The undisputed protagonist of eastern Sicily, Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, dominates its surroundings and extends across 59,000 hectares including 20 villages. The area, in continual change due to frequent eruptions, is surprisingly fertile and variegated. Cultivated countryside, citrus fruits, pistachios and prickly pears, vineyards with ancient grape presses line the lower slopes, while higher up dense forests make way for a lunar landscape of old lava flows near the summit. Sicily’s most important natural possession, Etna offers incredible scenery and innumerable pathways ideal for nature lovers, hiking and for winter sports. The ski resorts of Linguaglossa and Nicolosi offer the opportunity to ski down snowy volcanic slopes with the sea in the distance, in a wonderful fusion of ice, fire and water. Nicolosi is also an ideal base for excursionists wishing to climb the volcano: the upper craters can be reached by cable car or with a guide in a jeep from Rifugio Sapienza. The wineries along the Strada del Vino Etna DOC are also well worth a visit.