The highlands of western Sicily are famous for their solitary mountains - or rather rocks. Most of them show very impressive steep, sometimes vertical faces. Rocca Busambra is one example, maybe even the most impressive, but the most visible, most outstamding one is Monte San Calògero. The claim that the mountain belongs to the western highlands might seem far fetched as it is located almost centrally on the north coast of Sicily. Yet it is separated from the last of the big Sicilian mountain ranges, Le Madonie, by a deep and wide valley, the valley of Himera, the ancient Greek bath on the north coast (today: Termini Imerese). And this valley serves as a separation between the eastern and western parts of the island.
Monte San Calògero is the first mountain you encounter west of the valley – and what a mountain it is! Though “only” 1326m in height, these 1326m (4000+feet) rise almost directly out of the sea at Termini Imerese. A narrow strip of flat plains to the north, the equally flat Himera Valley to the east and you can perhaps imagine what the mountain looks like. For me it was obvious at first sight that I had to climb that mountain – at whatever cost!
The cost, however is not as high as might be expected, as Monte San Calògero is connected with the long ridge of Monte dell’Uomo by a high plateau so that the ascent is greatly facilitated if undertaken from the south-western side. Though the west-, north- and east faces all are very steep and though the normal route climbs through the west face, the ascent is nevertheless not much more than a mere, though exposed, hike. Thanks to the exposure above the green sea at Termini Imerese the west face traverse is one of the most beautiful hikes I have done in years.
Monte San Calògero is a twin summitted mountain. The main summit is located to the west and reaches 1326m while the east summit reaches just 1280m. Be sure to follow the ridge to the side summit as it awards the better views towards the coast below (and the impressive north face of the main summit). Speaking of views – a solitary mountain like Monte San Calògero naturally offers the best views to all sides around – if – and that is rare near that big boiling pot of Palermo – the Sicilian haze clears for a moment.
As for the weather – Monte San Calògero creates its own. Again this solitary mountain is a focal point of all weather changes on the north Sicilian coast and whenever there is a cloud in sight, it will hover above or around Monte San Calògero’s summit. On the day we climbed it, it took about 10 minutes for a tiny cloud to evolve into a large cloudcap which encompassed the whole summit and another five or ten minutes for it to turn into a black thunderhead. The upwinds around the mountain force the moist air from the sea to rise very swiftly, thus forming huge clouds. Thunder- and hailstorms are not uncommon there.
On the positive side these upwinds together with the rock faces provide ample living grounds for all kinds of bird of prey. From falcon to eagle you can find anything there (anything that lives on Sicily of course). This in return provides you with the curious sight of large eagles seemingly hunt among the gardens of Termini Imerese, as you watch from the summit above. Quite naturally this is an optical illusion but it is nevertheless rare to see eagles so close to large human towns and cities.
As mentioned above, Monte San Calògero is the lookout mountain of Sicily. Located solitarily it offers great views towards the coast to the north and the mountains to all other sides. We climbed the mountain on a very hazy day, however, which later turned into a rainstorm. Still some of the beauty may be seen from these shots.
Getting ThereSicily can be reached from all Italian and the major European airports by plane. There are two large international airports, one at Catania in the east and one at Palermo. Since Palermo is much closer to the mountain than Catania my itinerary starts here. Also, Palermo is the main ferry port in the area.
From Palermo airport
- Take motorway A29 direction Palermo
- In Palermo the motorway turns into a four laned city highway which circles the city to its south
- The city highway turns into motorway A19 / A20 direction Catania and Messina
- Turn off at the exit Termini Imerese and head south for Càccamo
- In Cáccamo use the circumference road around town which rejoins with the downtown main road at the southern end of the town.
- Shortly before the roads join, take a VERY steep street to the left, which heads out east directly towards Monte San Calògero.
- There is a small hamlet Madonna di Santa Nicola, where you can start the climb.
AccommodationYou can quite easily find hotel rooms and apartments everywhere on the coasts. All European travel companies offer accommodation so a visit to your nearest travel office will find you some. In the mountains themselves accommodation is much harder to come by. Since camping is not allowed (see red tape) you have to ask at the local inns. Moreover there are some farms which offer “agriturismo” though on Sicily this often means only food and no rooms.
For Monte San Calògero either Palermo, Termini Imerese or Cefalù are the closest towns in which to look for rooms, apartmens or campgrounds.
Monte San Calògero has its own natural preserve. There are eagle eyries in the San Calogero north face and you can often see the large birds circling underneath. Still the area is used agriculturally but construction is not permitted. In the Sicilian parks you can climb and hike almost everywhere. Obstacles are the many barbed wire fences, which however can be crossed. They serve only for the pastures and to keep cattle sheep and horses from getting lost in the vast terrain.
Camping is not tolerated in the preserve, better look for accommodation in the nearby towns and villages (Termini Imerese). The northern coast of Sicily is close by and there you will be able to find all kinds of accommodation.
Sicily is located very close to northern Africa (Marsala on the west coast is closer to Tunis than to any place on the Italian mainland), thus temperatures can get very high. March, April and early May are the best months if you plan to hike the mountains, the winter can be wet, the summer scorchingly hot. Monte San Cal'ogero, though not very high is the highest place for miles around. It creates its own weather and thus can shroud itself in clouds very quickly. Also thunderstorms are not uncommon around its summit.
Here the nearest weatherunderground link for Palermo:
Maps & Books
Unfortunately there are no current topographic maps of Sicily. The best are reported to be more than 50 years old and probably are the same as the basis for the digital maps of atlanteitaliano.it.
As a workaround you can use street maps for general orientation together with a good guidebook (see below). The most accurate maps are scaled 1:200000, sometimes detailing everything down to forest and dirt roads through the mountains. I settled for
Mairs Geographischer Verlag
Since there are no good topographical maps of Sicily you should take care to get a good guidebook. The one I used is in general excellent. For Monte San Calogero the route descriptions were very accurate. The book is available in German and English.
- Sizilien / Sicily