The Madonie

With its rocky summits, rolling hills, and ancient villages. This is the landscape of the Madonìe.

Its peaks, almost two thousand meters high–now marked by green woods and now by steep cliffs–overlook the deep blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea along the north-west coast of Sicily.

Thanks to the diversity of natural environments, from the coast to the high mountains, and to distinct climatic conditions, more than half of the species of flora and fauna of the whole island are present here. On the Madonie a very different vegetation grows, and there are numerous species of invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, including even the golden eagle.

To protect and promote the heritage of this biodiversity, a veritable open-air museum, in 1989 the Sicilian Region established the Madonie Park, which covers 40,000 hectares in 15 municipalities in the metropolitan area of Palermo. The Park Authority is based in Petralia Sottana, in the historic residence of the Palazzo Pucci Martinez, where all conservation activities are executed and coordinated.

The Madonie also represent an ancient ‘book’ of geology. Its rocks chronicle the evolution of the earth. 230 million years ago these were sea beds rich in coral reefs, and they emerged when Africa and Europe began to collide during the continental drift. Since 2001, precisely because of its high geological value, the Madonie Park has been part of the European Geoparks Network, subsequently recognized by the international net of geoparks, and therefore from 2015 also by Unesco. This is why in the territories of the Park Municipalities, with their gems of stone, an interesting geological tourism has developed in recent years thanks to a wide network of geosites.

Caltavuturo, rich in archaeological evidence dating back to the Greek and Roman periods, was developed 8 hundred yeasr ago by the Arabs at the foot of the imposing Rocca di Sciara, which can be reached by a special geological path. It is a rock formation that rises up to about 1000 meters, on which there is an ancient and evocative hermitage. Once an area of farms and pastures, Caltavuturo is now also a destination for climbers, who scale the nearby cliff faces of the Gazzara Gorge to practice free climbing, a sport also appreciated in other geosites of the Park

Castelbuono is dominated by the imposing bulk of the Ventimiglia castle, with its interesting museum complex and the chapel of Sant’Anna, rich in stuccoes by Serpotta. It is a pleasant holiday resort that also houses a museum dedicated to Francesco Minà Palumbo, the first to study the natural value of the Madonie, during the nineteenth century. Between Castelbuono and Petralia Sottana, an excursion takes you on a discovery of the fairy forest of the giant hollies of Piano Pomo, over 15 meters high, suggestive natural sculptures that can be freely interpreted.

Castellana Sicula is one of the entrance communities of the park. Near the Muratore district, next to the remains of a Roman villa, an important archaeological and ethno-anthropological museum complex has been set up, organized into different sections, with paleochristian hypogea within the exhibition spaces.

The medieval town of Cefalù, dominated by the Rocca, one of the sites of the geopark, with its evocative views, the wash house, and the interesting Museo Mandralisca, is among the most popular destinations of international tourism, thanks to well-served beaches and a mild climate even in winter. The cathedral, in Arab-Norman style and rich in mosaics, has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco

Gently nestled between the Madonite reliefs, Collesano is the capital of the famous Targa Florio, the car race that at the beginning of the twentieth century enchanted the European nobles, and to which a museum is dedicated. Among imposing churches and small alleyways from other times, the culture of ceramics is still alive, using the traditional copper green and straw yellow colors.

The medieval village of Geraci was the heart of the earldom of Ventimiglia, the noble family that in the thirteenth century proclaimed it the administrative center of the Madonie. Visitors appreciate its sacred art, religious monuments, convents, glimpses of courtyards, alleys, characteristic stairways, and above all the Ventimiglia Leap, the glass balcony overlooking the surrounding valleys.

An orderly collection of houses overlooking the sea and the mountains, Gratteri owes its name to the Grattara Cave, easily accessible thanks to a path close to the town. It is a karst geosite rich in stalactites, stalagmites and even a natural baptismal font set on a large stalagmite.

Isnello is a hiking destination for the charming Piano Zucchi Lake and for the urban geological itinerary. Even the sky in Isnello has become an environmental resource. The mountainous reliefs that surround the town, along with the absence of light pollution, have permitted the creation of the GalHassìn astronomical park, an international center for astronomical sciences. In addition to scientific research, with wide-field telescopes specialized in hunting asteroids, stars and planets, there is the opportunity to learn, with the digital Planetarium and the Time and Space Park, that reveal the secrets of the cosmos.

Petralia Soprana, voted “village of villages” in 2018 for its interesting urban artistic fabric, rich in churches and historic buildings, houses the largest rock salt deposit in Europe, a geosite formed 7 million years ago after the drying out of the Mediterranean Sea. Inside the mine, which is still active, there is even a museum of rock salt sculptures, with evocative works by international artists.

Along the streets of Petralia Sottana, the urban geological itinerary is marked by numerous fossil finds present in the local stone pavement and in the blocks of the buildings. Specific educational itineraries are set up in the Giuseppe Torre geological museum, one of the stages of the Geopark network and created within the Collisani Archaeological Museum. Curious shellfish fossils are also found in the nearby geosite of the Rocca di S. Otiero, easily reachable by foot thanks to a designated itinerary, and along the geological path called the ‘Stones and Water’ in the direction of Piano Battaglia.

Perched on a rocky spur, here we find Polizzi Generosa, a jewel of art, museums, churches and monuments, dominated by the splendid view of the Quacella Amphitheater made up of Dolomite rocks. The itinerary takes us to Vallone Madonna degli Angeli, in search of the last 30 specimens of spruce from the Madonie, a species found only here and surviving from the glacial period. These trees are now the subject of a major European conservation program. An educational museum area was also set up in Polizzi to showcase the most emblematic species of the park and the entire island

Along the valley between Castelbuono and Pollina, the Madonite landscape is enriched with oak, holm oak, beech, cork, centuries-old olive trees and even manna ash trees, which yield a delicate and delicious sweetener still picked today by skilled hands.

Pollina alternates inviting beaches of the coastal hamlet of Finale with the artistic and geological testimonies of the historic center, suspended 700 meters above the blue of the sea, including the Pietra Rosa theater, geosite of the Park, dug into the living rock at the foot of the medieval tower of the castle. In Pollina there is also a small museum that explains to visitors the secrets of manna, a tradition as ancient as it is tasty.

Further on, near the delightful and panoramic town of San Mauro Castelverde, known as the town of sundials, along the Pollina river a natural canyon gives rise to the geosite of the Gole di Tiberio, reachable by rubber dinghy thanks to the local amenities that support a safe environment for visitors, as well as the ZipLine, the southernmost in Europe, which allows you to jump into the void while looking at the distant sea.

Flanked by the impressive strait crossed by the Imera river, another of the geosites of the Geopark, Scillato has always been known in Sicily for its springs, which in the past fed numerous mills, some of which have been restored today. To raise awareness among new generations of the importance of the correct use of water resources, an educational center created by the Park dedicated to the water cycle explains how groundwater is formed and how this precious resource arrives in our homes.

Like a stone jewel, Sclafani Bagni lies on two rocky spurs, with numerous testimonies to the geological eras visible in a special path that crosses the city center. A few minutes drive from the town, it is possible to bathe in a natural spring of sulphurous waters that gushes from the bowels of the earth at almost 30 degrees’ temperature.

Throughout the year, the Madonie Park offers sports and outdoor activities, or at the Adventure Park, hiking, trekking along the path of the Italian Alpine Club, to discover ancient sanctuaries or centuries-old trees, mountain bike routes, horseback riding, Nordic walking, skiing or snowshoeing in the tourist resort of Piano Battaglia. In each of the four seasons, from crafts, traditions and folklore, the Madonie Park welcomes visitors with a warm and high level of hospitality, in amenities suitable for all types of tourism, certified with the quality mark. (insert brand logo)

Also at the table, the cuisine is equally authentic and generous, thanks to fruit and vegetables, meats, cheeses and typical products from sustainable local companies that, by working to protect the environment, have obtained the recognition of the Nature Basket from the Park Authority. The charm of the Madonie awaits you, with its natural and enlightening mix of luxuriant nature, ancient history, and a still-active farming culture.