Calabria's rich, material past, much of it shared with the Greeks who happily and successfully inhabited Italy's Magna Grecia, is now safely stowed in Museums. The toe of Italy has reverted to its wild state. Outside of widely-spaced dots on the Tyrrhenian shores like Tropea and Scilla, what is left of the rag-tag assembly of the world's last remaining travel writers are seldom seen scribbling away for fame and fortune here. Even today's bloggers do not flock to Calabria's gritty cities to feast in a chef's stainless-steel heaven.
Which means you should go, of course. You've always told your friends you wanted to go somewhere you wouldn't hear Americans ordering "lattes", vero? Here in the tiny villages tucked into the mountains of the real Italy they'd likely get what they asked for, namely milk and a quizzical look from the Barista.
Instead of professional press corps weaving their way through the region with flutes of prosecco waiting to tell you what you must see amongst all the things great Italian designers have built especially for you, the well-heeled tourist you'll just have to do with discovering a new corner of the world with the help of...fearless expats who've wiggled their way into situations to reveal the character and soul of the individuals they deal with daily. I'm talking curious expats who've found the sources of the sounds and smells of a forgotten region which make it unique and wonderful.
If you think you might like Calabria, and have taken a look at the map and guide, then I suggest you immediately order two books from these fearless and well-connected expats:
Karen Haid writes brilliantly about the culture and natural resources of Calabria in her book Calabria: The Other Italy. Her website of the same name is is a good place to seek information on Calabria.
Armed thusly and knowing what to do in the region and why the Calabrians do it like they do, let's take a look at the map and the top cities. The stars indicate the provincial capitals.
The region's capital is Reggio Calabria, sometimes written Reggio di Calabria. A University town, it's been knocked down by earthquakes and rebuilt several times and contains some good beaches and a number of top museums.
Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia housed in the Palazzo Piacentini in Reggio is fundamental for the understanding of the Greek colonization of southern Italy and certainly one of the most important museums in Italy. Casual tourists are drawn to the famous Riace bronzes from the 5th century BC.
Museum of Bergamot on Via Vittorio Veneto 2 is your entrance into the unique agricultural offerings available in a tiny corner of the Calabrian world. Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria PDO is a strange fruit. At least 90% of the bitter orange fruit comes from Italy. Extraction of the oil started around the middle of the 17th century in Calabria. You know the taste because it's the citrusy component in Earl Grey tea. You know the aroma because it's a component of Chanel No. 5. You can read much more about this finicky fruit in a chapter titled The Uncommonly Common Bergamot in Calabria: The Other Italy.
Michelle Fabio recommends you visit the Piccolo Museo San Paolo, simply called the Museo San Paolo now that it has been relocated inside the Palazzo della Cultura. It has 500 square meters of gold mosaics inside, as well as religious icons from Russia, the Balkans and Greece in addition to the Calabrian collection. Karen Haid was particularly fond of the smaller Ivory pieces:
The museum’s numerous ivory pieces also caught my eye, but perhaps more than the large crucifix mounted prominently on the wall, the display case with an assortment of smaller pieces piqued my curiosity. Many were secular and of Asian origin. Interestingly, a beautiful French gothic Madonna with Child from the 13th-14th century, a few statuettes from the Italian Renaissance and a miscellany of crucifixes were displayed together with a 19th-century geisha. ~ Museo San Paolo at the Palazzo della Cultura
Fabbio also recommends La Pinacoteca Civica which provides "an excellent display of the work of Calabria's finest artists, including Mattia Preti and Vincenzo Cannizzaro, a native of Reggio Calabria."
Besides a stunning lungomare (seaside promenade) and beaches, Reggio has been called the "City of the Fata Morgana", an "optical illusion" that happens when atmospheric conditions are right to cause refractions of images off water vapor, making the opposite coast (nearby Sicily) appear closer than it is. Try to catch it, and think of the shipwrecks it caused!
The B&B Night&Day is very highly rated by guests, and is near the vaunted seaside promenade. You can search other places to stay in Reggio Calabria by using the button below.
The Pollino National Park marks the northern boundary of Calabria. Marked on the map is the hill town of Civita, founded in the 15th century, which is part of a wider settlement area consisting of Albanians who fled the Ottoman invasions after the death of Albanian national hero Skanderbeg in 1468. The interesting Arbëreshë Ethnic Museum is here, where you'll also see the unique saddles the ethnic minority fashioned, especially those for women.
In the area you'll find some of the most intricately engineered chimneys you've ever seen; winter winds in this crumpled land tend to make expelling smoke from a house difficult.
One of Calabria's most interesting seaside resorts is Scilla. If you think you've heard of it, it's named after a sea monster from Greek mythology you may be familiar with.
Tourists in the area for the beaches share space with the traditional inhabitants on the hill. Ruffo Castle is built on a high cliff. If you've made the trek, you know you can see a long way.
The focus of the town of 3000 people is the 10th century Norman castle that sits at the top of a cliff in Gerace, which has a very well preserved medieval core. Gerace has been inhabited since Neolithic times. Historically, the town was famous for its 128 churches but not many remain. The top church to visit is the Norman Cathedral, which uses interior columns brought from ancient temples in nearby Locri.
The oldest church in Gerace is the Church of San Giovannello, originally built in the 10th century. Santa Maria del Mastro church, built in 1083, is also a good place to visit. It was Greek Orthodox until 1480.
You can reach Locri by train easily from Reggio Calabria on a route that takes you around the toe of the boot, seaside all the way. You'll need a taxi to get to Gerace from Locri. You can take the bus from Reggio Calabria to Gerace and you'll take the overland route. It'll take you nearly three hours and isn't cheap. Get the details.
There are good restaurants and numerous places to stay in Gerace.
Known for its pottery and a style of decorating it called Pignata, Squillace is an ancient seaside town located on the shores of the extensive Gulf of Squillace. Everyone goes to the impressive Byzantine fortress. From there you can see all the way to Catanzaro. The duomo of Squillace was built in the 18th century atop a Norman Cathedral. It's know for its art works. Close by is the richly decorated Immacolata Church. In fact, before the 1783 earthquake, there were 28 churches in Squillace.Compare Prices on Places to stay in Squillace
Catanzaro is the second largest city in Calabria with a population of just over 90,000. Overlooking the Ionian sea, the Sila National Park forms its northern border while the Serre Calabresi rise in the south. Folks flock to the area between Catanzaro and Soverato, the "pearl of the Ionian", where they find interesting rock formations between long, white sand beaches.
In town you'll want to see the Cathedral and the square Norman tower. From the Belvedere you can gawk at the Fiumarella Valley and Gulf of Squillace.
Catanzaro Lido, the lower town by the sea, is where you enter the city if you are coming by train or bus. In the summer the lido is a vacationing hedonist's dream location with shopping and nightlife and...gelato. Michelle Fabio recommends Marrons Glaces on the Lungomare.
A good place to take your kids is the Parco della Biodiversità Mediterranea on Via V.Cortese 1 in Catanzaro. The sprawling park is right in the heart of the city and highlights flora and fauna native to the Mediterranean. Free wifi throughout the park is a bonus.
Catanzaro's central location and summer breezes make it a good base for exploring all of Calabria. August is high season, so prices will be considerably higher for lodging then. Things simmer down in September, a fine time to visit.
Founded in 710 BC as part of the Magna Graecia it grew to become one of the most important cities in Europe. Pythagoras taught there. Alas, little is left of it's historic grandeur, natural disasters like earthquakes and the like managed to jumble and hide the past. Still, the walled historic center is a great place to stroll and see interesting sites like the museums (especially the National Archeological museum), churches and grand palazzi. The Duomo is particularly interesting, especially in May, when the Byzantine painting of the Madonna of Capo Colonna is displayed.
...on the third weekend in May, her effigy is carried in a nocturnal procession from the Cathedral of Crotone to the sanctuary of Capo Colonna (a distance of nearly 12 km), followed by a large crowd of worshipers. ~ The Madonna of Capo Colonna
Eggplant, spice, and everything nice. Eggplant is a favorite, as a pasta, a layered main course or a stewed or grilled side dish like the iconic Ciambotta. The heat of spicy red pepper, the culinary icon of Calabrian cuisine, is found most famously in ‘Nduja, a spreadably salami that can find a home slathered over bread or in a pasta sauce.
Cipolla rossa di Tropea, the red torpedo onions of the Calabrian beach town of Tropea, are revered everwhere in Italy.
Fresh sardinies are plentiful and find their way in Pasta ccu ri sarde, an Arab inspired dish similar to Pasta con le Sarde you'll find in Sicily.
Sure, there's Tuscan olive oil, but did you know that nearly a quarter of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Calabria? And if you like Licorice, you'll be glad to know it's a real popular deal in Calabria, known as rigulizza in dialect.
Grapes of Greek origin, red Gaglioppo and the white Greco make up the bulk of Calabrian wine, augmented by small amounts of the juice of other grapes. The best known is Cirò DOC, which comes in rosso, bianco and rosato versions.
The the rare Greco di Bianco is a white made from partially dried grapes as a desert wine.
There are 12 DOCs in Calabria, but as yet no DOCG wines.
Reggio di Calabria "Tito Minniti" Airport serves Reggio and Messina provinces.
Lamezia Terme airport is the principle airport of Calabria. It's located in the Sant'Eufemia district of Lamezia Terme.