First I will attempt to put this day in perspective. If for some ever reason, on the way to our hotel, I would have gotten kidnapped, blindfolded, and left in a room somewhere where I would get abused in ways I can not describe for 15 days. All while able to watch only reruns of Full House, and eat nothing but olives and 2 day old bread. It still would have been a good day.
I may have to dig the archive or consult with Eating With Ziggy Historians to see if I ever wrote about a tour guide before. I recall writing about some special accommodations, and experiences, but never really about a particular guide or an experience quite like this. Guides are becoming a bigger part of our travels which is ironic in a way since its easier than ever these days to research a destination. I think it was in Portugal when we realized that guides provide much more than information about the subjects you hire them for (food, attractions, etc). Guides can also help you connect with the local culture, and provide you with an experience that is a lot more meaningful than doing it on your own.
As a result, wife and I had our share of tours over the years. Some private, some not so. Some guides we found are extremely knowledgeable, but then turn into encyclopedic funeral directors who put you to sleep. Some are fun and pleasant to be around, but are not that engaging with kids. We basically figured out that the most important trait of a guide is not something you can detect from email exchanges or even reviews. Personality! Ok, enough reviews do help, but they can easily mislead when guides are likable. Though in the case of Davide of Continente Sicilia, out of 121 Trip Advisor reviews as of this writing, only one is lower than 5 stars (4 stars)
You can not possibly design a better tour guide. Recent deregulation now allow anyone to essentially become a tour guide of Mt Etna, and as a result Mt Etna tourism simply took off. These days most tours out there are operated by knowledgeable but unlicensed guides hoarding tourists on buses, or jeep around the mountain in areas where vehicles arent permitted. Davide was already licensed before the recent deregulation took place, and is one of a few “Licensed” tour guides remaining. Did I hype this guy to unmet expectations already? Good! 😉
I even put full trust in Davide with more serious matters. Breakfast! Davide and Lya run the comfortable Agon, a B&B just outside Taormina, by the sea. Convenient with a car, quiet, and spectacularly fresh baked goodies on offer in the morning courtesy of La Dolceria in nearby Giardini Naxos. After the tour when Davide learned about my struggles to find Gelsi Neri (Mulberry) Granits (first world problems), he took us straight to the bakery where the Granita was fresher than the one in the famed Caffè Sicilia in Noto
We started the day at Alcantara Gorge for the first wow moment of the day and the entire trip really. We kept struggling with the name (including my Auto-correct), and kept calling it Alcatraz. I was fully expecting Davide to take us to the touristy location you see on TA, but instead he took us to a remote location without a human in sight. It was just us, and 5 very surprised cows, the only Alcatraz inmates. Davide explained the geology of the area, and the rich fauna and flora, much of which we witnessed. Then we briefly stopped at the picturesque Castiglione di Sicilia, and Linguaglossa (literally means Tongue Tongue) nearby where we picked up sandwiches and tasted some of the most delicious baked ricotta we ever had.
The hike on Etna Nord couldn’t have been more perfect. We walked about 6-8 km which was a good fit for my family. The way I tell the degree of fun is by the amount of “are we there yet” “what’s next”, “when do you think we’ll back, I have to check how many likes I got on the picture I took yesterday” from the youngest. Zero! Not a word, as she was not only having a blast, but found new and improved selfie opportunities. We take full advantage of our National Parks in the USA, and this was as spectacular as it gets. Steep at times but manageable. The contrast of the colors, the craters, the fractures, the dead Lord of the Rings trees (it will catch on, you heard it here first). At the top of a crater (one of many) every 50 meters yielded a different spectacular view. Davide provided walking sticks that came in handy
At one point while walking behind Davide I saw him pick up a small water bottle cap from the ground which seemed a little strange when taking into account the massiveness of this place. His knowledge and love for this mountain is very evident. Quite possibly the most easy going, fun to be around guide we’ve ever met. One you want to be friends with, and who is interested in you just as much as the tour. A tour full of intangibles, like the knowledge and understanding we got about Palermo and its struggles with the mafia. A tour I cant recommend enough