ADVERTORIAL • October 2022
Think of Calabria, the ‘toe’ of the Italian boot, as 500 miles of coast wrapped around mountains, a narrow peninsula of Blue Flag beaches, forested ski resorts, ancient ruins and spicy cooking. It’s Italy’s last best-kept secret, but one that Calabria Straordinaria, founded in 2022, wants to share. Travel writer and Italy specialist Dana Facaros takes us on a tour…
British Airways flies from Heathrow to Naples in two hours and 40 minutes, with off-season bargains galore. From Naples, take a fast train down the Tyrrhenian coast (it’s 4.5 hours to Reggio) and hire a car.
When is the best time to go?
Any time! The coastal resorts open from June into October while, just inland, the Pollino and Sila National Parks offer another world altogether, where you can trek, canyon and camp from spring until autumn, and even snowshoe in winter. Look out for the Soldanella, the purple snowbell of the region’s woodlands, which Calabria Straordinaria has taken as its symbol.
The beach babes
Start with the luminous white sands of chic Tropea – but don’t stop there. Gorgeous beaches stud the coast at Praia a Mare (facing the Isola di Dino, an islet of sea grottos), at mural-covered Diamante and under the promontory of Pizzo, famous for gelato. Gizzeria is internationally renowned for kitesurfing and the new sport of kite foiling, while colour-drenched Scilla (below) – the monstrous Scylla of the Odyssey – is one of Italy’s most beautiful villages and lauded for its swordfish.
Beach lovers are spoiled for choice here. Standouts include Corigliano-Rossano, which also claims one of the world’s oldest gospels. Then there’s Caminia, with its granite reefs, and Isola Capo Rizzuto, where golden sands overlook a castle that seems to float in the turquoise sea. Soverato has sugar-white sands and a marine park, sheltering two rare species of seahorse. Further south, beaches on the flower-growing Jasmine Coast stretch all the way south to Capo Spartivento.
The hot stuff
This unusual spreadable sausage full of hot peppers makes a perfect introduction to Calabria’s piquant cuisine. Spicy peperoncini turn up everywhere, along with red aubergines, red onions from Tropea and superb seafood.
L’A Gourmet L’Accademia
Chefs have made huge strides in lifting Calabria’s traditional cucina povera – simple, homestyle cooking – up to world-class levels. This restaurant overlooking the Straits in Reggio specialises in local ingredients, seafood and Calabria’s finest wines.
The classic sites
Crotone and Sybaris
In the 8th century BC, Calabria was part of the ‘new world’ of Magna Graecia founded by Greek colonists. Its famous cities included Crotone, home to Pythagoras (now the site of an excellent archaeology museum) and luxury-loving Sybaris. Arch-rival Crotone flattened it in 510BC, but its memory survives in the fertile plain of Sibari and Calabria’s hedonistic beach clubs.
The Riace bronzes
The Archaeological Museum at Reggio houses two 6ft5in indecently virile gentlemen (above), discovered in a shipwreck and classed among the greatest masterpieces of Greek art. You won’t forget them.
Villa Romana di Casignana
See how the Roman upper crust lived at this recently excavated palace at Casignana on the plain of Locri, starring a mosaic of the Triumph of Dionysus in India.
The wildest wonders
Idyllic national parks
Calabria’s biggest surprise is its alpine interior, forested with beeches and pines. Its three national parks embrace a breathtaking variety of scenery and wildlife: Pollino, Italy’s largest; Sila, with mountain lakes and peaks just under 3,000m; and Aspromonte, dotted with charming villages inhabited by the descendants of the ancient Greeks.
Fly with the eagles
Soar over Sila national park in a hot-air balloon with Freedome. It also arranges canyoning, paragliding and mountain biking tours.
The winter pursuits
Visit in winter to feel like a local rather than a tourist, taking in the sights without the crowds and enjoying cooler temperatures. In Reggio, discover bergamot, which is harvested in winter. There’s even a bergamot museum.
The national parks offer spectacular snowy landscapes. In the Sila, Calabria’s biggest ski station, Lorica, has 20km of pistes overlooking lovely Lake Arvo.
To discover more inspiration for your trip to Calabria, click here