OverviewThey call it the Grand Canyon of Sicily!
Well, its size isn´t really a match to its much much much bigger "brother" but regarding the scenery, the nature and hiking through it is - I think - nearly as much fun as you can get in the U.S. Grand Canyon.
Cavagrande del Cassibile, the big gorge of Cassibile creek, is located in eastern Sicily, south of the town of Siracusa in the Monti Iblei. This is a limestone plateau full of karst features and overgrown by dense macchia.
It is a west - east running canyon, about 10 km long, carved into the plateau by the Cassibile creek which runs all year round and is dammed at the beginning of the gorge to gain some electricity.
The gorge provides an unique flora, some of the plants are endemic. Their splendour enfolds in early spring until june and some flowers might blossom after the first autumn rains in october / november.
The site is protected since 1990 and there are some restrictions imposed on the whole area. See the Red Tape area below.
Cavagrande is worth while a visit the whole year round - the most interesting season surely is springtime with all the flowers and orchids blossoming.
Take the highway A 18 from Catania and Siracusa or from the direction of Noto and Gela. Leave it at the exit Avola and get on the SS 115 into the town of Avola until you reach the intersection of the SS 115 with the SP 4 in the direction of Avola Antica.
Follow SP 4, Cavagrande should be soon signposted. Follow this direction for about 6 km until you reach the indicated road to the parking area at Belvedere, the parc entrance.
Cavagrande del Cassibile is a protected area, the so called Riserva Naturale Orientata Cavagrande del Cassibile. Though you can hike and take baths in the ponds there are some things to be aware of:
You have to pay an entrance fee at the Belvedere Trailhead.
- no camping
- no fires
- no collecting of plants, parts of them or seeds is prohibited
- do not leave the trails
- do not remove or disturb the animals and birds
- bathing is allowed at the "Laghetti", the little ponds at the end of the trail and - as far a I know (and people obviously do so) at other ponds along the creek.
I did the below described route in june 2005. It is described in the below mentioned guidebook, too.
Nevertheless there are some plates along the decribed way into the canyon indicating that entering the canyon is forbidden. They weren´t very precise about that, though. As far as I understood them this has nothing to do with the "Riserva Naturale" and a maybe stronger protected part of the parc which should not be entered by hikers. Maybe the electricity company does not like having hikers as visitors. But if you stay on the trails you will not disturb anybody.
Sicilian people are very friendly especially if you try to talk to them. I taked to several people at the farmhouses while descending to the valley. Nobody told me that it really is forbidden to take this route.
The Trail - The Hike
At the Belvedere you might first pay the entrance fee and get some informations about the Riserva Naturale before you start. The normal trail starts at the fee station, zigzaging down into the canyon. This route described here will use that trail in the end.
From the Belvedere parking area our route leads back to the intersection with SP 4 road. Turn right and follow the SP 4 for about 1 km. Don´t worry too much traffic, the thing you should worry about on this road is the blasting sun ....
After 1 km you reach an intersection, take the right dirt road which leads down into a gentle valley with some farm houses. Stay on this road, pass the farm houses - if there is a dog advancing menacingly, menace it too by picking up a stone and aiming at it - the dog will retreat. If there are 5 or more dogs advancing together - you will retreat :-) No, just kidding ...
The road turns right, then left, passes another farm house. Directly after this farmhouse turn right and left again and enter a rocky plateau. Go straight on, you pass some ruins and a lonely garage and you arrive the rim of the Cassibile canyon. There are some old stone steps leading down into the gorge.
You reach the gorge bottom near the dam and the electricity plant. There is a sort of an aqueduct in the rock with a path. Follow this path, it is on the south side of the creek and a little above it. The path might be overgrown and full of thorny twines - can be a little "Via Dolorosa" but never mind. A good hike requires always a good portion of suffering, too.
The creek created two wonderful sinuosities and the path meanders with them. The second one, a sort of a natural amphitheatre is just beautiful. There is a path down to the creek and a pond. If you visit this place don´t get too much tempted to strip your clothes off - the best is yet to come ...
After the second amphitheatre the trail will become better. Just follow it straight on - there are other, sometimes better looking trails which descend or ascend - don´t use them. The trail moves up and down and offers stunning new views every 50 meters.
After a while you see a huge cavern in the rockface on the other side of the canyon, the so called Grotta dei Briganti, the robber´s cave. There are rock tombs of ancient cultures carved in. The tombs and the caves were used in later times as shelter places when there were pirate attacks or during wartimes.
At last you reach the intersection with the trail coming down from the Belvedere parking place. To get to the "Laghetti", some wonderful bathing ponds with cascades between them, follow the trail at the bottom of the valley until you reach the ponds. The biggest one offers a good swimming, the water is quite cold and refreshing, even in summer, there is a little cascade which offers a nice shower experience and there will be sweet water crabs looking at you and obviously thinking what the hell you are doing in THEIR pond ...
During mai, june and july the valley ground sparkles with blossoming oleander, as you can see on the pic.
When your refreshment requirement is satisfied go back to the trail intersection and start your ascent up to the parking area. There are several switchbacks and about 300 meters of altitude difference to overcome. Arriving at the south rim you will have a nice look back into the canyon and you surely wish those "Laghetti" being not at the bottom of the valley .....
Accomodations and Guide
You will find accomodations (hotels, b&b, camping, houses and appartments) at
Noto (wonderful baroque town, U N world heritage)
Siracusa (my favorite town in eastern Sicily - full of life and good food :-)
and full of culture!) another world heritage place.
and in the surrounding villages.
South of Avola and Noto there are very nice beaches, one within a protected area called Riserva Naturale Orientata Oasi faunistica di Vendicari. If you like hiking on the beaches and birdwatching, this is paradise for you !
As far as I know there are no good maps available.
For those who can speak german there is a quite good guide book available:
Wanderführer Sizilien und Liparische Inseln
The map within the guide is sufficient for this hike.