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Saturday, June 7, 2008

10 reasons to travel to Calabria: part 1

Calabria is the southern Italian region that is the toe of Italy's boot. Not only is it Europe's best value destination but it has more going for it than you'd guess from the little coverage it receives in the travel press. Having just crisscrossed Calabria to research a guidebook, these are the reasons I think you need to visit:
1. Tropea: stroll the cobblestone streets of Calabria's most sophisticated seaside town in the evening and you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in a little version of Rome, for around every corner is an excellent trattoria or enoteca ran by a food-loving family. Dramatically set on a rocky headland, its elegant pastel painted palazzi are perched atop cliffs skirted by two of the region's most alluring sandy beaches. The crystal clear aquamarine waters are especially enticing when viewed from the pretty piazzas above, and the Santa Maria dell'Isola convent, pictured, is simply stunning.
2. Calabrian cuisine: not only is it spicy, tasty and rustic, it relies heavily on fresh seafood, especially swordfish, cod, squid and sea urchin, and makes splendid use of local staples like red onions, aubergines and porcini mushrooms when in season. But it's the spicy flavors we loved best, the fantastic salamis, peperoncino (peppers) and the local specialty, fiery 'nduja, a spicy pork salami paste - our favorite! (See the Bleeding Espresso blog for Calabrian food tips and recipes.)
3. Aspromonte National Park: some guidebooks suggest avoiding this breathtakingly beautiful area, which it's said is the heartland of the Calabrian mafia, however, locals love these mountains for hiking and driving and guides will happily take you on treks. If you're too scared to get out of the car then simply enjoy a low-key cruise along the lovely winding road as it snakes through thick forests of birch, fir and pine trees that frequently come together to form a shaded canopy overhead. We loved the route from Melito di Porto Salvo via Chorio and Bagaladi to Gamberie where you can take a left down the coast to Reggio Calabria; make a detour to mighty Montalto at 1955 metres.

4. Scilla: another sublime seaside resort with a charming upper town, with a castle and churches, dramatically perched on a headland high above the ocean, and atmospheric lower towns either side, one boasting old buildings jutting into the sea with al fresco restaurants sitting over the water and a port that's fascinating to visit when the fishing boats come in, while the other side has a wide sandy beach with superb seafood restaurants and lidos that are popular with Italians in summer.

5. Morano Calabro: Calabria seems to have more hilltop towns than the whole of Italy. These atmospheric medieval villages sprawl across hills and spill down mountains, and even though there's little to actually see or do, sometimes it's enough to simply gaze at their beauty from a good vantage point (see the pic of Morano that accompanies yesterday's post). The more adventurous and energetic can explore the steep narrow streets, but be prepared for both stares from locals (some villages, Morano included, are not used to foreigners) and disappointment (often the view is better from a distance). In my opinion, Morano is the most impressive of dozens of similar towns.
More to come on Calabria...


Maryam in Marrakesh said...

This place sounds beautiful and amazing! You are so lucky!

bleeding espresso said...

Couldn't agree with this more, Lara. Can't wait for your next set of reasons...come one, come all! Calabria is waiting!

Oh, and thanks so much for the link love :)

laradunston said...

It is very beautiful in parts. Like anywhere it also has some places which can be avoided too, but nobody wants to read about those! It's a great stop on an Italian grand tour or on the way to Sicily.

laradunston said...

Glad you agree! They're coming very soon!

kenekaplan said...

Excellent blog! Got here from the cool Palazzo Pizzo blog.

A few more gems in Calabria to consider, but first here's a video walking segment I shot in Tropea in late May 2008 during a stunning sunset reveling the islands:

Serra San Bruno -- peaceful, spiritual walk through the forest past the Certosa up to Santa Maria.

Tiriolo -- see the Due Mare (Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas -- Stromboli island looks HUGE from this vantage point) from atop the town then race down the spiral streets to the piazza. I shot my first video walking segment there

Seminara -- Awesome olive orchards (tiny olives are typical of this area) and traditional hand made & vibrantly painted pottery. Some photos here

Ciro Marina -- for the strong wine and Ionian Sea.

Capo Vaticano -- I haven't had the chance to stop here, but it's a recommended stop along the coast down to Tropea. Photo here

Please keep alive your list of Calabria! Remnants of the Magna Grecia, culture, food and scenery is inspiring and after one taste...irresistible!

Thank you for the pleasant back to work:).

laradunston said...

Hi there

Thanks for the lovely comments on my blog! Much appreciated.

Great suggestions there! Serra San Bruno is sublime - it was tough trying to decide between Serra and Aspromonte for a top ten.

Tiriolo is also stunning - the views are just spectacular!

I was a bit disappointed in Ciro Marina though, and also Capo Vaticano. Ciro does great wines and it's a lovely (although very narrow and winding) drive through the vineyards in the hills above the coast but I found Ciro Marina itself to not hold much of interest. Capo Vaticano is much more stunning from a distance - the caost is spectacular - but the area is suffering from some dreadful hotel and other developments.

I have a few more blogs on Calabria yet, so stay tuned!

Thanks again!