With 7 Blue Flag beaches, super-friendly people and amazing food, Calabria is a true gem of southern Italy, yet international travelers rarely venture to this place. Intrigued by a general lack of guidebooks dedicated to this region (enough to say that Lonely Planet doesn’t even have one), I flew to Lamezia Terme to find out more about what Calabria has to offer.
June is one of the best months to explore the southern regions of Italy and this time I ventured to the toe of the Italian boot, an area still pretty much undiscovered but with plenty to offer travelers.
I had only five days on hand, so I decided to focus on a specific zone in order to limit transfers and truly experience the slow-paced southern Italian lifestyle. I chose the Tyrrhenian coast, which is divided into two scenic sections: Costa degli Dei (Coast of the Gods), from Pizzo to Nicotera, evoking ancient Greek mythology, and Costa Viola (Violet Coast), from Bagnara Calabra to Scilla, so called because of the peculiar colors of the waters at certain times of the day. Don’t these names evoke dreamlike images of pure delight and total relaxation in you?
Here’s my itinerary:
Day 1: Lamezia Airport > Pizzo > Tropea
Day 2: Zungri > Briatico > Capo Vaticano > Tropea
Day 3: Palmi > Scilla
Day 4: Reggio Calabria > Scilla
Day 5: Bagnara Calabra > Lamezia Airport
Renting a car is the easiest way to explore Calabria, especially if you have only a few days available. Piecing together public transportation routes can be quite time consuming, and connections may be a little scarce outside of the major cities. Check out this site to get an idea.
What to see
- Pizzo, a pretty little town perched on a rock above the gulf of S. Eufemia overlooked by the Murat Castle. After exploring the narrow streets and browsing the many little shops, stop by one of the many bars dotting Piazza della Repubblica and taste the local ice cream speciality called tartufo.
- Just a couple of km north of Pizzo, don’t miss the unique Church of Piedigrotta, entirely carved out of tuff stone. According to the legend, it was built in the 17th century by shipwrecked sailors right on the beach – a truly fascinating place! Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, as the sea here is pretty amazing.
- The charming seaside town of Tropea, with its maze of narrow streets, sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and dramatic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea as far as the Stromboli island in Sicily.
- The extraordinarily beautiful Capo Vaticano, with stretches of soft sand sloping into azure waters and a seabed characterized by a rich marine life, making it ian ideal spot for scuba diving.
- The rocky settlement of Sbariati in the village of Zungri, often overlooked by tourists but definitely worth the little detour. This is urban hamlet of caves entirely carved out of sandstone most probably between the12th and the 14th century, testifying a peculiar type of socio-economic organization.
- The small fishing village of Briatico, north of Tropea, with fantastic views of the Tyrrhenian coastline. Leave your car at the beginning of via Lungomare, near the Conad supermarket, and walk through the path starting right in front of it. It may be a little steep but trust me, you will reach a your own slice of paradise – a breathtaking rocky beach with turquoise waters, that will be most likely all to yourself.
- Mt. Sant’Elia in Palmi, with a panoramic viewpoint over Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, and a Devil’s Stone hiding a fascinating legend about the battle between good and evil.
- Scilla, the pearl of the Purple Coast, an enchanting village wrapped in history and legend. It is said that this place was the home of the sea monster Scylla who, together with Charybdis, guarded the Strait of Messina and menaced Ulysses and his crew as they sailed by. There’s plenty to see and do here, as the village is divided into three areas: the beaches of Marina Grande, San Giorgio, the administrative centre perched high above the sea, and the atmospheric fishermen’s district of Chianalea, No doubt that this place will charm your eyes!
- Bagnara Calabra, a quaint coastal village with sandy beaches, renowned for its swordfish fishing fleet (with a festival that celebrates the year’s catch in July) and the production of torrone, the beloved Italian sweet so popular in the winter, which has been awarded with the IGP quality certification brand
- Reggio Calabria, the oldest city in the region, on the toe of Italy. It features an amazing seafront promenade that the Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio once described as “the most beautiful kilometer of Italy”. Don’t miss a visit to the National Museum of Magna Grecia, with a fantastic collection that includes the two famous full-size statues of Greek warriors known as Riace Bronzes.
What to eat
Forget diets and calorie counts and try all the delicious food typical of this region. Hand-made pasta, yummy cheeses, fresh seafood, amazing sweets. You name it.
Not only is the local gastronomy based on simple ingredients that combined together produce tasty dishes, but it also features some pretty unique products. If you like strong flavors, then you should absolutely try nduja, a spicy pork salumi spread – it will literally steal your belly! You can’t do without a soft drink? Forget Coke and go for a Brasilera, the coffee-flavored soda produced in Calabria.
Where to stay
Calabria has plenty of accommodation options to fit all tastes and budgets, so you won’t have any problems. Here’s my selection:
- in Tropea I spent two nights at Villa Vittoria, a fantastic B&B in the town centre with reserved parking space right in front of the entrance and easy distance from the railway station. The staff goes above and beyond the call of duty to make guests feel welcome, and there’s a fantastic welcome tray with drinks, fresh fruits and snacks waiting for you in the bedroom upon arrival.
- In Scilla I stayed at B&B Sunshine, right in front of the beach at Marina Grande and only 5 minute walk from the old fishing village of Chianalea. I was assigned the SoleLuna bedroom, big, clean and with a fantastic shower covered in quartzite stone. The owner is very helpful and he even filled the small fridge in the room with drinks and freshly baked cakes for “afternoon cravings”…how thoughtful!
When to go
This Italian region enjoys mild temperatures all year around, although the mountainous interior can become pretty cold in the winter months. As usual, it is better to avoid peak season and prefer the months of May-June and September-October instead. Bear in mind that although Calabria is still quite unknown to international travelers, it’s a favorite holiday destination for Italians, so it can become quite crowded in July and August.
If you are looking for a great alternative to the typical Italian coastal escapes like Cinque Terre or the Amalfi coast, then you should really consider this sunny region. Ping me an email if you’d like to know more about this region or need some help to put together your trip!
Until next time,