I still remember my first holiday abroad and the first time I saw Etna. With its 3 350 meters (give or take - it changes), it is the highest active volcano in Europe. I've been there several times, but I can still remember the enthusiastic excitement I felt on the motorway just outside of Catania, the nearby regional capital. I was quite young, only around eight years old, I believe. I remember that I sat like I was glued to the bus window pointing to the top.
A couple of nights after our arrival my family and I woke up by loud bangs. Awake and slightly confused, we tried to understand what kind of noise it was. At first we thought it was fireworks or gun shots. We even left the apartment and walked out onto the patio, located outside of our rented apartment and looked out towards the sea. But we couldn't see anything strange. Eventually we all fell asleep again.
Many years later I saw a documentary about Etna and I suddenly recognized the sound. Like small explosions. I couldn't believe it! There it was again. And I remembered it! What I had heard just over 15 years earlier was the sound of hot lava bubbles and gases that reigned with the air and created small explosions. Even today, I cannot understand how we did not understand that it was the volcano that had erupted. But we were simply not prepared for it. Another problem was also the fact that the hotel faced the beach and not the mountains and the volcano itself ...
Eventually I had the chance to go all the way up to the very same top that I earlier pointed out as a kid. Putting your feet on the volcanic rocks is very surreal. You can almost feel the power under the shoe soles. You can definitely feel the heat. One meter down, it is about 100 degrees hot. Two meters down, the double. The views are stunning and one can see all the way to the Italian mainland and the Calabrian region.
Etna has regular eruptions and is therefore a relatively safe volcano to visit. Because it is so active and powerful, it is also one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world. The latest, larger, outbreak occurred on Christmas Eve in 2018.
The volcano is located on the east coast of Sicily, just an hour's drive from the Mediterranean coast. This means that you, technically, actually can combine bathing and skiing holidays without having to change hotels.
There are two ways to get to the top. Either you can buy a bus ride that takes you about 2,000 meters up. From there, there is a lift that transports the visitor another 800 meters up. From there, special jeep buses go to the highest point. The top itself (and the last hundred meters or so) is blocked for safety reasons.
If you are more adventurous you can also hike up the slopes. However, it is not allowed to spend the night on the volcano.