The Circumetnea railroad was laid down in Sicily between 1895 and 1898, to connect Catania and Riposto by going around Mount Etna. Novelist Edmondo De Amicis probably described it best in his “Memories of a Sicilian Journey”, after he travelled the 111 kilometers by train in the early 1900s.
“My gracious reader, should you one day go to Catania, remember to take the Circumetnea and you will declare it the most enchanting circular, seven-hour journey on the face of the earth. This railway that […] runs through an earthly paradise, interrupted here and there by hellish areas […], is all in all a sequence of wonderful views of Mount Etna and the sea, of gardens and lava, small extinguished volcanoes and lush green valleys, pleasant villages and forest patches – those old oak, beech and pine forests…”
In 1937, the old 19th-century steam engines were replaced by Fiat ALn 56 motor coaches, the so-called “Littorine”.
They constantly travelled around the volcano, reaching 1,000 meters of altitude and then coming back down, “through vineyards, olive tree groves, vast almond orchards, and chestnut groves”, passing “over blooming hills, overlooking delightful green valleys, white villas, small churches, winding little roads between dark spots of orange, tangerine and cedar tree groves, along silver streams that look like strips of glistening snow under the sun…”
The Littorine retired in the early 1980s, with only two kept in a warehouse in Bronte.
But the wonderful journey continues…