The natural beauty of the Alcantara Valley

Do you enjoy trails, long walks and adventurous sports while totally immersed in pure and virgin nature?

Then the spectacular, extraordinary and mammoth Alcantara Gorges, also known as the Larderia Gorges, are definitely for you! This scenery of breath-taking beauty, which also includes waterfalls, beaches and lakes, is located in the province of Messina, in the Alcantara Valley, between the towns of Castiglione di Sicilia and Motta Camastra.

In 2010, these gorges were awarded the prestigious European Destination of Excellence award.

The Alcantara Gorges

Photo by Livia Cefaloni

The Alcantara Gorges are truly impressive and majestic: in fact, they are about 25 meters high.

At their narrowest points, they measure about 2 meters in width, while on other spots, they can reach up to five meters.

The Alcantara riverbed was formed about 300,000 years ago, although the aspect we can currently admire along the gorges stretch is the result of lava flows of the last 8,000 years. The river originates from a series of small springs from the eastern sector of Nebrodi mountains; it exhibits a water basin of over 600 km².

Finally, it flows into the Ionian Sea, covering a path of more than 50 kilometres. Alcantara river owes its fame to the particular lava rock formations clearly visible along its course: its waters’ incessant flow has brought to light its innermost lava body, with typical vertical cracks. Its bed, in fact, was reached by lava flows from Etna’s northern side in prehistoric and protohistoric times.

The famous gorges, known by same river’s name, are located within the territory of Motta Camastra, in Fondaco Motta. Their dimensions are pretty impressive: they are more than six kilometres long, whose first three can be covered quite easily.

Their sides’ structure represents the peculiarity of these gorges: the cooled basaltic lava gave rise to typically prismatic, pentagonal and hexagonal shapes. These figures recall the molecular structure of the materials lava is mainly made up of, that is mostly calcium, iron and magnesium.

Columnar basalts, precisely originated from the erosion process and the cooling of lava, are classified according to the shape they assume and their joint orientation: for this reason, they can be “organ pipe-shaped”, “harp-shaped”, ” fan-shaped ” or “wood pile-shaped”.

Photo by Livia Cefaloni

Beyond being a natural wonder, these stunning lava structures are an extraordinarily important subject for geological studies, to better trace the history of Etna’s evolution and most impressive eruptions.

The Alcantara River Park

Alcantara river’s water basin covers a considerable surface: in fact, it extends for about 600 square kilometres in the area between the metropolitan cities of Catania and Messina.

In order to protect, preserve and promote this immense natural heritage, the Alcantara River Park was established in 2001, managed by the Alcantara River Park Authority, a public body managed by the Region of Sicily.

The Park falls within the territories of 12 municipalities, including the metropolitan cities of Messina and Catania.

Flora and fauna of the Alcantara valley

If you also love photographing flora and fauna, the Alcantara Valley will delight you with lots of vegetation and numerous different animal species.

According to literary testimonies, such as Pietro Bembo’s record approximately dating to the end of the 15thcentury, the Alcantara valley was described as dense with elms, plane trees and different oak species forests. Today instead, the typical Mediterranean scrub vegetation predominates, although there are various types of trees and shrubs along the river course, depending on the altitude, the soil and the riverbed slope itself.

Flowers colour up the whole valley: violets, poppies, brooms, anemones, dog roses, orchids, peonies are a real chromatic triumph, especially along the banks!

The fauna is also rich and varied: around 200 animal species live in the Alcantara area.

In its waters, you can mainly find trouts, roaches, carps and eels. Many green frogs, common and European green toads, Mediterranean painted frogs and tree frogs live by the river banks. Furthermore, examples of foxes, wild cats, hedgehogs, porcupines, martens, dormice, ravens, little egrets and blackbirds can also be found.

The presence of leopard snakes, a rare and harmless reptile which attacks very rarely, is also noteworthy.

What to do in the Alcantara Valley

There are plenty of different activities to try in this wonderful place: in short, the Alcantara Valley can please anyone!

Firstly, it is advisable to plan your visit to the Gorges when the water level is lower and the entire route is therefore more feasible, usually between May and September, even though the river waters are always quite freezing!

Photo by Livia Cefaloni

Again, between spring and summer, it is possible to get to the beach located at the beginning of the gorges. For all sports lovers, the Valley is a real paradise on earth. The Park itself promotes some sports activities that can provide the Valley visitor with a unique experience, in complete harmony with the environment and in total respect for nature.

For hiking and trekking lovers, several trails should be mentioned, some of which start from historic centres, others offer breath-taking views over the entire Alcantara Valley. In addition, you can also take wonderful horse rides within the Park’s territory, if you love horse riding.

For the more daring, activities such as river trekking, a perfect combination of trekking, swimming and climbing, or body rafting are also carried out. The latter consists in climbing down the narrow gorges, where there is a good water flow. All without the aid of any type of equipment.

There is no shortage of events and various activities for young participants as well, or for educational school visits and trips (you can find more information on the Park’s website).

So, whether you are a nature lover, or looking for long walks and adventurous, extreme sports, the beautiful Alcantara Valley and the mammoth Gorges are a destination that you cannot fail to include in the itineraries of your next trip to Sicily!

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