Madonie National Park
Madonie Nature Park, a mountain of treasuresThe Madonie nature park set up in 1989 covers an area of 40,000 hectares. It is one of the most famous mountain eco-systems of the Mediterranean basin due to the rich diversity of its flora and the considerable interest in its vegetation. It occupies the central-northern part of Sicily and includes 15 municipalities which from Cefalù emanate towards the interior of the island. These small villages, many of which were founded by the Arabs and Normans to defend the hinterland, offer an almost intact view of the ancient traditional villages of Sicily. The highest point in the Park is Pizzo Carbonara at an altitude of 1,979 metres which is the second highest mountain on the island. This mountain complex is home to Piano Battaglia a small picturesque ski resort. The woods of the Madonie are amongst the most varied in the Mediterranean. Beech trees, elm trees, holm-oak trees, cork oak trees and even holly trees grow here. Numerous endemic plants and tree species which grow only in this area have also found an ecological niche here. Inside the Park there are numerous scenic trails to explore on foot, horseback or by bicycle. Some are particularly interesting to discover the most hidden places of the Madonie; they meander among woods, valleys, uplands and hills, and will make you discover the hidden wonders of the park: rare tree species (including Abeis Nebrodensis, a tree with needle-like leaves that is almost extinct), springs, small waterfalls, woods, small mountain lakes and the typical Pagliai, old refuges used to give shelter people and tools and today kept alive by the Park's care and maintenance staff. Some of the must-see destinations are those of the natural amphitheatre of Mount Quacella, Piano Cervi and its red beeches, the Shrine of Madonna dell' Alto, Piano Pomo with holly trees which reach unimaginable heights and dimensions, the Grotta of Vecchiuzzo in Petralia Sottana, the valley of Madonna degli Angeli which meanders along the side of Mount San Salvatore and the bucolic Valley of Pomieri. These trails are all easily reached and well-signposted, a specific map of the trails available in our houses in the area. There is an excellent food and wine culture on the Madonie which has developed thanks to the numerous typical products of the region some of which have been certified by Slow Food: fagioli a badda and i pipi (horn peppers) from Polizzi, the Apricots from Scillato, the provola cheese and the manna (natural sweetener) from the Madonie. In recent years, numerous excellent restaurants have opened which have reinterpreted and adapted local food, concentrated above all in the towns of Gratteri, Castelbuono, Polizzi Generosa, Petralia Sottana. There is also no shortage of bars and pastry shops where you can sample some o the typical local biscuits and pastries. A particularly successful business is Fiasconaro di Castelbuono which now exports its pastry products worldwide. The company has a bar-pastry shop in the centre of Castelbuono where its delicious products can be tasted. There is also an important winery here, Abbazia Santa Anastasia; its headquarters and cellars are located in an ancient former convent surrounded by vine-planted hills. The winery offers tasting sessions and guided tours of the cellar. Excellent fresh and finished products are also made here: olive oil, jams, sweets, natural sweetener, mushrooms, hazelnuts, chestnuts and other fruit and vegetable products. Pastoral farming is still widespread in various areas of the region; typical Sicilian sheep and goats cheese are produced here, including ricotta, tuma and primosale which are sold in the shops in the various towns of the Park. Close to Gangi there is a large cattle breeding farm which produces excellent local meat. Several forms of local craftwork have survived, including ceramics and majolica of Polizzi Generosa and Collesano. For those who want to discover the ancient cultural and rural soul of the island, which has almost disappeared from the other areas of Sicily, we highly recommend visiting several towns of the Park. These include Castelbuono with its imposing Castle of Ventimiglia, Polizzi Generosa which rises on a rock promontory at over one thousand metres in height, with a delightful and charming historical centre full of churches and monuments. Petralia Sottana founded by the Normans and Petralia Soprana the highest municipality of the Madonie, small and medieval, a town where time seems to have stopped, Geraci Siculo with its narrow and tortuous cobble-stone streets and the imposing Gangi which offers the best view of the Madonie landscape. The further you penetrate into the heart of the Park the more glimpses you will catch of the traditional Sicilian rural way of life. In nearly all the villages of the Park, religious festivals are still highly valued and observed. Many of these have transformed into traditional town festivals and festivals to celebrate local produce and it is not difficult to find one at almost any time of the year. However, the Park offers other opportunities too. Close to Petralia Soprana there is the Madonie Adventure Park with various acrobatic routes. An excellent departure point to visit the Madonie Park is the charming tourist-fishing village of Cefalù. Here you can find a variety of accommodation options and enjoy the magnificent beaches of the area. Alternatively, if you want to penetrate the Park even further, you will find many characteristic houses and villas for rent in the area of Polizzi Generosa.