A stage through inland Sicily with a summit finish. The stage starts in Avola, passing Noto (the capital of Sicilian Baroque), Pantalica and Vizzini. In the approach to the volcano, the route undulates continuously, with no major climbs, though. Outside the urban areas, the road surface may be damaged at points. Inside the urban areas, the roads are usually narrow, with the common obstacles found in these settings.
The stage finishes by the Rifugio Sapienza, as it has already done before, but the closing ascent is original. The climb begins in Biancavilla and intersects the Strada Milia (as in the 2018 Giro). Past the astrophysical observatory, the route merges onto the road coming from Nicolosi, heading for a ‘traditional’ finale at the Rifugio Sapienza.
The last 3 km are on wide and well-paved road. The road winds its way along wide hairpins, mostly on lava fields. There is a mild counterslope with 500 m to go, before the final U-turn (250 m before the finish). Here, the road goes up again along the home stretch (200 m, 3% uphill grade), leading to the finish line, on 7 m wide asphalt road.
start / finish
The town of Avola, which nestles comfortably between the Ionian Sea and the gentle slopes of the Hyblaean Mountains, is the ideal place for travellers in search of multisensory experiences. Every year, our sea and beautiful beaches are crowded with thousands of tourists.
Cavagrande del Cassibile Nature Reserve, with its lakes, the necropolis and wild orchids, is a unique experience for nature lovers and archaeological enthusiasts coming from every part of Europe.
The carnival of Avola is particularly well-known, as one of the best among others in Sicily and Italy, and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Peak season is summer, and coincides with a varied programme which, drawing from tradition and innovation, includes important religious festivities, as well as cultural, musical, sports and food and wine events which involve the whole town.
The spacious Piazza Umberto I Square, once Piazza Maggiore, is situated in the middle of the town centre, renowned for its hexagonal plan. From there, the Baroque streets originate and finally lead to the breath-taking Cavagrande del Cassibile and Vendicari nature reserves. The flat town site is located in an extraordinary landscape and climatic context, caressed by the warm, golden beaches of the Ionian Sea, and the cool Hyblaean uplands filled with the essence of aromatic herbs.
The Ionic coast, overlooked by Avola, stands out for its sun-drenched, sandy beaches. Freely accessible or endowed with beach facilities, they alternate with fascinating cliffs, and allow people to enjoy a crystal clear sea and do the most popular water sports during the long, hot Sicilian summer
The Almond of Avola has ancient origins and, together with its vineyards and lemon orchards, characterises its territory. During the first half of the 20th century, almond cultivation was the leading economic sector of the town. By the 19th century, the botanist Giuseppe Bianca (Avola, 1801-1883) had already studied the local varieties and encouraged the production of hard-shell cultivars such as Pizzuta, Fascionello and Romana.
In early February, the almond trees in full blossom are a spectacular sight. The variety most cultivated is Pizzuta, resulting in a quality product appreciated all over the world, chosen for its incomparable organoleptic properties. Nowadays, the processing and commercialization of the almonds of Avola take place in qualified local companies.
Undoubtedly, Pizzuta is the most employed variety in confectionery, too. Its oval shape was praised by the writer Leonardo Sciascia, who compared it to the Annunziata’s perfect oval visage painted by the Sicilian Antonello da Messina. On such type of almonds, sugar assumes a flawless shape, without needing the addition of other ingredients. Thanks to the notable organoleptic properties of the almonds employed, the resulting confetti (sugared almonds) are a top-quality product, in high demand on the national and international market. Furthermore, if you happen to visit Avola, you must try almond granita and milk. Sicilian cuisine also combines almonds with local seafood in order to enhance its taste.
To find out more about its history, you can visit the Museum of the almond and other typical products of Avola, in viale La Pira.
Another well-known, excellent product offered by the territory is Nero D’Avola. Avola’s deep-rooted wine-making tradition is attested by a coin from Abolla, a Byzantine town mentioned by Stefano Bizantino in the 5th century A.D., from which the current town is probably descended. One side of the coin depicts an ox, symbol of lush pastures and fertile soils; on the other one, a fat bunch of grapes celebrates the quality of the wines locally produced.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Londoner John Dryden, son of the famous English poet, while on holiday in Sicily and Malta, sojourned for some time in Avola, where he tasted its fine wines. Their high quality was later confirmed by other travellers, too.
The winegrowing and winemaking techniques were similar to those employed in the nearby city of Syracuse, as Giuseppe Bianca stated in his Monografia agraria del territorio d’Avola (1878). That reveals how the Hellenic methods and traditions persisted in the two adjacent territories until the second half of the 19th century.
The vine named after Avola is cultivated on short tree stumps, as was handed down by the Ancient Greeks, and allows current companies to produce excellent wines for the demanding international market. A delicious, full-bodied wine, Nero d’Avola is characterised by an intense ruby colour, at times amber, and a delicate, harmonious flavour. Served at 15-18°C, it is usually paired with different types of meat (grilled, roast, game or with sauces),
The theatre, expressly requested by the citizens, was erected on the foundations of a church that the monks of the adjacent Monastery of St Dominic had started building, without ever completing it. The theatre’s front overlooked Piazza Santa Venera which, after its construction, changed its name to Piazza Teatro. The elegant building, horseshoe-shaped and with three tiers of boxes, according to the Italian tradition, was started in March 1872.
As for the architectural aspects, the main sources of inspiration were the theatres Santa Cecilia, Palermo, whose front had been conceived by the architect Giuseppe Di Bartolo Morselli, and Piermarini’s Teatro della Scala, Milan. Stage machinery was designed by the engineer Fortunato Querian, active in Teatro San Carlo, Naples. The Town Theatre, completed in December 1875, was inaugurated the following year in April, while in 1882 it was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, on the occasion of his death. Of special interest is the façade in Neo-Renaissance style, made out of golden ashlar.
On the first floor, in the foyer originally conceived as a Concert Hall, a musical exhibition documents the story of the theatre and its prominent personalities, including the memorabilia and musical scores of the composer Salvatore Falbo (Avola, 1872-1927).
Chiesa Madre, the first church ever built in the town and documented in the Vatican with the name of San Nicolò (1308), was destroyed by the same earthquake that, on 11th January 1693, devastated the rest of the town.
For its reconstruction, not far from the coast and the Matubè estate, the marquis of Avola Giovanna and Nicolò Pignatelli Aragona Cortés sent Jesuit architect Angelo Italia (Licata 628 – Palermo 1700) from Palermo. On 16th March 1693, he started to trace the hexagonal perimeter of the new town and the two main street axes: the perpendicular intersection where the cardo (Corso Garibaldi) meets the decumanus (Corso Vittorio Emanuele), which also recalls the Christian cross, determined the centre of the urban plan. Around that, the architect defined a square area, which became the site of Piazza Maggiore (nowadays Piazza Umberto I). On 6th April of the same year, the cornerstone was laid in a corner of the square chosen by Italia; at the same time, the first town cemetery, connected to St Sebastian’s crypt, was built under the current parvise.
Of particular interest is the “tower façade” (facciata a torre), which, conceived at the end of the 17th century, anticipated the late Baroque churches built in Val di Noto during the 18th century. Made of white stone coming from the Palma’s quarry, it has a straight, Renaissance surface. The first order, subdivided into five parts by pilasters with Tuscan capitals, has two niches with the statues of the Virgin and St Joseph with Baby Jesus. The side doors are identical to those in the church of San Sebastiano, Ferla.
The most peculiar part of the building, rich in Baroque details, is the parvise, a sacred area circumscribed in 1774 by ten tall pedestals decorated with acanthus leaf in the rococo style, on which large, sandstone statues have been erected. Formerly, two of them stood on each side of the central portal.
Cava Grande del Cassibile Nature Reserve
The Hyblaean Plateau is cut through by deep canyons. The most spectacular one, for its depth and breath-taking landscapes, is Cava Grande del Cassibile, which the artist Houël described in his Voyage pittoresque (Paris, 1785) as one of the wonders of Sicily.
Established in 1984, the nature reserve includes the protohistoric necropolis of Cassibile (1000-800 B.C.) and the ddieri, limestone caves arranged on several floors dating back to the Byzantine period.
The belvedere is a panoramic view that can be reached through the lane departing from the provincial road Avola-Manghisi-Palazzolo. From there, you can admire the Cunziria cave, a rupestrian site used for leather tanning, consisting of several openings arranged on three levels.
The landscape is dominated by the magnificent sight of Mount Etna and the port of Syracuse, while at the bottom flow the clear waters of river Cassibile, Cacyparis in ancient Greek, originating lovely ponds where people love to refresh themselves in the summer.
The Old Market-Place
In the ancient site, the town market was situated in the Piano dell’Orologio, and consisted of caves and small shops where food was stored and sold. After the 1693 earthquake, the new market was held on three of the sides of Piazza Maggiore, while on the fourth one was erected the Clock Tower, just like in the destroyed ancient town.
The sale of goods continued until 1839, when, with the inauguration of the new street Syracuse-Modica in 1844, the main town square was expected to be more prestigious.
The marketplace was moved to another site; however, after the Unification of Italy, new regulations on public health imposed the construction of a covered market. Consequently, the ground on which previously stood a Benedictine monastery was chosen as the new market location, and the project assigned to architect Salvatore Rizza (Avola 1830 – 1895) by the Town Council and Mayor Gaetano D’Agata.
The new Town Marketplace, among the most fascinating in Sicily, was built between 1892 and 1895 on the north-west side of the hexagonal perimeter designed by Angelo Italia. The front of the neoclassical building, made out of fine Hyblaean white stone, overlooks a wide courtyard enclosed by railings, and includes an elegant loggia with round arches. The cornice contains the big stone town coat of arms, with a cross and three bees, a symbol of industriousness.
Since the 15th century, Santa Venera, the patron saint of Avola, had its temple in the Marchi quarter, on the east slope of the steep mountain where the ancient town was once located. Only the sculpture and the relics of the saint survived the 1693 earthquake, and were afterwards moved to the church of the new urban site, conceived to be earthquake proof by architect Angelo Italia.
The building was erected in Strada Cassaro (now Corso Garibaldi). The name Santa Venera was also employed for one of the town quarters and the square overlooked by the church, which later changed its name into Piazza Teatro.
The bright eighteenth-century façade is made out of Hyblaean white stone. At the sides of the first order, marked by pilasters with Tuscan capitals, there are two niches decorated with shell motifs and rococo details. The central section is dominated by the massive portal, above which stands the cartouche, and characterised by the subtle perspective effects created by the pilasters with Ionic capitals and festoons. The second order is delimited by two obelisks and two volutes. The original dome collapsed during the earthquake that took place in January 1848, and was rebuilt by engineer Luigi Cassone on the pre-existing octagonal drum.
The chapel is located at the end of the right aisle and contains the saint’s simulacrum. This more recent statue was created in Naples in 1863 by Raffaele Abbate, while its silver covering, where rose motifs prevail, was made in Catania by Emanuele Puglisi Cadullo in 1864. The chapel is characterised by delicate painted flowers and fine majolica floor tiles dating back to 1827.
Borgo Marinaro and Vecchia Tonnara
In recent years, a place in town has undergone a profound transformation: Borgo Marinaro, the old fishing village where, thanks to a series of redevelopment projects, is now possible to enjoy the crystal-clear waters of one of the finest beaches in the area. Popular among young people and families, it is one of the major tourist attraction in town, supported by parking lots, bars and a traffic-restricted area.
Borgo Marinaro also includes a monument of historical importance: the old Tonnara, the picturesque building where fished tunas were cleaned and processed. In the past, it was one of the major economic resources of the town, originally called “Tonnara di Fiume di Noto”, since the nets employed in this sophisticated system were dropped from the cliff near the mouth of the river Assinaro. This profitable business was at first rented from the Royal Court, then sold in 1650. At the end of the 17th century it was renamed “Tonnara di Fiume di Noto e Caponero”, the two adjacent fishing facilities having been merged. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that the building assumed the name “Tonnara di Avola”.
In the same period, the ownership passed to the Impellizzeri family of Noto; one century later to the Nicolacis of Villadorata. As a consequence of bankruptcy, it was purchased in 1902 by the Loreto family of Avola, who renovated the building and installed a plant for the production of tinned tuna. The business shut down in 1959.
Great example of Industrial Archaeology, the Tonnara consisted of several parts. Particularly enchanting was its loggia, with its elegant arch facing the sea, used in summer to unload and weigh the tunas, in winter as a boathouse.
Etna-Nicolosi (Rif. Sapienza)
Nicolosi, a town on the slopes of Etna, was built around the twelfth century by those who lived in the areas surrounding the monastery of S. Nicolò La Rena, now the seat of the Etna Park Authority. It has been rebuilt several times. We remember the terrible eruption of 1669, which originated the Monti Rossi, reaching the city of Catania and the sea and the subsequent lava flows of 1776 and 1886. Despite the damage caused by the numerous lava flows and earthquakes, the city was able to be reborn and to offer visitors the extraordinary natural beauties and modern services, hotel facilities, typical restaurants and becoming a source of pride in the Etna area, so much so that it deserves the nickname of “Porta dell’Etna”. The healthy and temperate climate even in summer and the luxuriant pines make your stay enchanting. Nicolosi hosts events and events throughout the year that attract crowds of visitors. A pleasant holiday resort, the town has linked its name to tourism and excursions to Mount Etna. Today it is a town that, thanks to the will and initiative of its administrators and its inhabitants, represents a driving force for tourism in the Etna area.
Nicolosi stands out in the Etnea area for a typical bread made with rye semolina: the black bread of Immanu which during famines, due to the rustic nature of the species, still managed to feed the population. Probably the first seeds were introduced from Germany by the Benedictine monks themselves who around the fourteenth century had founded the monastery of S. Nicolò. The traditional Nicolosita gastronomy draws its origins from the peasant culture and is based on “poor”, simple and genuine dishes based on local agriculture. Among the first courses, therefore, the pasta with legumes (pasta cch’i cicira, pasta with chickpeas, for the feast of San Giuseppe), with wild fennel, broccoli (vrocculi affucati), cauliflower, asparagus wild. Among the latter we mention the “aggrassato” veal (cooked slowly with onion and wine), ‘u fassumauru (meat rollé), roasted lamb and sweet and sour wild rabbits. Obviously, dishes based on mushrooms found in the woods surrounding the town are prepared. Typical almond and pistachio desserts, nougat and soft nougats, copper (a biscuit with a soft cocoa heart, covered with a dark chocolate glaze, delicately spiced) and skiers (sweet “cca liffia”: a chocolate), the substantial biscuit preferred by hikers departing or returning from Etna. The fried raviole stuffed with ricotta, cassatele, prickly pear mustazzoli, stuffed mustazzoli are linked to the Christmas tradition. Always typical of the Etna villages ù ciciliu or “cuddura” (probably from the ancient Greek κολλύρα (kollura) which means crown and originally emphasized the shape of toasted bread), linked to the Easter festival. In ancient times it was given to children as a sign of the risen Christ. In addition to traditional foods, Nicolosi boasts a huge variety of pizzerias and restaurants where you can enjoy excellent pizzas, and many varieties of fish and meat dishes, sushi, Mexican foods etc. etc. all accompanied by the excellent wines of Etna.
Church of the Holy Spirit
Located in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Nicolosi, it is the largest church in the country. Rebuilt on the same site to a design by Vaccarini between 1730 and 1750 after the earthquake of 1693, it has an imposing volume, a vertical momentum and more valuable materials than the previous construction. The bell tower stands next to the church in full architectural autonomy, adorned with two imposing cornices and a double base in lava stone. Inside the building you can see a small section of ancient floor dating back to 1669, a magnificent wooden crucifix and a painting of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Sorrows by unknown authors; to these are added a valuable organ attributed to Cinquemani, a wooden choir of the seventeenth century, an oil painting by Michele Rapisardi depicting Sant’Antonio da Padova, frescoes by the Baron, ceiling and dome paintings by Conti-Consoli, plaster high-reliefs by Tower placed on the altar (the last supper, Sant’Antonio da Padova and the donkey).
Museum of ceramic coated lava stone
The first information on the ceramicization of lava stone dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century by Filippo Severati. The technique was taken up and developed by the master Barbaro Messina, a multifaceted artist, from the second half of the 1960s. With his research, Messina has revolutionized the world of majolica lava stone using it, not only for vases, plates, small tools; but also as a support for design objects and works of art. The extraordinary qualities of this material, namely durability, indestructibility and resistance to thermal shocks, offer various possibilities of use; in addition, following the ceramization process, this type of stone does not stain, does not retain grease, repels limestone and is easy to maintain. The creativity of the master Messina and the ability to translate the image of the Etna area into shapes determine the success of his artisanal and artistic production and the recognition as a living human treasure by Unesco. At the end of the nineties, thanks to the bond created between the master Messina and the Municipality of Nicolosi, which has always been a privileged place for the extraction and processing of lava stone, the School Museum of Ceramics on Etna Lava Stone was inaugurated in the artisan area of the Municipality.
House-Museum of peasant civilization
Located in via Garibaldi is an ancient millstone where there is a museum dedicated to the arts, aids and customs of the inhabitants belonging to the local peasant civilization. In this place it is possible to admire some artifacts relating to the pressing of grapes such as a tank, a press and some vats. Continuing on the ground floor there is a stable with food and barn where a “cart” and other objects relating to work in the fields are exhibited. The other rooms make up the “ispenza”, or pantry, where you can admire containers of wine, oil, wheat and some furnishings. The kitchen corner has storage rooms for wood and coal and an oven equipped with bread-making tools. The reception is located on the same floor, enriched by several display cases containing small finds relating to the peasant and pastoral civilization and tools of the artisan workshops of the time. Upstairs there is a small room for toilets and two bedrooms in which, in addition to the furnishings, a wooden weaving loom, a sewing machine, an ancient cradle and various religious and popular objects are also exhibited.
The Palmento Montesanto
Where the tools and objects typical of the rural life of the inhabitants of the foothills are exhibited, is accessible from inside the “Giuseppe Anselmi” Municipal Park and was donated to the Municipality of Nicolosi by the Montesanto family. Il Palmento, in the “Greek” style, dates back to 1881 and has recently been structured. On the occasion of the Summer of San Martino, the preparation of the must is revived in the millstone, carried out by the “pistaturi” who, with the costumes of the time, retrace the ancient tradition of grape pressing.
Offices of the Etna Park:
The Etna Park, headquartered in Nicolosi, was established on March 17, 1987 and is the first naturalistic body in Sicily. With its 59,000 hectares, it has the primary task of protecting a unique natural environment and the extraordinary landscape that surrounds the highest active volcano in Europe. The territory has been divided into four areas which correspond to different levels of protection as established by the legislator. In the “Integral Reserve” area (zone A) nature is preserved in its entirety by limiting human intervention to a minimum; the “General Reserve” area (zone B) is characterized by plots of land where there are peasant houses that recall the old rural architecture. Finally, the “Protection and controlled development” area (zones C and D) is significantly man-made in respect of the landscape and the environment. At the center of the ecosystem of the Park is Mount Etna, a World Heritage Site, with its lithological border of 250 km, the height of about 3,350 m a.s.l. and an area of approximately 1,260 km². The Park includes 20 municipalities in the province of Catania: Adrano, Belpasso, Biancavilla, Bronte, Castiglione di Sicilia, Giarre, Linguaglossa, Maletto, Mascali, Milo, Nicolosi, Pedara, Piedimonte Etneo, Ragalna, Randazzo, Santa Maria di Licodia, Sant ‘Alfio, Trecastagni, Viagrande, Zafferana Etnea; all of these municipalities have a population of about two hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.
Piazzale Rifugio Sapienza
Located at an altitude of 1,910 meters above sea level on the southern slope of Etna, in the territory of the municipality of Nicolosi (CT). It is in fact the base of the Etna Sud ski resort, located at the end of the road that goes up the south-east side of Etna from Catania with the ski lifts that branch off alongside it with the Etna cableway.