guests at Mer et Soleil, Villaggio Santino (purple Markers 1 and 2 on the map above) or the holiday apartments at Santa Flavia (purple Marker 3 through 8) very quickly find their own favorite bars and pizzerias.
Guests coming from other places can find near the entrances to Monte Catalfano (red Marker 1 and 2) both the Pizzeria Mongerbino and the Restaurant Can Caus.
Additionally, there are bars and pizzerias in Aspra (green line and Marker) and Porticello (turquoise line and Marker) along the (back) way. While Aspra is more easily accessible, Porticello has more variety.
The turquoise line through Porticello marks a route you can take back to the motorway. Around turquoise Marker 4 you can park directly on the street.
Important: The turquoise route is only for the way back to the motorway because certain sections are one-way streets.
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