The Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie is the highest mountain range on the island, and on clear days boasts views right across the island to the snow-capped peak of Mount Etna, the island’s highest peak. A protected area of natural beauty, the Madonie provide the visitor with an outstanding variety of landscapes, flora and fauna. The park offers wonderful walking and horse riding as well as driving routes. Home to some of the only remaining woodland and forest on the island, you will find beech, chestnut, holm oak, poplar and fir lining the mountainsides. Spring in the Madonie is spectacular with an unrivalled profusion of wild flowers: wild peony, asphodel, euphorbia, orchids, cistus, and sweet peas spill off the mountains and the heady perfume of Spanish broom lines the roadsides. Amongst the unspoilt villages the occasional Swiss chalet is a shock, but in winter the snowy hillsides and ski runs around Pizzo Carbonara and Piano Battaglia open for business.
Keen walkers can download route maps from the NaturalPark’s website, http://www.parcodellemadonie.it/which although it is not yet translated into English (at December 2008) is well worth a look.
The plethora of unspoilt villages hugging the slopes of the Madonie, provide a welcome counterpoint to the rich cultural highlights of Palermo or Cefalu. Villages are tight clusters of houses, with few buildings breaking free from the dense groupings. This is a legacy of the days of banditry when the only way for peasants to eke out a living was to set off at dawn on foot or by mule to farm tiny parcels of land miles away in the open countryside, and return to the safety of the village at night. In the more remote villages mules are not yet altogether a thing of the past, although the bandits are long gone, and vestiges of a peasant way of life long gone from the rest of Europe remain evident in traditional crafts and foods.
The main office for the park is situated in Petralie Sottana. There’s an office in Cefalù along Corso Ruggero and in Castelbuono.
Information available on the different itineraries, maps, books for sale, information leaflets on flora and fauna.