Calabria is a region in the very south of Italy, which gets the most sun and salt spray. The toe of the Apennine “boot” is washed by two seas, the Ionian and Tyrrhenian. But the main advantage of the picturesque beaches and coastal towns of Calabria is that enjoy the wonderful nature and the unhurried rhythm of life is not yet hampered by a large number of tourists.
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History of Calabria
The history of this land is studied not by medieval chronicles but through archaeological excavations. The Ossians and Samnites settled here long before the invention of writing. In the eighth century B.C. the advantage of the geographical location of the Italian tribes was appreciated by the Greeks. The cities they founded – Croton, Sybaris and Lokri – grew and prospered during the period of Great Greece. The migrants called their new homeland kalon brion, that is, “fertile land” – an expression that was eventually transformed into “Calabria”.
Byzantine Church in Cattolica
The prosperous period came to an end at the turn of the old and new eras. The Romans, who had taken over the colonies of their ancient rivals, were not eager to invest in their development. Wealthy businessmen, politicians and members of the artistic elite for the most part preferred to move closer to their newfound capital or at least to neighboring Apulia.
In the centuries that followed, the long-suffering region was plagued by full-scale wars, invasions, pirate raids and epidemics of malaria and plague. Calabria was alternately ruled by Byzantine emperors, Norman leaders, Germanic monarchs, the heirs of Charles of Anjou and the Crown of Aragon. Only in the middle of the nineteenth century it became part of the united Italy. By the way, one of the leaders of the national liberation movement, Giuseppe Garibaldi, personally participated in the battles for this territory and was wounded on the slopes of the mountains of Aspromonte.
Today the region of Calabria includes five provinces: Catanzaro, Cosenza, Crotone, Reggio Calabria and Vibo Valentia. They can’t be called particularly prosperous, because the economy is still based on agriculture, and local authorities are considered some of the most corrupt in the country and are associated with the mafia. However, the Norrangheta does not affect in any way the interests of foreigners who come on vacation, and the standard of living and wages dictate pleasant prices of goods and services for visitors.
The main resorts and attractions
Because of natural disasters and regular raids, then the “homeless” sea pirates, then the Turks with Berbers, then the royal armies under different flags, there was no point in building something monumental in Calabria. So do not expect to find here majestic cathedrals or palaces and park complexes striking the imagination of the luxury as in Rome, Florence or Venice. The beauty of the region lies in the unspoiled nature and the quiet charm of small villages.
The most attractive town in Calabria for holidaymakers is Tropea, the beaches in its vicinity regularly appear in the rankings of the best in the Old World. The 50 kilometers of the Costa Bella are a whimsical alternation of wide stretches of sand and secluded rocky coves accessible only by sea or unremarkable paths for pedestrians. The rich underwater world attracts divers, and the right kind of winds attract kite and windsurfing enthusiasts. There’s something to occupy your leisure time a little away from the edge of the surf, too. By happy coincidence the historical buildings of Tropea were largely unscathed by the disastrous earthquake of 1905, so as you walk along the winding narrow streets you can feel the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. It will be interesting to look into the miniature shops-workshops of local artisans and farmers’ stalls. History and architecture fans simply can’t miss the 12th century Romanesque cathedral and the somewhat younger Church of the Annunciation, which contains true works of religious art. The interior of the church of Santa Maria del Isolla cannot be seen, but its snow-white silhouette on top of a green seaside cliff will not leave anyone indifferent.
After arranging with the owner of the boat, you can take a short trip to the archipelago of Lipari. All of its islands were once formed by frozen lava flows. Volcano Stromboli is still active and demonstrates a hot temper with thermal springs and red-hot air rising above the fumaroles – the cracks in its slope.
Liparian Islands Volcano Stromboli
For man-made attractions in Calabria, it is worth going to a place called Cosenza. Ruins of ancient buildings neighbor with partially preserved Roman road, the castle from the times of Norman rule and monuments of later epochs. The local Romanesque Duomo is famous for housing the ashes of Isabella of Aragon, the eldest daughter of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. The monastic complex of St. Francis of Assisi had to be rebuilt many times after serious earthquakes, and today it houses the works of medieval masters. Contemporary art is represented in the museum’s open-air collection, there are even works by Salvador Dali, Giorgio de Chirico, Emilio Greco.
Statues are the pride of another seaside town as well. In the church of Piedigrotta, carved right into the rock, there are numerous stone figures of angels and monks created at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries. But there are also secular attractions in Pizzo: the Aragonese castle, fortress, staircase streets and… the unique ice cream tartufo, in which real truffle is added.
Just a few kilometers away is the center of the province of Vibo Valentia. In addition to the excellent beaches, foreigners are attracted by the medieval castle, turned into an archaeological museum, an ancient monastery, churches of different eras, villas of wealthy citizens.
Unfortunately, very few original old buildings have survived in Reggio Calabria. This is due both to the numerous Saracen raids that lasted until the nineteenth century and to the activity of the tectonic plates. The last major earthquake in 1908 left the city mostly in ruins, so the embankment of Matteotti is lined with Art Nouveau mansions rather than ancient palazzos. These, however, combine with the lush fruit gardens to create a unique appearance of “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy”, and the stunning sea scenery completes the picture. On a beautiful day, the outlines of the island of Sicily and the volcano Etna are visible on the horizon. The temples and churches in operation often preserve elements of the religious buildings they were built on.
Reggio di Calabria Ruffo Castle
At 20 km to the north lies the town of Scilla, famous not only for the 13th-century Ruffo Castle and the seaside quarter of Chianalea, where the fish restaurants offer the finest freshly caught exotic swordfish. If you believe the Greek myths and Homer, on a steep sea cliff close to modern houses once lived furious twelve-legged monster Scylla. Its six heads with insatiable mouths were constantly barking and grabbing any prey that passed by, while on the other side of the Straits of Messina the unfortunate were waited for by the pernicious whirlpool Charybdis. Only Odysseus and his companions and the Argonauts with Jason at the head managed to sail between them with minimal losses. Modern sailors are not disturbed by fantastic monsters, so there are no obstacles for the voyage along the coast.
Quite a popular resort in Calabria is Scalea, which is ready to offer travelers to combine beach relaxation and water procedures with sightseeing in the old town and walks in the reserve Pollino, where the transparent mountain air is filled with aromas of pine trees heated by the southern sun.
A record number of guests flock to nearby Diamante in early September, when the traditional festival of hot red peppers takes place. The festivities are accompanied by street theater performances, concerts at improvised venues, and a fair where you can sample dozens of dishes made from the very same pepperoncino, from appetizers to desserts. At all other times, the town is interesting mainly for the mourales. About 200 colorful paintings adorn the walls of the houses with the blessing of the owners and administration, and their number is gradually increasing.
The capital of the entire region, Catanzaro, boasts a 5-kilometer beach, which is not difficult to reach directly from the city center. There is enough room in the sand for both visitors and locals, especially since the latter statistics bureau of Italy counts only 91 thousand. Part of the coast is given under the pier for snow-white yachts. Luxury and wealth to this place is not alien, because once Catanzaro was famous throughout Europe center of production of velvet, brocade, silk and damask.
In general, vacations in Calabria – an ideal opportunity to join the Italian way of life with its unhurried rhythm and the ability to enjoy the sleepy quiet of the sun-heated streets. Crotone offers its guests a very different format of leisure. In this resort town along the waterfront signs of numerous souvenir stores, cafes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, so life after sunset just begins.
Specials on hotels
The culinary traditions of Calabria are, without exaggeration, another landmark of the region. The land is rich in vegetables, wheat, citrus, olives and grapes, and the salty depths of the sea produce shellfish and fish. All this goes to use in the kitchens of local hostesses to lay a chic table for the arrival of the family or to introduce the palette of southern flavors to foreigners.
Be warned, many of the local dishes may seem too spicy, due to the love of local gourmets for scalding bitter pepper, aptly nicknamed “devolino”. As in all of Italy, pasta reigns supreme. Naturally, handmade – there is no place for ready-made ones in Calabrian meals. Various meat, fish and vegetable sauces are added with broth or tomato passata. By the way, tomatoes here grow very special, with bright and dense flesh, you can break them with your hands like a ripe apple.
The pride of southern Italy is considered a red Trapeian onion, whose distinctive feature is called its high sugar content. That is why cipolla rosa is used not only in salads, soups and sauces, but also for making jam!
Meat products are also popular here. The centuries-old technology has given the world sopressata – pressed sausage, capocollo – uncooked pork neck, numerous types of sausages and frankfurters. But the real hallmark of Calabria is still nduja. This soft sausage made of beef with pepperoncino and spices adds a spicy touch to many signature recipes.
Chefs don’t skimp on the seafood. Especially delicious are prepared anchovies, tuna, swordfish, sardines and cod. The latter are also masterfully salted, soaked in order to serve with potatoes when there is no catch.
Cuisine of Calabria Red Trapeian onion – the pride of Calabria.
Pecorino di Monto Poro and Pecorino Crotonese cheeses made from sheep’s milk, Caciocavallo Silano are worth mentioning. They can be accompanied by traditional bread, fruit, honey and wine. The local winemakers, though they are not known outside the country, make very worthy drinks.
When you sit down to lunch, be sure to leave room in your stomach for dessert. In Calabria, you may be offered cakes with grape jam, chocolate, pine nuts, walnuts and hazelnuts, honey gingerbread moscaccioli and gelato.
To help digestion cope with so many delicacies, a traditional Limoncello or Chedro liqueur made from the zest of the unfamiliar citron is served as a digestif, as well as herbal infusions.
Tips for tourists
It’s important not to forget that in Calabria nothing can disrupt the daily routine. And if in the afternoon you urgently need water/medication/dinner/mobile phone charger or anything else, you can only count on your own supplies, because without exception siesta descends on all towns and villages. Stores, cafes, pharmacies will not open their doors to customers again until late afternoon.
English do not know all the locals, and knowledge of common Italian phrases and catchwords can let you down because of the specific southern accent. Signs and facial expressions will help if you want to explain yourself.
Tourism infrastructure is much less developed than in popular foreign areas, so don’t expect to find plenty of supermarkets, chains, restaurants and ATMs.
All of the above is more than compensated by the charming nature, national colors and enjoy every minute of being in the “real” Italy!
Caulonia Coast Tropea
How to get there
There are two airports in Calabria: Lamezia Terme and Reggio di Calabria. But there are no scheduled domestic flights, so you can’t fly here from Russia directly (except for seasonal charters from tour operators). Transfers are possible to Rome, Florence, Milan and Bergamo. The nearest international air gateway is located in Naples. With other Italian cities Calabria is also connected by road and rail.
The 22 best sights of Calabria worth seeing
If you’re looking for streets overflowing with Vespa scooters and people who can’t live without a siesta, then Calabria is for you. This region of Italy is constantly shaken by earthquakes. Its wild mountain landscapes and long history of poverty, mafia activity and emigration have greatly affected its culture.
Sandy cities of Calabria constantly attract tourists. The main attraction of Calabria is its attractive Tyrrhenian coast, which is shared by several beautiful cities, the most notable of which are Tropea and Scilla. There are three national parks in the center, none of which are fully explored, and the museums of Calabria with the remnants of a rich past are the greatest treasure of this city.
Museum in Pollino National Park
Museum in the National Park of Pollino.
This beautiful museum focuses on the historical, cultural and natural heritage of the park. This museum uses interactive video screens to learn about the history of the different ethnic groups in the park. You can also see taxidermied birds and animals, including the Italian wolf from Pollino Park and the rare golden eagle. Before you go on a tour of the park, be sure to visit this museum.
Address: EcoMuseo Sandro Berardone, Strada Provinciale 28 Calabra, Rotonda, Potenza, Italy.
Pollino National Park
Pollino National Park.
The largest national park in Italy, Pollino National Park borders Basilicata and Calabria. It acts as a rocky curtain separating the region from the rest of Italy and has the richest flora and fauna in the south. The park covers an area of 1960 square kilometers.
Address: Parco Nazionale del Pollino, Italy.
National Archaeological Museum of Reggio di Calabria
National Archaeological Museum of Reggio di Calabria. | Photo: stefano Merli / Flickr.
A tour through several floors of the best museum in southern Italy will take you through thousands of years of local history, from the Neolithic and Paleolithic to Hellenistic, Roman times, etc. The main treasure of this museum is the finest examples of ancient Greek sculpture in the world, the Bronzi Di Riace.
They are two unusual bronze statues discovered in 1972 on the seabed near the municipality of Riace. They were found by a chemist-submariner from Rome. Before you see them, you will have to stand for three minutes in the decontamination chamber. But believe me, they’re worth it.
These works of art depict the Greek obsession with the body; inscrutable, determined and ferocious, their perfect forms are more godlike than human.
One of these statues has ivory eyes and silver teeth that hide slightly behind the faint smile of the Mona Lisa. No one knows whether they are human or gods, and even their origins are shrouded in mystery. They date from around 450 BC. It is believed that these statues are the work of two artists.
Address: Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Aspromonte National Park
Aspromonte National Park. | Photo: wikimedia.
Most Italians consider Aspromonte National Park a hiding place that was used by Calabrian kidnappers in the 1970s and 1980s. There are still rumors that there are Ndrangheta Mafia strongholds somewhere in the park, but as a tourist you are unlikely to find them. The highest point of the park, Mount Montalto (1955m), dominates the huge bronze statue of Christ and offers stunning views of Sicily.
Address: Aspromonte National Park, Via Aurora, Santo Stefano in Aspromonte, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
The ghost town of Pentedattilo
The ghost town of Pentedattilo.| Photo: wikimedia.
It is here, among the rocks, on Mount Calvary, a place full of charm and mystery, where time seems to stand still. It is said that on the streets of this village in 1686 took place the infamous massacre of the Alberti, a massacre between the noble Alberti family and the Avenavoli family. This abandoned village attracts tourists with its surreal and very impressive atmosphere.
Address: Pentidatilo, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Church of Santa Maria del Isola
Church of Santa Maria del Isola.
This medieval monastic church is a jewel of the Tyrrhenian coast. It has undergone several restorations throughout its existence (mostly due to earthquakes). The church is located on what was once a separate rocky islet; it is now connected to the mainland by a causeway created by centuries of silt deposits. The church can be reached by climbing the steps up the cliff face.
The address is Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea, Via Lungomare, Tropea, Vibo Valentia, Italy.
Cape Capo Vaticano | Photo: Mario / Flickr.
This rocky promontory, about 7 kilometers south of Tropea, offers spectacular views of beaches, gorges, limestone sea cliffs and other Calabrian landmarks. Here is the lighthouse, built in 1885, it is located near a short walkway. From here you can see the area all the way to the Aeolian Islands. Capo Vaticano beach is one of the most beautiful beaches along this coast.
Address: Capo Vaticano, Vibo Valentia, Italy.
Sanctuary of San Francesco da Paola
Sanctuary of San Francesco da Paola.| Photo: wikimedia.
The Sanctuary of St. Francesco is an interesting empty cave of great importance to pious people. According to legend, the saint lived and died here in the 15th century, and the sanctuary that he and his followers carved into the rock has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The monastery is surrounded by wall paintings depicting the saint’s truly incredible miracles. The church houses a richly decorated reliquary of the saint.
Address: Santuario di San Francesco da Paola, Largo S. Francesco di Paola, Paola, Cosenza, Italy.
Cave of Piedigrotta
Cave Piedigrotta. | Photo: Valeriy Gavrilyuk / Flickr.
Cave Piedigrotta is an underground cave with carved stone statues. It was carved into the tufa rock by Neapolitan shipwreck survivors in the 17th century. Other sculptors then worked on it and eventually it became a church. Later statues represent figures of Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy. It is a whimsical, one-of-a-kind blend of mysticism, mystery and kitsch.
The address is Chiesetta di Piedigrotta, Via della Madonnella, Pizzo, Vibo Valentia, Italy.
Castle Murat | Photo: wikimedia.
This neat little 15th-century castle is named after Joachim Murat, brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was briefly king of Naples. Later, in 1815, he was captured at Pizzo and sentenced to death for treason. Inside the castle you can see his cell and the details of his horrible demise, which is graphically illustrated with wax figures. Although Murat was the author of enlightenment reforms, the locals were not particularly upset by his execution.
Address: Castello Murat, Via P. Marincola, Pizzo, Vibo Valentia, Italy.
Cathedral in Gerache
Cathedral in Gerache.
In Gerace is the largest Romanesque cathedral in Calabria, which dates back to 1045. Its three aisles are divided by columns, which were taken from the decaying classical villas and temples of the area. The interior of the cathedral is surprisingly austere and at the entrance to the cathedral you can find the entrance to the adjacent museum, where you can see many tapestries and church treasures.
Address: Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Via Duomo, Gerace, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Le Castella Castle
The Fortress of Le Castella.
Le Castella is named after the impressive 16th century Aragonese fortress, a huge building connected to the mainland by a short causeway, and which once contained the entire walled settlement. The philosopher Pliny said that its first tower was built by Hannibal. Evidence shows that it was begun in the 4th century B.C., and was intended to defend Crotone in the wars against Pyrrhus.
Address: Fortezza Aragonese, Le Castela, Crotone, Italy.
Cathedral of Tropea
The cathedral in Tropea.| Photo: wikimedia.
The beautiful Norman cathedral has two unexploded World War II bombs next to its door: they are believed not to have exploded because of the protection of the city’s patroness, Our Lady of Romania. Above the altar hangs a Byzantine icon of the Madonna (1330) – she is also credited with protecting the city from the earthquakes that often plague the region.
Address: Cathedral of Saint Mary of Romania, Largo Duomo, Tropea, Vibo Valentia, Italy.
Castle Ruffo. | Photo: wikimedia.
This castle is a majestic fortress that rises above Cape Scylla. Throughout its existence, it has sometimes served as a lighthouse and a monastery. In it you can see the original boat, which was used to catch swordfish. This boat is the basis of a special modern boat for hunting swordfish.
Address: Castello Ruffo, Piazza San Rocco, Scilla, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Castle in Cosenza
Castle in Cosenza. | Photo: wikimedia.
The castle in Cosenza started to be built by Saracens and was finished by Normans. The castle survived several earthquakes, and in the 21st century it was extensively restored. Little remains of the original interior, but the exterior is impressive and the views that open up to travelers are worth the climb.
Address: Norman Castle, Cosenza, Italy.
Aragon Castle in Reggio Calabria
Aragon Castle in Reggio Calabria,| Photo: wikimedia.
Only two towers remain of the Aragonese castle, damaged by an earthquake and partially destroyed in 1922, and they were rebuilt in 2000. Today the castle is used for events and performances. It is worth a visit for the view from the towers.
Address: Aragonese Castle, Piazza Castello, Reggio Calabria, Reggio Calabria, Italy.
Church of San Giorgio in Pizzo
What else is there to see in Calabria? Visit the 16th century church of San Giorgio, with its magnificent Baroque façade. This church is notable because it contains the tomb of Joachim Murat, French King of Naples and brother-in-law of Napoleon.
Church of San Giorgio in Pizzo.
Address: Church of Saint George Martyr, Via San Giorgio, 1, 89812 Pizzo VV, Italy.
Natural arch. | Photo: Renato Giordanelli / Flickr.
This corner of Calabria seems like paradise – this beach offers a view of the crystal clear sea. Here you can also see a natural arch carved into the rock.
Address: Arco Magno, San Nicola Arcella, Cosenza, Italy.
Sila National Park
Sila National Park.| Photo: damian entwistle / Flickr.
The Sila National Park is 150,000 hectares of natural treasures, different landscapes and a variety of plant species. It is a region of Calabria that has more than preserved all its wild atmosphere and natural riches. It is a beautiful area that offers the opportunity to practice a variety of sports in the open air.
Address: Sila National Park, Italy.
Dino Island | Photo: wikimedia.
It is one of the most beautiful parts of the Calabrian coast, located between bays and coves molded by time and the sea, on the largest of the two Calabrian islands. There is no beach, but tourists can enjoy the beautiful caves along its 3 kilometers long perimeter.
Address: Dino, Calabria, Italy.
Village of Santa Severina
Santa Severina village.| Photo: ER Bauer / Flickr.
Santa Severina is a small village that has a glorious past. It boasts a beautiful castle, a baptistery and a cathedral, which is perhaps the greatest evidence of a Byzantine presence in the region. The beautiful village occupies the entire valley of the Neto River.