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23km (14 miles) SW of Taormina, 31km (19 miles) N of Catania, 60km (37 miles) S of Messina.

Looming menacingly over the coast of eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is the highest and largest active volcano in Europe, and there's always a layer of smoke drifting from its summit. The peak has changed in size over the years, and continues to do so thanks to constant eruptions, but at the time of writing was 3,329m (10,922 ft.). Etna has been very active in modern times, wiping out entire villages and wreaking havoc along its way.

Nevertheless, Etna is a continually changing entity: The experience you have will depend on the day you find yourself there, and the time of year. You may witness an explosion from the side of the crater, as a new crater forms and, along with a fright, see a column of rock, ash, and smoke burst into the sky. Whenever you visit there's likely to be some volcanic dust swirling around, which can make life awkward for asthma sufferers and wearers of contact lenses. On a clear summer's day you can see some great views, but equally on a cloudy day visibility is poor and you may find the trip disappointing. It's best to try and go in the morning when generally it's clearer. At any time of year bear in mind that temperatures at the summit will be cooler than those below, so take layers of clothing including a hat and gloves because even in May it can be bitterly cold and windy.

There is no shortage of activities along the mountain: Besides volcano buffs, it attracts skiers, hikers, cyclers, and all who want to be at one with nature in this place so seemingly removed from the Mediterranean. From its domineering position over the island, the views go on forever on a clear day.