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Cycling tourism

Giro d'italia

Stage 4 | Avola - Etna - Nicolosi

Duration
1 day
Difficulty
Hard
Best Period

April, May, September

Pedalling among the splendours of the late Baroque, orange-scented fields, lava flows and clouds. There is all this and much more in the itinerary presented here. A dive into the most authentic Sicily that will make you not want to leave again.

 

Name of the game: diversity

The golden sandy beaches of Sicily’s Ionian coast, squeezed between the Mediterranean maquis and the slowly sloping turquoise sea, to the delight of children. The Plain of Catania, aka ‘Chiana’ for the people of Catania, a wide alluvial plain with a very dry climate, lush and fertile owning to the activity of the volcano. It is in this land, which is also rich in olives and cereals, that the famous Sicilian Red Oranges are grown. Finally, the Etna Park, the first to be established in this region, in 1987: 59 thousand hectares of bio-diversity where woods, craters, lava flows, native plants and crops embrace and protect the highest active volcano in Europe.

 

Riding the bike in Eastern Sicily

The itinerary, inspired to the fourth stage of the Giro d’Italia 2022, can be interpreted in two ways. For the bicycle lovers it is just a sport 170-km course – the first half within everyone’s reach and the final assault on Etna has the feel of a feat. For the most romantic ones, though, it can even become an existential journey: a route that goes from the holiday dimension of the coast to the more intimate dimension of the villages and rural hinterland, to the solitary dimension of a rugged and seductive mountain that resembles an alien planet. This guide encompasses both approaches, so that each of you can build the experience that suits you best. 

Avola and Noto, taste and wonder hand in hand

giro d italia 4 noto

The course start is set in Avola, the town overlooking the Ionian coast. But with no hurry. While you’re here, don’t miss the chance to taste the perfect oval, that of the world-famous almonds. To these delicacies, as well as to Nero d’Avola, one of Sicily’s most renowned wines, is dedicated the Museum of the Almonds and typical products of Avola, just outside the historic centre: a journey through peasant traditions with a final tasting. Another place not to be missed is the disused tuna fishery (tonnara in Italian), perhaps at sunset, and then sit down in a small restaurant in the old fishing village. Now you can start the itinerary, which in this first stretch is flat and easy enough. Take it as a warm-up, also because after less than 10 kilometres you will arrive at another place that requires a break.

Noto, which since 2002 (along with seven other towns) has been part of the Val di Noto UNESCO World Heritage Site. The late Baroque architecture here is so explosive that it is like being in a theatre set. The Cathedral of San Nicolò, with its majestic staircase, is the image that you will keep in your heart.

Inland, surrounded by art and literature

giro d'italia 4 capital with decoration

From this point, the route turns inland with no major climbs. There are two villages where a pit stop is a must. The first is Palazzolo Acreide – 634 metres above sea level – is the village founded on the ancient Greek sub-colony of Akrai, in the upper part of the town, some remains of which are still visible. This town is another Baroque jewel (it is also part of the Val di Noto UNESCO site), so you will be fascinated by the ancient patrician palaces and churches, above all the Basilica of San Sebastiano with its elegant volutes and that of San Paolo with its Corinthian capitals. After passing the junction for Buccheri, we descend towards Vizzini, the birthplace of Giovanni Verga. Among the narrow streets of this small town, some of his novels come to life. Some examples? Palazzo Trao is the home of Donna Trao, who marries Mastro Don Gesualdo. Palazzo La Gurna is the building where the wedding banquet is held. While the Church of Santa Teresa is the Osteria where Turiddu and Alfio exchange the kiss of the challenge in Cavalleria Rusticana.

On the volcano. Or is it the moon?

giro d italia 4 rifugio sapienza

Upon rolling across the plain of Catania, your gaze is caught by “a Muntagna”, which majestically awaits you. The ascent on the volcano, the gruelling climb of this first stage of the Giro d’Italia, begins in Biancavilla – 534 metres – in the foothills. It climbs up to meet the Strada Milia and, past the Astrophysical Observatory, starts the road from Nicolosi. The course runs on wide roadways, surrounded by lava flows, but the gradient often reaches 10-12%, with a 13% peak in one short section. basically, it is a stretch for trained people. However, the finish at the 1920 metres of the Rifugio Sapienza will make up for all your efforts. This is a historic building, the construction of which began shortly before the Second World War and was completed by the Italian Alpine Club after the war. In recent years, it has also become a symbol of good cuisine, a triumph of meat, caponata, parmigiana, mushroom and pistachio dishes. But it is the landscape that makes it unforgettable: look around and you will feel like you are on the moon.

By RCS Sport editorial staff