Quick overview of the Madonie Natural Park

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 of 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.

See our Hiking Tours and Experiences in the Madonie Natural Park

Biodiversity in the Madonie Park

The Madonie Park not only has the richest biodiversity in Sicily but also hosts one of the most abundant and distinctive in the entire Mediterranean region.

Regarding flora, more than 1,600 species of vegetal organisms have been found in the Park’s 40,000 hectares.

Why so much biodiversity in such a small territory? 

Above all, it is thanks to geographical factors:

  • The Madonie Park stretches 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

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.

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.

Related excursions:
Hike to Piano Pomo’s giant hollies
Full day hike
Hike to Pizzo Carbonara
Multi-day Trek the Madonie from coast to top

Monumental Trees

The Madonie Mountains is home to many monumental trees. In Piano Pomo, there is an entire wood of giant hollies. They nearly reach 20 metres high and are one of a kind.

A few kilometres away, the Macchia dell’Inferno’s oak, which is 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.

Related excursions:
Hike to Piano Pomo’s giant hollies
Full day hike
Multi-day Trek the Madonie from coast to top
Madonie Tour Villages & Nature

Fauna

The Madonie Park hosts all the mammal species living in SicilyFallow deer and wild boars were reintroduced some years ago and are 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 including raptors like red kites, peregrine falcons, kestrels, buzzards, and a few pairs of golden eagles. Griffon vultures are being reintroduced thanks to an ongoing project. There are several species of corvids, 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.

Related excursions:
Hike to Piano Pomo’s giant hollies
Full day hike
Hike to Pizzo Carbonara
Multi-day Trek the Madonie from coast to top

The Geology of the Madonie 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 throughout 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.

Related excursions:
Natural caves hike
Hike to Pizzo Carbonara
Multi-day Trek the Madonie from coast to top
Madonie Tour Villages & Nature

Stones carved by the water

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.

Related tours:
Manna experience
Sicilian country experience
Madonie Tour Villages & Nature

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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