Brief Guide to Madonie Natural Park

Madonie Explorers offers tours and excursions in the Madonie Natural Park — an area of natural beauty cherished for its views and biodiversity. Much of what makes the Madonie so special is found off the beaten path, which is why we hope this brief guide helps you plan your own trip here. And if you’d like to explore the area with expert guides, take a look at our entire range of Excursions in the Madonie.

The Madonie Mountains

The Madonie Mountains are located on the northern coast of Sicily, about 70 km east of Palermo. They belong to the Sicilian Apennines, like the Nebrodi and the Peloritani Mountains. The main mountain — the Carbonara Massif (1979m above sea level) — is the second-highest peak in Sicily, after Mount Etna.

In 1989 the Sicily Region created the Madonie Natural Park to protect the area. This special place is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity and is of huge geological interest.

But there is no need to be a scientist to catch the Madonie’s beauty: its impressive landscapes, colourful flowers, delicate butterflies, giant trees, medieval villages, and welcoming locals can touch everyone’s heart.

Biodiversity in the Madonie Park

The Madonie Park has the richest biodiversity in Sicily, not just that, its biodiversity is one of the richest and most unique in the entire Mediterranean. Regarding flora, more than 1,600 species of vegetal organisms have been found in the Park’s 40,000 hectares.

Why such a concentration of biodiversity in such a small territory? 

Above all, it is thanks to geographical factors:

  • The Madonie Park spans an area from the coast to mountains nearly 2,000m above sea level. This means that the area offers a wide variety of climate and geographical conditions.
  • When temperatures rose at the end of the last glaciation, nearly 10,000 thousand years ago, the top of the mountains remained thermically isolated and many species developed in such a specific way that they became endemic.
  • Sicily’s crossroads position between Europe, Africa and Asia is also reflected in the local biodiversity in Madonie Natural Park.

Rare Plants in the Madonie Park

Many endemic species grow in the Madonie, like the Madonie fir (Abies nebrodensis) which only lives naturally in the Vallone della Madonna degli Angeli and nowhere else in the world. This endangered tree has become the symbol of the Park. There are about 30 of them left in nature and they are now protected.

Other interesting endemic plants include Cupani broom (Genista cupanii), Madonie astragalus (Astragalus nebrodensis), Madonie violet (Viola nebrodensis), Helichrysum nebrodense, Iris pseudopumila, Boccone thistle (Jurinea bocconei), Stipa sicula, Alyssum nebrodense, Dianthus cyathophorus subsp. minae, Armeria nebrodensis and Sternbergia sicula. Come on our full-day hike in the Madonie or book a tailor made excursion and see how many of them you can spot in a day!

The Madonie also has a rich variety of wild orchids, with 65 species and varieties, including Ophrys pallida, Orchis brancifortii, Ophrys oxyrrhynchos and Neotinea commutata. The best time of year to see The Madonie’s orchids is April at low altitudes and May at higher altitudes.

Madonie Natural Park’s Monumental Trees

The Madonie Mountains shelter a lot of monumental trees. In Piano Pomo, there is an entire wood of giant hollies. They nearly reach 20 metres high and are arguably the most unique holly trees in the world. If you’d like to see them, consider coming out on our Monumental Trees Tour in the Madonie Park.

A few kilometres away, the Macchia dell’Inferno’s oak, about 1000 years old, quietly watches over the surrounding forest.

Other relevant centuries-old trees include maples, beeches, ash trees, olive trees, hawthorn trees, as well as wild pear and apple trees. They are scattered throughout many areas of the park, and finding them can be tricky if you don’t know the area well.

The Fauna of the Madonie Park

The Madonie Park hosts all the mammal species living in Sicily, which means that a trip to the Madonie is a great way to experience the entirety of Sicily’s wildlife in one concise trip. Fallow deer and boars were reintroduced some years ago and are rather easy to see during hikes. Porcupines, wild cats, martens, weasels, foxes, and rabbits are usually more discreet.

Many species of birds can be seen in the Madonie. Raptors can be found here, so look out for red kites, peregrine falcons, kestrels, buzzards, and a few pairs of golden eagles. Griffon vultures are being reintroduced soon thanks to an ongoing project. There are several species of corvids in the Madonie, such as the red-billed chough, the big raven, the Eurasian jay, the jackdaw, and the hooded crow.

Invertebrates are also well represented in the Madonie; they include rare species of butterflies (e.g.: Parnassius apollo siciliae and Polyommatus daphnis pallidecolor, both endemic to the Madonie) and coleopters (e.g.: Rosalia alpina, Osmoderma cristinae and Gnorimus decempunctatus, which saproxylophagous larvae feed on decaying monumental trees).

As there are still traditional shepherds in the area, many sheep, goats and cows pasture freely, as do donkeys and horses.

The Geology of Madonie National Park

The Madonie Mountains are composed of sedimentary rocks, above all limestone, sandstone and clayey rocks. Some of them are particularly old and were formed more than 200 million years ago. The area is of great geological interest and the Madonie Park belongs to the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network.

Sea fossils up in the Madonie Mountains

In the past, the Madonie rocks were seabeds. They rose a few million years ago due to the movement of tectonic plates. This is why sea fossils can be seen in many places through Madonie Natural Park.

Cefalù’s old town is partly paved with a local stone called lumachella (which means “small snail”) full of gastropod fossils (nerinea and rudists). In Piano Battaglia (1,600m), you can find amazing coral and sponge fossils.

Stones carved by the water in The Madonie

You can observe interesting examples of karst in the Madonie’s limestone; these consist of caves, sinkholes, and gorges created by the dissolution of the stone in contact with water. Some examples of local karst are easy to reach, such as Grattara’s cave near the village of Gratteri, Battaglietta’s sinkhole, and the Gorges of Tiberio on the river Pollina.

You may have heard of the Abisso del vento cave (Abyss of the Wind), which is one of the largest caves in Sicily; while this cave is spectacular, it is only accessible to speleologists because it has many vertical parts that request equipment and strong speleology skills. If you would like to experience two accessible caves in the Madonie, take a look at our Madonie Cave Hike.

Other places of the Madonie Natural Park with geological interest include the Anfiteatro di Quacella, Monte Ferro, and Portella Colla.

The Madonie’s Charming villages

In the villages of the Madonie Mountains, old men take the sun on the benches, play cards or chat in the bars. Linen dries on the balconies. Local mammas cook exquisite food for the whole family.

Yes, the towns and villages of the Madonie are typically Sicilian, but they all have something more in common: architecture and local traditions. The people of The Madonie have a special sense of hospitality that is hard to capture or describe on our website. You’ll just have to join us and experience it for yourself!

Geography and, above all, history, are probably the roots of this “Madonitan” identity: the area was indeed ruled for centuries by a unique and powerful noble family, the Ventimiglia, which left a visible and long-lasting influence.

The following towns and villages have at least part of their territory included in the Madonie Park: Cefalù, Castelbuono, Collesano, Isnello, Gratteri, Pollina, San Mauro Castelverde, Geraci Siculo, Petralia Sottana, Petralia Soprana, Castellana Sicula, Polizzi Generosa, Caltavuturo, Sclafani Bagni, and Scillato.

The towns of Alimena, Blufi, Bompietro, Gangi and Lascari Gangi should become part of the Madonie Park soon.

Some of our wonderful reviews...

There is so much more to say about the Madonie Natural Park, but we try to let our range of tours in the Madonie speak for themselves.

Please read the tour descriptions and start imagining your next big adventure here. If you’d like to learn more about who we are as tour operators, check out our About Us page!

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