Photography Tour to Mount Etna and Syracuse in Sicily

Sicily is without doubt one of my favourite destinations as it offers such photographic diversity with it’s wonderful baroque architecture, small picturesque villages, street markets, fantastic faces, superb coast and appetising and delicious food and wine.

Usually I visit Sicily in the spring or the fall but this time I chose the second half of August and discovered a different ambience pulsating with other visitors but still managed to thoroughly enjoy the trip and take a few decent photos.

Our Vueling flight to Catania was delayed 6 hours which caused a fair amount of stress as we had to pick up a hire car and drive to Nicolosi, where we were to spend the first night before going up to Etna.   We finally arrived at our hotel, Les Pendici, where the charming owner was waiting up for us well after midnight.

Due to our late arrival the idea of leaving at the crack of dawn faded but we arrived at the chairlift just after 10.00 and joined the throngs of people at the foot of Etna waiting to go up.   It only opens at 9.00 anyway so the idea of getting beautiful sunrises is not possible in this way.

Once at the top of the funivia as it is called, there are two options, to walk to the 2 main craters, Boca Nuova and Voragine or take the jeeps up as far as you can go and then walk.  We walked and I carried a canon 5D with a 70-210, a 35 F2, a fuji XE2 with a wide angled zoom and a sony video camera, of which I am quite proud! 

Fortunately, the weather was fairly clear for most of the day, which is often not the case.   On the way up it is a bleak, grey landscape.  As the clouds shift, the summit and the craters become visible.  They look quite far up!  We pass a first crater but decide to go for the two main ones, onwards and upwards.  I stop from time to time to film and take a picture of other brave souls plodding on and the crowded jeeps that pass us all the time but at last we arrive at the parking lot and right above us is the steep volcanic rock leading to those craters. 

I’m so excited that at this point I’m almost running with the cameras jangling round my neck and shoulders.  There are plenty of photos to make as you can go up and look down over the craters.  The craters themselves bear witness to past eruptions, some of the volcanic rock is red with streaks of yellow sulphur, and steam escapes in various places, proof that it is very much alive.   

For this kind of trip someone keen on photography would need both wide angle and telephoto lenses in order to to get a variety of photos.  Playing with the depth of field and shifting the focus can make for interesting pictures.  There are people in colourful clothing, and the volcanic rock can make some artsy images.

It’s cold at the top and the summit is still snow capped.  We are pleased to have hired padded jackets as without them we would never have been

able to stay any length of time. The whole of Etna looks like a gigantic photography tour with everyone taking pictures.

Back down the mountain and we bypass Catania to visit Syracuse arriving in the early evening.  I booked a great place on the island of Ortygia called Aretuza vacanze run by two brothers Ettore and Antonio.  Thanks to Ettore we screeched around the narrow streets near his b and b and he miraculously found us a free parking spot, which is gold dust in Syracuse!

Syracuse is absolutely beautiful and met all my expectations and more.  Its baroque architecture is just splendid and the Piazza del Duomo certainly one of Italy’s most spectacular.  I lived in Italy for a total of 5 years so have some comparisons I can make!  Ortygia is full of stunning palazzos and churches. The city, as with all Italian cities, comes alive at night so if you have a wide angled lens with a high f stop, take it.  If you have the courage to carry it, a monopod is a good idea too. 

The buildings need to be sharp but the blur of people moving is not bothersome and can create atmosphere in a photo as well as a good way to show how lively a place is without focusing on anyone who may not appreciate it anyway.  These days digital cameras set at 3200 iso and even higher than that, can produce pretty decent photos and with my Fuji mirror less camera I have had sharp images shot at an 1/8 of a second which is fantastic.

Syracuse has a great market too.  There was a massive fish stall with people queuing up to buy all kinds of fresh fish and seafood, and another stand with a cheerful fishmonger chopping up a huge Tuna.  There were food stands too selling delicious small fried fish and calamari plus of course vegetables, herbs and spices. There are the superb Greek ruins of Neapolis to see and a couple of beaches if you fancy a swim.

Syracuse was the first of the Baroque towns that we visited but a foray into the others is an absolute must for those interested in art and history not to mention photography, as all of Sicily is just dripping in potential photos.  I will talk more about them in the next blog.