Chestnuts & Mt Etna

What a day so far. This morning we travelled with my cousin, Peppe, part way up Mount Etna, which is a very active volcano around 3000 meters high. There are dormant craters all around, with a multitude of valleys created by the flow of lava. Seismic monitors allow one day’s notice of an eruption. The area around the volcano is so curious and deathly looking. Both hard and porous lava covers the entire area below the mountain, as well as a few houses here and there. In winter, Etna is covered with snow, making it one of the only places in the world where you can ski while looking at the ocean a short distance away.
We didn’t go up far, because hiking ain’t my thang, but it was spectacular nonetheless.

At the end of our drive, we visited the Castagna di Cento Cavalli, which translates to the Chestnut tree of 100 horses, around 8km from Etna’s crater in Sant’Alfio. Legend tells that a queen of Aragon and her company of 100 knights, during a trip to Mount Etna, were caught in a severe thunderstorm. The entire company, including all hundred horses, took shelter under the tree.

At between 2000 and 4000 years old, it is the oldest tree in Europe. It is absolutely forbidden to take any chestnuts from the tree, even if they’ve fallen. The fine is 1000 euro.

And afterwards, we had our first cannolo, which was exquisite. Crunchy shell, sweet ricotta, filled “al momento”, which means they are filled to order. The ends dipped in pistachio crumbs.

What’s special about this trip compared to their trips we’ve taken? We normally don’t see people we know when travelling, and the sheer joy of being with family, is indescribable. Peppe is my cousin’s partner of more than 25 years, since they were kids Jeff and I met him in our village in 1997, the last time we were in Sicily, and we’ve all just slotted in together naturally, as though we’ve known each other forever. Which, I suppose, we have.

Tonight we’ll share a meal at their home, which I will cherish.