‘I stared into the smoking crater of one of the most active volcanoes on Earth’

Sicilian scenery was lulling me into a pleasant trance when a sudden burst of excitement startled me out of my Mediterranean reverie. "Etna! Etna! Vulcano, Etna!" shouted our driver, pointing emphatically out of his car window. To our left stood a towering silhouette, made all the more impressive by the mist and cloud that tried in vain to hide it from view.

More than once, I’m told this is the mother of Sicily. She sculpted this landscape, and as we pass through endless groves of blood oranges, lemons and almonds, it’s hard not to feel a sense of gratitude towards it. I’m easing in to my British Airways holiday to Italy’s largest island, and while I’m looking forward to putting my feet up by the pool, it won’t all be cocktails and afternoon naps. Adventure, after all, is yet another commodity this island provides by the crate-load.

Adventure can wait though. It feels like a long time since my first cappuccino at the airport lounge earlier that morning, and after a three-hour drive east, the sight of Donna Carmela Resort & Lodges is a welcome one. As we step from our car into the afternoon heat, I’m immediately struck by the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle.

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Donna Carmela, a 19th-century manor house nestled in the foothills of the mountain, is surrounded by luscious gardens and a sprawling nursery, providing both the smells and the flavours that make this quiet escape so memorable. Just as memorable was the greeting. Like visiting family after a long time apart, we’re met with warmth, stories and fresh granita – a Sicilian frozen dessert bursting with the flavour of almonds picked from nearby orchards.

Resort chefs offer us an arancini-making class in the olive garden, like grandmothers teaching their grandchildren to bake. When they return to the Michelin Guide kitchen to prepare the night’s meal, there’s time for me to notice the family pictures watching over the corridors. It’s luxurious yet familiar, grand yet homely.

Tempting as it may be to spend our days here, guests simply must make use of its location. Etna and the hilltop town of Taormina are short drives away, while the sea is a pleasant stroll. Whatever you choose, you’ll be welcomed back to the resort like family each night – and with a 24-hour pool, you might not even need to sleep.

Batteries recharged, we headed towards the newly renovated Mangia’s Brucoli Resort the next morning. It may be further from the mountain, but Brucoli’s location on the other side of Catania’s natural bay provides it with stunning views of Etna on a clear day. Today we weren’t so lucky, with mist from the bay washing out the horizon like a watercolour.

It was a horizon that was begging to be explored. Mangia’s Brucoli is surrounded by picturesque coastline, so we couldn’t turn down the chance to see more by boat. The decision to dive into the warm Mediterranean water was less tempting for a landlubber like me, but Sicily’s seas have a habit of relaxing you. After all, we’re on holiday, right?

The salty air and jagged cliffs would be nothing compared to the challenge facing us tomorrow. Etna was waiting, her soft slopes beckoning like open arms. I’d need to get some serious relaxing under my belt first.

Luckily for me, Mangia’s Brucoli offers five restaurants, three pools, two bars and a spa, so unwinding shouldn’t be too hard. First step, a pina colada; next, find a shaded spot by the pool. Which olive tree should I nap under? Shall I snorkel or read my book? They don’t make it easy for you.

The real dilemma was deciding what to eat. Each of Mangia’s ristoranti offers a mouthwatering menu with harbour views, but never strays far from the family-style dining of Sicilian culture. A quick lunch can turn into a four-course meal once you’ve factored in the generosity of the staff, who want you to sample prawns caught that morning, or a parmigiana that’s a favourite of the chef. Bring your appetite, and remember, you’re on Sicilian time. No one is rushing you.

Fully fed, I headed to the bar, where live music and good company cut through the sound of the crickets. It was our last night before climbing Etna, and the mother of the island was about to take centre stage.

The morning drive took us to the northern slope of the mountain, winding through villages and lands that had seen both the danger and the beauty of this titan first-hand.

Far from being desolate following Etna’s eruptions, the fertile soils on these slopes allow life to thrive. We’d later visit Pietradolce, a vineyard where volcanic soils give birth to a lively selection of wines, as well as the produce that would be served alongside them when we visit for wine-tasting later in the afternoon. And it’s not the only example.

That felt a long way off now, though, as I looked up at the lunar landscape ahead of me. As we began our ascent to the north east crater, I marvelled at how suddenly the thick green forests had given way to lava flows of black and grey.

At this height – 10,000ft above sea level – simple tasks become harder. Footprints were already getting deeper in the thick ash. Breathing was getting shallower in the thinner air. My tank was nearly empty as the summit approached, but then we’re there. The mouth of Etna suddenly gaped in front of us.

I gave my wobbling, vertigo-stricken legs a break and collapsed on to the crater’s edge to take stock. I had given everything for this feeling, and Sicily had shown me everything in return. In fact, it had welcomed me like family. Sometime soon, I think a reunion is in order.

Book the holiday

British Airways Holidays offers three nights at Donna Carmela Resort & Lodge in Sicily from £473pp in April, with breakfast, flights from Gatwick and 23kg baggage. Seven nights at Mangia’s Brucoli Resort costs from £606pp travelling in May, with breakfast, flights from Gatwick and 23kg baggage; ba.com/holidays.

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