Calabria is the toe of Italy’s boot. It has mountains, three National Parks (Aspromonte, Pollino and Sila), almost 500 miles of coastline, crystal-clear waters, green hills lined all over with olive, orange, and lemon trees. Calabria’s history goes back to the 8th to 5th centuries BCE, when it was a Magna Graecia(Greater Greece!) colony. Over the centuries, Greeks, Romans, Normans, Swabians Spanish, Arabs, and Normans had a deep influence over the region’s culture, language, and architecture. But for some strange reasons, its deeper soul remains profoundly Greek.
Find your family(A famigghia!)
Millions of Italian Americans trace their ancestry back to the Southern Italy. Visit your family’s village and you might even find someone who claims to be a parente (relation) but if you don’t have Calabrian heritage, don’t worry. Calabrians are warm and welcoming and will make you feel home, anyway.
Find a place to stay
There are plenty of villages to stay in if you enjoy the simple life. If you don’t like the calm and silence of small villages, you can then stay in cities like Reggio Calabria, Cosenza or Catanzaro. Soverato on the east coast or Tropea on the west coast are very good choices.
August not so recommended
Italians and other Europeans come by the thousands in August to spend their vacation time which means crowded beaches and frustrating traffic-jams. April to June and September-November are best times to visit, people go back to work and there will be very few people visiting, so you can relax with still mild temperatures, even though rainy days are possible.
Taste the peperoncino (red chili pepper)
Over the years, Red chili pepper has become one of Calabria’s symbols and the calabresi put it everywhere in their dishes. If you’re sensitive to spice, pay attention to the ingredients on a menu. In Diamante (CS), a peperoncino festival is held every September, even with competition on whom eats more chili peppers. Onions, particularly the Tropea red ones, can be considered another symbol of Calabria.
Hit the markets
Most towns have weekly markets, such as those in Catanzaro (Thursday) and Soverato (Friday) are generally a mix of a lot of random cheap goods you’ll find anywhere in Italy, interesting Calabria souvenirs, and a whole lot of genuine locally grown and produced food, including fruits, vegetables, meats, olives, etc.. and baked food.
Leave pizza for dinner
You’ll find out that pizza in Calabria is one of Italy’s best. But be aware that most pizzerias will be closed at lunchtime. Many restaurants don’t open for lunch at all, especially in non-touristy areas, during the low season. The alternative could be a rosticceria, which serves fried food such as arancini (rice balls), calzoni, panini, pizza al taglio (by the slice), which is square and served in wax paper. It’s very tasty too, but for real pizza, just wait for the wood-fired, evening version.
Rent a car or hire a Private Guide
The best way to get around Calabria is certainly by car. There is public transportation, but trains only run along the coast, so you’d have to make bus connections to get inland, and schedules can really make your vacation a real nightmare. If you can’t drive a stick shift, request an automatic ahead of time, because most rental cars have a manual gear shift. The best solution is hiring a Private Guide/Driver for at least some excursions so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy Calabria and Southern Italy’s breath-taking landscapes leaving the stressful part to the Driver.
Calabria is best known for its white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters along the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Sea alternating with cliffs, coves, and surreal rock formations. On most beaches, you can either rent umbrellas and chairs in a private lido or bring your own if you opt for a free beach.
A mountainous region
Calabria’s territory is made up mostly of mountains and hills with only 9% plains. The heart of the region is comprised of thick forests, canyons, streams, and waterfalls. Serra San Bruno, in the Serre Regional Park, is well worth the long drive up on the mountains to admire the Certosa, an 11th-century Carthusian monastery founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne. The monastery has an annexed museum with reproductions of the monks’ quarters and its typical atmosphere. If you like winter sports, skiing, snowboarding, etc… in the Sila and Aspromonte Mountains are a very good option.
are scattered throughout the region. Take some time for a walk on the cobblestone and very narrow streets. Gerace, on the Ionian Coast, is probably the best-preserved medieval village. It has Calabria’s largest Cathedral and it’s just the typical medieval town with the unique plus of many Byzantine Churches and Temples: you can walk the streets lined with cafes and stores selling local products. Don’t miss the view from the Porta del Sole (Gate of the Sun) at the far end of town, a grand archway overlooking the Ionian Sea. Altomonte(CS), Bova(RC), Chianalea(RC), Morano Calabro(CS), and Stilo(RC) are among the most beautiful villages in Italy. If ghost towns are your thing, Calabria has those, too: in Amendolea, Brancaleone, Pentedattilo, Roghudi, and more, all in the Reggio Calabria area, in some of the people still speak a Greek dialect, a legacy of Calabria’s Magna Graecia past. Probably, nowhere else in Italy, like in this area, you will feel like being thrown back into a long-gone past, as if you traveled in a time machine, in fact, the past is still alive in this quaint, ghost village.
Calabria is a land of salumi, made the traditional way. Soppressata is Calabria’s origin-protected, made from pork and peperoncino, and other spices such as fennel. Then there’s ’nduja (n-DOO-yah): a spicy, spreadable sausage. It’s great on bread or in tomato sauce with pasta and pizza. Spilinga’s version is the original and is also origin-protected(DOP).
Try unique, genuine food
Anchovies (alici), tuna (tonno), swordfish (pesce spada), and sweet red onions (cipolle rosse), taste incredible here. Tropea’s red onion is origin-protected (DOP). The area around Reggio Calabria, Bagnara, and Scilla are famous for its swordfish. Anyway, no matter what your menu is in Calabria(fish or meat!) you will probably have the best genuine food you ever had in your life, always accompanied by great red wines!
Have a Digestivo
The after-dinner or lunch drink to aid digestion is common throughout Italy, but the Vecchio Amaro del Capo is unique to Calabria, this liqueur is infused with local aniseed, licorice, peppermint, etc… It’s best served cold. Another option is limoncello may be less famous than Sorrento’s but no less delicious. If you visit Pizzo the tartufo, is a unique experience for ice-cream gourmets.
Don’t expect too many high-class restaurants
Most places to eat in Calabria are pretty casual. There are some very good restaurants, such as the Michelin-starred Abbruzzino in Catanzaro and Pietramare in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, but if you’re in a small village and have lunch at a local restaurant, don’t be surprised if there isn’t even a menu and they serve you whatever they cook on that day but be sure it might probably be the best food you ever had in your life.
Southern Italy has a reputation for moving just a bit more slowly. Whether it’s road work or service in small shops, just about everything will take longer than you might expect. Be prepared for delays!(or hire us for your private tour to make sure everything will run smoothly or, in any case, with mínimum delays possible! 😉
In Rome, Florence, or Venice, you may get away with paying by debit or credit card, but not in Calabria. In the main cities, this might not be an issue, but in many small villages, they still accept only cash.
Dress for the season
The sea and mountains landscapes may resemble the Caribbean, but Calabria does not have a tropical climate. In the winter, even on the coast, temperatures can drop to freezing, and snow is common in the mountains.
Better take a siesta after lunch
Here it’s called riposo. In Calabria, just about everything is closed from around 12-5 p.m (usually 1-4 p.m., but it varies according to the owner). Not everybody has a siesta, but it’s still a time to rest, particularly in small villages. Particularly in July and August and because of this break time, you won’t be able to find many things to do in the afternoon anyway, so it’s best to get out and about early, rest in the afternoon, and then stay out late. The Italian “Dolce far niente”.
written by: Pp for Visitreggiocalabria