The Parco Naturale Regionale delle Madonie is the highest mountain range on the island of Sicily, and on clear days boasts views right across the island to the snow-capped peak of Mount Etna, the islandís highest peak and famous Sicilian volcano. A protected area of natural beauty, the Madonie provide the visitor with an outstanding variety of landscapes, flora and fauna. The park offers wonderful Sicily walks and horse riding as well as driving routes and the popular Madonie golf. 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 surrounding Etna 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 to Sicily can download route maps from the Natural Parkís website, http://www.parcodellemadonie.it
which although it is not yet translated into English (at December 2007) is well worth a look.
The plethora of unspoilt Sicilian villages hugging the slopes of the Madonie, provide a welcome counterpoint to the rich cultural highlights of Palermo or Cefalu. Historic villages are tight clusters of houses, with a few Sicily properties 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 Sicilian 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 and Sicily's history long gone from the rest of Europe remain evident in traditional crafts and foods and Sicilian culture.
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