Monte Grotta Grande north ridge
The town of Isnello, which is located in the Madonie Mountain Range of Sicily is surrounded by impressive mountains and rock faces to each side. To the east there is Pizzo Carbonara, Sicily's second highest mountain, a vast massif of karst-like limestone, to the south you find the group of Monte dei Cervi, quite accessible from this side and to the north Pizzo di San Angelo overlooks the Isnello basin. The most impressive of these mountains, however, is the lowest one: Monte Grotta Grande, a mere 1064m high.
Look down onto Isnello from one of the saddles of the carbonara massif in it becomes obvious why: directly above Isnello, separated by a deep canyon, a vertical rock face towers over the town. Near the top of that face there is a huge cavern, which in fact gave the mountain its name. The face, the Monte Grotta Grande east face, is roughly 500m high and yes - it is vertical. Hike to its top and look down into the dizzying depths and see the canyon of the Isnello river directly beneath you.
Climbing that east face and thereby exploring the cave is out of the question. Like most of the Madonie mountain range, the Dipilo Group, of which Monte Grotta Grande is a part, is made up of brittle karst-like limestone rock. Karst - which means deep canyons, caves and crater-like depressions which are formed whenever one of the caverns beneath the ground gives way and collapses. You can imagine that the rock quality of such a place must be quite dismal.
However, the summit of the mountain can be reached by hiking routes. One follows a dirt road up from Isnello and apart from scaling a couple of fences - which actually is a bit hazardous due to the vicious barbed wire on top - there are no problems reaching it. The other route is a slope traverse from the saddle I Pianetti to the north of the mountain and here the main problems are track finding and the need to bushwhack close to the Monte Grotta Grande north ridge.
You are rewarded with a dizzing view into the Isnello basin and towards the surrounding higher mountains. On a clear day - which is rare but occasionally happens on Sicily you can see mighty Monte Etna far away in the east, hovering above the mountains of the Monti Nebrodi Range.
The Dipilo Group
The Dipilo Group as seen from Contrada Circio. The Bay of Palermo can be seen behind
Monte Grotta Grande is the lowest and easternmost summit of the Dipilo Group, a small subgroup of the Madonie Mountain Range. The subgroup is located close to the northern coast of Sicily and is a good hiking ground with very nice views. Very recommendable, but not on a hot day. There is barely any shadow to be found there
180° vertical view from the summit towards Isnello and Pizzo Carbonara
Sicily 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 A20 direction Messina
- Turn off at the exit Cefalù and head for the town centre
- Shortly before you reach the town centre take SP28 south towards Isnello and Gratteri
- A couple of 100m behind the Sanctuario di Gibilmanna turn right (still SP28) towards Gratteri and park in the saddle I Pianetti
- Alternatively drive straight on to Isnello (SP84))
Iphiclides podalirius, the Scarce Swallowtail
The Dipilo Group and with it Monte Grotta Grande belong to the Parco delle Madonie, which was established in 1989 and covers an area of approximately 40000ha. 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 parks, better look for accommodation in the nearby villages. The northern coast is close by and there you will be able to find all kinds of accommodation (see below).
You 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.
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. 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 Grotta Grande the route descriptions were accurate - though misleading when it comes to the vegetation barring the way. The book is available in German and English.
- Sizilien / Sicily