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The Foothills of Mount Etna

The village of Linguaglossa, 18km (11 miles) west of Taormina, is the best base for excursions to Mount Etna. From here, you can access Piano Provenzana , the main ski resort on Etna. The road around the foot of the volcano takes you through magnificent countryside where the rich soil has spawned many orchards and vineyards. If you're driving in the morning you can usually see the summit, although on hazy summer days it's often hidden by the afternoon.

Linguaglossa -- Before climbing the mountain, you may want to linger in the village of Linguaglossa. Built from black lava, it is traversed by a main street called Via Roma. At the most distant end of this street is the 17th-century church Chiesa Madre Madonna della Grazie, capped with an iron cross and opening onto Piazza Matrice.

Via Roma is covered with large and very heavy black-lava cobblestones. It begins at the Chiesa di San Francesco de Paola, known for its lavish baroque frescoes and plasterwork. Via Roma continues to the 17th-century Duomo, which is also known as Chiesa della SS. Annunziata. The stately pink-stucco Il Municipio (Town Hall) opens on Piazza Municipio, overlooking a Liberty-style monument dedicated to the Italian dead of World War I.

The tourist office, Associazione Turistica Proloco Linguaglossa, Piazza Annunziata 7 (tel. 095-643094), is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 4 to 8pm (3-7pm in winter), Sunday 9:30am to noon. Pick up brochures for area attractions and check out the mini display that showcases the local geology, including insights on the abundant lava flows.

A bus from Giardini-Naxos leaves for Linguaglossa daily at 2:55pm. If you're driving from Taormina to Linguaglossa, take the A18 south. After 12km (7 1/2 miles), take the exit marked FIUMEFREDDO. After 815m (2,674 ft.), turn left and follow the SS120 into Linguaglossa.

Randazzo -- After you explore Linguaglossa and Mount Etna, you may want to continue west to the intriguing "black town" of Randazzo, 20km (12 miles) away on Route 120. Amazingly, this town, built of lava and with a history going back to antiquity, has never been destroyed by the volcano. Most of its destruction came in 1943, when the Germans made Randazzo their last stand of resistance, and the Allies bombed the town.

Chiesa di Santa Maria, Piazza della Basilica 5 (tel. 095-921003), is a study in contrasts, its building materials of black lava contrasting with its white trim. Its black-and-white tower is a prime example of brilliant Sicilian masonry. The church dates from the 13th century and contains a 15th-century south portal built in the Catalan Gothic style. The interior opens onto impressive black-lava columns. It's open daily from 10am to noon and 4 to 6pm.

The other notable church in town, Chiesa di San Martino, Corso Umberto I (tel. 095-921003), is open daily 10am to noon and 4 to 6pm. Its impressive campanile ★, or bell tower, is from the 13th century, although the church was reconstructed in the 17th century. The black-and-white stone tower stands in dramatic contrast to the church, whose facade is adorned with reliefs of martyrs and saints.

The tourist office is at Corso Umberto I, 197 (tel. 095-7991611). It's open daily 9am to 1pm and 2 to 8pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.