Everybody knows Taormina, but only a few knows about the Alcantara Valley and the Alcantara gorge, a magical place where its history starts from before the beginning of time. When picturing Sicily with its crystal clear water, the first thing that comes to mind is its breath-taking beaches where every year millions of tourists flock, alternating between moments of relax, in its crystal clear seas, and cultural excursions.
Therefore its difficult for a river to spring to mind. Many, though, don’t know that only 20 km from Taormina, the most crowded touristic and beach resort of Sicily Live the Gorge of the river Alcantara where, with its crystal-clear water and breath-taking natural views, myth, legend and history have become intertwined.
The Alcantara Gorge:
In 2001 by the Sicilian region, and following the norms of all regional parks has the objectives of protecting and promoting the area with its headquarters situated in Francavilla di Sicilia. In its 50 kilometers, including the stream on Mount Nebrodi in the province of Messina and the mouth of the river in the San Marco area on the Ionic sea, there are many places the Alcantara passes through.
Like-wise there are numerous places to visit, attractions and, excursions. Every one of the 15 districts covered by the Alcantara has its own attractions. Among all the places to visit though, a special mention should be given to the Alcantara Gorge, a very particular natural canyon formed by overlapping lava flows, which have cooled down thanks to the action of the river and have made irregular divisions forming structures of various shapes and sizes.
At its highest point the Gorge reaches 25 meters, while its width varies from 2 meters at its narrowest point to 5 meters at its largest. The most impressive gorge is situated at Fondaco Motta in the area of the Motta Camastra district. To help tourists on their visit to the gorge there has been a geological and botanical park situated there for more than 50 years which is involved in giving information on the history and activities of the Alcantara valley and its gorges.
Excursions and water sports, like canyoning and the body rafting now lie side by side with the history of the valley, which in addition has free parking and restaurant services. But across the valley many other activities are offered together with Etna, such as wine tours, which will make you discover in addition to the gorges, the Etna vineyards, and the ancient cellars with a lot of wines tasting, or the Gran tour Etna-Alcantara in a day. But still quad biking, horseback riding, etc …
The Alcantara River and the electricity:
In this stream that starts from Mount Nebrodi and flows into the Ionic sea, according to legend the Roman god of beauty Venus bathed here. And, seeing the beauty of this place, it’s not difficult to imagine why. The myth tells that in these waters, Venus betrayed Volcano, the god of fire, who before this, to demonstrate his love made the water warm.
But when the deceit was discovered, as a form of punishment, he froze the water. So much so that in the heart of the gorge of the enormous Alcantara valley, the temperature of the waterfalls to below 8 degrees. However, according also to this legend, all men who dive there have their manhood restored, whilst for the women their virginity. The celestial fame of Alcantara, however, was already noted by the ancient Greeks when the name by which the river was known, “Akesines”, was the same as that of a river goddess, a carrier of fertility, as testified by some findings at Naxos dating back to the fifth-century b.c.
After being called “Assinos” and “Onobala” from the Latin, the present title Alcantara comes from the Arabic “Al Qantarah” which means “the bridge”, in reference to the Roman bridge rebuilt by the Arabs, which crosses the river near to the present-day territory of Giardini Naxos, as testified in writing by the Arab geographer Muhammad Al Idrisi in the XII century.
Continuing the magical history of this river until the end of the 800s we discover that in the territory of Francavilla di Sicilia the kinetic energy produced by its waters was used to produce electricity, attracting tourists who, on leaving Taormina by horse carriage were brought to Francavilla to benefit from its thermal waters and to stay at the hotel du Chateaux which, according to publicity leaflets of that time, had “electrical lighting”.
Typical products of the Alcantara Valley:
The natural and innocent beauty of this territory, like that of the Alcantara Valley, is also to be found in its wine and food products, which are possible to taste directly at the park in the restaurants of the area. Fresh seasonal cheeses, fruit trees, peaches, cherries, lemons, oranges, nuts, are only a few of the excellent products of this area. Obviously without forgetting about the oil and wines. The Alcantara Valley is therefore above all an area where nature, culture, and authentic good food meet.