Italy has given the world some of its favourite things over the years, including Renaissance art, beautiful food, palatable wines, fashion sense, stunning supercars, incredible history, impressive architecture and a passion for football. And of course, if it wasn’t for the exploring talents of certain Italians, Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus to name just two, a lot of the world we know might not have been discovered in the first place. Which subsequently means we wouldn’t be able to immerse ourselves into the unique culture of the countries we like to take holidays to, year after year.
Like for example Italy itself, and in particular Calabria. Thankfully we’re as passionate about Calabria as Italians tend to be about most of the aforementioned, which is why we’re highlighting the very best bits here; and which you can savour yourself if you choose to take a Calabria holiday this summer in 2018. Located at the toe of the boot of Italy, and lapped by the splendid crystal blue Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, Calabria boasts immaculate beaches, beautiful landscapes and a timeless charm all of its own. It’s also known as ‘The Caribbean of Italy’ and is without question the jewel in the crown of the country’s coastline; and in terms of places to stay, destination-wise is virtually untouchable, when considering the choice of everything from traditional family-run establishments on olive farms, to exquisite boutique hotels and everything in between.
To those with little prior knowledge, the Calabria region of southern Italy provides a memorable getaway for those on the look-out for a destination which is a bit less tourist-y. Although British holidaymakers may not be au fait with the trappings of an almost Riviera lifestyle, that’s not to say Italians themselves aren’t; as Italians from far and wide annually descend on Calabria in high season knowing exactly what they’d be missing otherwise.
The beaches are where it’s mostly at in Calabria, with the vast majority of activities revolving around them. Calabria’s shores are long and sandy as well as pebbly and more secretive in nature. Spanning some 497 miles of coastline, other attractions in Calabria include the cultural draw of Isola di Dino’s Castello Ruffo’ which, according to legend was where Odysseus visited in Homer’s epic poem, ‘odyssey’. While elsewhere at Castello Aragonese there is the 16th Century Aragon fortress which was used to repel attacks from the Ottoman Turks. And as we mentioned above, art is very well starred in Italy, and Calabria is no different. Cue the famous Riace Bronzes which habitually pull in art lovers, and which are found on display in the National Museum of Reggio Calabria. Regarded as an important vestige of Magna Graecia, these bronzes feature an epoch that shaped the history of this region significantly. Notably these beautiful statues are said to represent two warrior heroes, and stand as a rare example of classical Greek sculpture.
Wine and Dine
As one might expect from a region which is known for its strong and intense emotions (although in fairness, that description could easily befit most Latin-tempered Italians), the local cuisine shares this mantra. And no dish more so than the famous Calabrian hot pepper (pepperoncino). Found in everything from toasted bread with n’duja sausage, and pork sausages to pasta sauces and fish dishes, pepperoncino puts in routine appearances far and wide.
Bearing in mind the extensive coastline on both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, the seafood options in Calabria are lip-lickingly appealing from the get-go, and include fresh octopus, prawns and marinated anchovies featuring regularly on menus. While many of the beach resorts are packed with cafés and bars, two deserve special praise in our opinion (although admittedly, one is more geared up for desserts). First up is Bleu de Toi located in Scilla, a place you’d be hard-pressed to better in terms of being set in a more romantic spot. Resting on the fringes of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Scilla’s waterside district of Chianalea, north of the castle, this eaterie boasts a platform that juts out over the water, and where fresh seafood – including a lot of swordfish – is served daily. Meanwhile we can recommend either spaghetti with sea urchins or prawn linguine.
Secondly there’s Bar Gelateria Ercole situated in Pizzo; a bar that’s purported to be responsible for the best tartufo in Pizzo. A tartufo being akin to a giant ice-cream version of a chocolate truffle. With a terrace which hums all day, the morning cappuccino is eventually replaced by the late-afternoon/early evening prosecco, just for the record….
The resort of Capo Vaticano provides some of the best family-friendly beaches in Calabria, and in-keeping with vast swathes of the Calabria coast, the waters are nothing if not beautiful, warm and ideal for swimming. The section of beach at Grotticelle is a favourite with sunbathers, while the climate throughout Calabria is predictably temperate, with average summer highs of around 30 degrees.
If you do consider yourself something of a sun and/or water lover, then one of the best places to start your trip around this region is the town of Crotone on the Ionian Sea. This ancient town will fulfil any adventurous dreams your kids might have about castles, if you take them to see Le Castella; which can only be accessed by foot when the tide is low, and looks as if it has stepped right out of the pages of any children’s fantasy book.
Elsewhere, the ancient town of Locri has an ancient Greek theatre and other amazing ruins that include some necropolises that will further fascinate children of all ages. If all else fails, then you could always head off to the AcquaPark Odissea 2000 water park for the day. Oh, and of course, another sure-fire hit with any kid is a timely holiday trip to an authentic ice-cream emporium. In which case Tropea’s Gelati Tonino is the only place to be; especially if they (or indeed, you) possess ambitious tastes in your ice-cream - yup, we’re talking onion and cuttlefish…
Action and Adventure
Calabria’s backbone is the southern stretch of the Apennine mountain range that curves down to the tip of Sicily. There’s no ignoring the hills here, as only 10% of the region is actually flat. So In addition to the soft, sandy beaches and scenic coastline, Calabria holidays offer a myriad of opportunities to remain active outdoors. Figure in the high cliffs and vast areas of greenery and wildlife, and the region is screaming out for hikes and walks. On which note, those who love a good challenge should not miss a rafting/tubing experience like the ones offered along the Lao River, or through the Sila gorges.
Alternatively, the river can be walked without any means of floating transportation/recreational craft; in fact, there’s no need for a boat of any kind if you simply dive into the water, and proceed to descend with a rope in the most difficult tracts, thereafter. This is canyoneering, and the support of expert guides makes these fascinating sports accessible to absolutely anyone. What’s more, tourists can quickly find beachfront excitement in the form of scuba diving and surfing, if that’s more your thing. Yet if you really want to make the leap of faith in Calabria, you could always entertain the idea of paragliding. Where specialised instructors will take you through the clouds to show you the beauty of Calabria from an entirely different perspective.
Life's a Beach
So, these beaches then. Well, for starters the resort of Capo Vaticano is recognised as one of the top 100 beaches on the planet, and it’s not beyond the realms of anyone’s imaginations to see why when they see shores fringed with ancient trees and lapped by crystal clear waters. Located in the province of Vibo Valentia, the waters around here teem with fish, which goes a long way to explain the popularity of snorkelling and scuba diving in these parts. And if the sight of a cornucopia of fish doesn’t float your holidaying boat, then perhaps getting up close and personal with vibrant coral reefs and fascinating shipwrecks will have the desired effect.
What’s more, if you follow the twisting Via Grotticelle near Capo Vaticano’s lighthouse, visitors will unearth a selection of additional beaches tucked into the curves of the Tyrrhenian coast, the final one only reached by wading between the rocks. Maintaining a tranquil, crowd-avoiding beach vibe, why not instead head to Zambrone, which boasts long stretches of undiscovered and spoilt sands and intriguing landscapes to make for an intimate hideaway.
There’s no doubt that beaches are among Calabria's star attractions, with the Tyrrhenian coast's fragrant Riviera dei Cedri (so called thanks to its profusion of citrus trees) boasting a collection of stand-out beaches and resort towns. Together with Capo Vaticano, the resorts of Pizzo and Tropea are three of Calabria's most celebrated coastal draws, with the latter, town of Tropea particularly spellbinding; teetering on a cliff edge.
While the nightlife in Calabria may not exactly be Ibiza-esque, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of places to let your hair down and unwind after a long day on the beach. As a warm-hearted antidote to the glitz of the Amalfi coast further north, the Calabria region is one of the most beguiling; and as such the pace isn’t frantic once the sun sets on the perfect day. That said, for a livelier evening out, the nightlife in Reggio Calabria is said to make for a memorable time, and typically takes place around the nightclubs located between Corso Garibaldi and Lungomare Falcomatà. According to those on the scene, young people tend to meet at the B’art Lounge Cafè (which belongs to the Cilea Theatre), along Corso Garibaldi; before heading off elsewhere.
Couples are in for a treat when they arrive in the Calabria region, as there’s any amount of romantic sojourns to indulge in. The coastal resort towns of Tropea, Scilla, Paola, Squillace, and Scalea (among many others) are perhaps the biggest draws for tourists – and with good reason - however, there are also countless medieval villages that might be less visited but are often no less charming. One of those almost dream-like Italian villages is Scilla; which is a small fishing community which overlooks the Tyrrhenian Calabrian entrance of the Strait of Messina, which extends along the coast ‘Costa Viola’ (so named courtesy of the colour the sea adopts at certain times of the day) together with the slopes of Aspromonte. The village is situated on the peak (the Scillèo promontory jutting out over the Straits of Messina), located roughly 25km north of one of the main cities in the region, Reggio Calabria.
Naturally, it would be a shame to visit Italy and not address the subject of wine (more so as a carefree couple looking for pure escapism), which is why we suggest taking a trip to Ciro, home to Calabria’s most famous vineyard. According to local legend, Calabrian athletes drank Ciro wine to celebrate success during the early Olympic games. On the map, it’s located in the hills, along the Ionian Coast between Crotone and Sibari.
Divided into the five provinces, Calabria is comprised of Catanzaro (regional capital and birthplace of the Paparazzi), Reggio Calabria, Cosenza, Crotone and Vibo Valentia. With regard to the area’s past, Calabria is acknowledged as the cradle of Magna Graecia and land of ancient settlements, and as such is full of splendid churches, monasteries, castles, palaces and towns where age-old traditions still survive today. The ruins at Roccelletta, for instance, are set in an ancient olive plantation and feature a Greek theatre, a Roman square, an amphitheatre and other ancient buildings from the last century. Meanwhile the village of Pentedattilo - perched high among the rocks and compared to a ghost town and is yet so serene and beautiful. The views from here are spectacular and well worth the effort to get there, while the only human footprints there belong to a few little craft shops and a bar. That’s until the annual film festival – which was first staged in 2006 - rolls into the village, that is.