Alcantara River

The Alcantara River, In North East Sicily, Has Cut A Unique Gorge Through Lava Flows From Mount Etna

The Alcantara is probably the best known river on Sicily, an island that has very few streams that flow all year round. Its fame comes from the unique Alcantara Gorge that the river has cut through a series of imposing lava flows. These erupted from Monte Mojo, a volcanic cone on Mount Etna, thousands of years ago,

The Alcantara and another river, the Simeto, separate Etna in the south from Mount Nebrodi to the north. The Simeto, although not as well known as the Alcantara, is the second longest river in Sicily with a length of 113 kilometres.

The river gets its name from the Arabic, al Qantara, which means bridge and refers to an old bridge dating back to Roman times.

Small Waterfall On The Alcantara River

The source of the river lies at an altitude of 1,250 metres (4062 feet) on the southern slopes of Mount Nebrodi. This mountain is part of a range that runs parallel to the north eastern coast of Sicily.

Together with the Madonie and the Peloritani, the Nebrodi forms a range known as the Sicilian Apennines.

From its origins on the slopes of this mountain, the Alcantara River flows a distance of 52 kilometres (32 miles) until it empties into the Ionian Sea close to Capo Schiso.

During its journey to the sea the river passes through eleven different municipalities including Floresta, Randazzo, Francavilla di Sicilia and Giardini-Naxos. 

Randazzo is both a town and a municipal area and is located high on the slopes of Mount Etna, in fact the town is the nearest one to the summit of the famous volcano.

Francavilla di Sicilia is a town of around 4,000 people and is where the headquarters of the Alcantara River Park is located. Close to Francavilla, the river forms a number of small lakes known locally as "Gurne."

This park was established in 2001 with the aim of protecting and preserving the basin of this important river  as well as the incredible gullies it has cut through the lava flows in the municipality of Motta Camastra.

In 2010 the Alcantara River received the prestigious Eden Prize for being a "European Destination of Excellence."

Although the upper reaches of the river do have their attractions, it is for the gorges cutting through the lava flows that the Alcantara is justly renowned.

Many tourists to Sicily combine a tour of the Alcantara Gorge with a trip to Mount Etna and a visit to the beautiful coastal resort of Taormina. 


The Alcantara Running Through One Of The Ancient Lava Flows  (Photo by Emmequandro61)

Visitors to the gorge are able to hire waders and can walk through the waters of the river and admire the amazing hexagonal and pentagonal shapes in the cliff walls as they rise in places almost like organ pipes.

During the summer months, between May and September, the river level does become lower but never dries up totally.

On very hot days the tiny beach and sunny rocks at the mouth of the gorge can become full of people bathing in the cool waters of the wonderful Alcantara River.

Busy Summer Day At The Alcantara Gorge (Photo by Vic15)