Where to eat and what to see on Etna's most hidden side. The best restaurants

Nov 17 2023, 17:03
Heralded by the Alcantara gorges, the northern slope of the volcano hides incredible landscapes, ranging from lava canyons to snow-capped peaks, passing through ancient villages and legendary vineyards, with views of the Strait of Messina at your feet

The motorway exit is Giardini Naxos: if you can resist the temptation of a dip in the splendid coastline (in August it is tremendously crowded, but here, given the climate, you can swim nine months out of the year) you can discover an unusual Sicily, to say the least.

Heading north of Etna. Passing through the hamlets downstream from Taormina, one arrives at Graniti, the gateway to the Alcantara valley and to an area that, as one approaches the summit of Etna, becomes increasingly mountainous: the villages are dotted by the dark lava stone, and reminiscent of the volcano, locally called the Great Mother, at every turn. Here the cuisine is made of meats, vegetables, mushrooms, truffles. The wines, needless to say, are children of the volcano.


The village further down the valley appears as a perched hamlet, narrow streets and balconies touching each other: many empty houses, but still a strong community, with a cross-generational encounter to make many urban regeneration projects envious. Since 2017, Graniti has been chosen by a series of international artists to create colourful murals. On fine days, you can stay up late, perhaps over a granita with double cream in one of the village bars. For a taste of good local cuisine, head to contrada Muscianò, in the countryside. Here is the Paradise restaurant of the Lo Giudice - Platania family, which serves traditional dishes, from caponata to rabbit alla cacciatora. In summer, when you eat in a lush Mediterranean garden, amidst plants and rows of lights, don't miss the seafood menu.

Paradise – c.da Muscianò – Graniti (ME) – Facebook

Motta Camastra

Having become famous for hosting the Sicilian sets of The Godfather (like nearby Graniti), Motta Camastra is home to the Alcantara Gorge Botanical and Geological Park. With real basaltic lava canyons, the formation of the Alcantara riverbed is very ancient: the recent appearance of the gorges, given by lava flows, is the most recent phenomenon, dating back some 8000 years. People come here to go trekking and rafting, or just to walk in an extraterrestrial landscape. The walnut is the symbolic product of the area's agriculture, celebrated in a festival that falls every year in October, but here nature is generous, with figs, citrus fruits, herbs and vegetables. In contrada Sciara - Larderia (where the gorges are located) there is the Terralcantara organic farm, which creates preserves, liqueurs, oil (also shop online).

Castiglione di Sicilia

In the circuit of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy, Castiglione is the productive heart of local wine-growing: some of the great wines of Etna are born here and the most influential Sicilian companies have chosen these districts to plant their vineyards. The giant Firriato, for example, has built the Cavanera Wine Resort in Castiglione, a hospitality structure that includes the bistrot La Riserva, with the cuisine of the young and talented Andrea Macca (the executive chef of the company's resorts, including Trapani's Baglio Soria). Chestnut, lava stone and crater-view windows, it is a little gem that focuses on hospitality and quality cuisine to enhance the project of the wines produced. Those who want to dive into a real collection of local wines, selected and tasted one by one, vintage by vintage, should go to Cave Ox, in Solicchiata. The cuisine here offers carefully executed traditional dishes, such as tagliatelle salsiccia e cavuliceddi (tagliatelle with sausage and cabbage), which are accompanied by an impressive wine cellar. Another safe address is Terra Mia, in the midst of the vineyards between Castiglione and Solicchiata: a small lava stone palmento, with a beautiful terrace, houses a pleasant country trattoria. The dishes speak of simplicity and territorial excellence: try, in season, the specialities based on Sicilian black truffles and porcini mushrooms.

La Riserva Bistrot – loc. Verzella - Castiglione di Sicilia (CT) – riservabistrot.it

Cave Ox – via Nazionale Solicchiata, 159 – Solicchiata, Castiglione di Sicilia (CT) – caveox.it

Terra Mia – s.da prov.le 64 – Solicchiata, Castiglione di Sicilia (CT)


Founded in Norman times, this small town is rich in history, churches and monuments, and its territory extends to the summit of Mount Etna (including the ski resort of Piano Provenzana). In an ancient palace in the town, owned by the Pennisi family, is the celebrated Shalai, a boutique hotel and restaurant, with the cuisine of Giovanni Santoro, an 'indigenous' chef who interprets excellent territorial materials in refined tasting itineraries. 
Just a few steps away, there is the butcher's shop with kitchen that has been run by the Pennisi family for over 50 years, where the carnivorous proposal is divided between 'counter' and kitchen. One sits in a cosy room, amidst local and Continental (and beyond) meats, choosing from raw, cooked and grilled meats, as well as from traditional dishes, cured meats, also home-made, and cheeses. Outside the village, close to the natural park, there is 12 Fontane, a restaurant dedicated to fine dining at the Villa Neri resort (and the Casa Arrigo country house), amidst the pool and olive groves. Executive chef Elia Russo enhances and transforms the treasures of the land, with Sicilian-French technique. Valuable olive oil and wines are produced on the family's estates.

Shalai – via G. Marconi, 25 - Linguaglossa (CT) – shalai.it

In Cucina dai Pennisi – via Umberto, 9 - Linguaglossa (CT) – daipennisi.it

12 Fontane – c.da Arrigo - Linguaglossa (CT) – nerietna.com/12-fontane-ristorante

Piano Provenzana

From the centre of Linguaglossa, the Mareneve motorway (the name “sea-snow” already hints at the landscape) leads to the Ragabo pine forest and then to the ski resort of Piano Provenzana, 1800 m above sea level, also known as Etna Nord, amidst pine and oak forests and dazzling views of the Strait. Once at altitude, the lava flows cutting through the vegetation, the ancient craters and the ever-present lava stone souvenir shops remind us that this is one of Europe's most active volcanoes (the ski resort was completely wiped out by the 2002 eruption). Up here the air is crisp and the kiosks offer sandwiches with sausage on the stump, a speciality of Linguaglossa, sausage with wild fennel cut with a knife on the local oak stump. At the Monte Conca restaurant, you can taste good local cuisine, simple but well done: warm chalet atmosphere, beautiful wooden structure, try the mixed antipasto, filled with seasonal specialities.

Strolling through the woods, it is not difficult to come across Beetna's Home: three friends have set up an itinerant beehive to bring bees to Etna, produce astragalus honey and raise awareness among adults and children with educational meetings on the importance of bees for our ecosystem and biodiversity.

Ristorante Monte Conca – Etna Nord Piano Provenzana, Linguaglossa (CT) - ristorantemonteconca.com

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