The Most Enchanting Circular, Seven-hour Journey on the Face of the Earth.
Chugging up and down the same tracks laid down in 1895 for the 19th century steam trains, Circumetnea Railway takes you through the same scenic route taken for the past 130 years in a most charming little vintage train.
This enchanting seven-hour journey from the seaside towns of Catania to Riposto via the slopes of Mount Etna is possibly one of the most authentic journeys left to experience in Sicily.
The tracks lead through small villages, patches of wood, vineyards, orchards and groves. Once used to transport farmers through the fields, travelers on this rail line today can still opt to hop on and off at any stop and wander about for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Along the train ride, rugged terrain can be spotted - lava fields and volcanic craters against the backdrop of the most impressive snow-capped Mount Etna.
The train used is the Littorine, part of a fleet of Fiat ALn 56 motor coaches under Mussolini, which replaced the steam trains back in 1937. Around 1980, the Italian railways began to take off Littorines from the tracks to be sent to the nearest junkyard. While some of these beauties have been preserved in museums worldwide, two surviving trains are the last of their kind on the island of Sicily.
In recent summers, the trains (to travelers’ delight) have been brought out from their hiding place in a warehouse and employed to once again embark on what could be one of their last few journeys around Mount Etna.
In “Memories of a Sicilian Journey”, Italian novelist Edmondo De Amicis recalls what he dubs ‘one of the greatest train rides in Europe’:
“My gracious reader, should you one day go to Catania, remember to take the Circumetnea and you will declare it the most enchanting circular, seven-hour journey on the face of the earth. This railway that […] runs through an earthly paradise, interrupted here and there by hellish areas […], is all in all a sequence of wonderful views of Mount Etna and the sea, of gardens and lava, small extinguished volcanoes and lush green valleys, pleasant villages and forest patches – those old oak, beech and pine forests… through vineyards, olive tree groves, vast almond orchards, and chestnut groves, passing “over blooming hills, overlooking delightful green valleys, white villas, small churches, winding little roads between dark spots of orange, tangerine and cedar tree groves, along silver streams that look like strips of glistening snow under the sun…”