Nicole, our lady on the ground in Italy, has been exploring all that Calabria has to offer. Be sure you don’t miss the ‘toe’ of Italy’s boot!
The ‘grand tour toffs’ of the 17th and 18th century used to leave Calabria out of their itineraries and enthusiastic journals. Fearful of its reputation for unpassable mountain roads, ruthless cave-dwelling robbers and frequent landslides they wimped out and took a safe sail straight to Sicily. No doubt they could discover the ‘real Italy’ in Naples or Florence at that time – but nowadays if you want to get away from the hordes you need to make a bee-line for Calabria.
The landscape is dramatic: rugged mountains, meandering paths following streams and waterfalls through which you can walk for days without meeting another soul (move over French Alps), valleys filled with wild flowers, tantalising glimpses of turquoise sea, Byzantine cathedrals and Norman castles, forests of ancient beech and pine.
Whilst the thrilling, off-track peninsula entices many to the area, few need further persuasion once introduced to the food of Calabria. This region produces a quarter of the country’s olive oil which is used for preserving as well as cooking – and what cooking!
Onion soup thickened with bread and seasoned with grated pecorino and hot pepper, pork and veal liver pie with tomato, plenty of fresh seafood from the clear Tyrrhenian waters, swordfish roasted with capers, parsley and lemon, fried ravioli filled with chestnuts, candied fruit, nougat and chocolate….dedicated gourmands will adore it here.
And so will lovers of good wine. Robust Cirò reds are the perfect match for the regions tangy, aged cheeses, but some excellent white wines are also produced from the Greco grape of Greek origin, and an amber coloured sweet wine called Greco di Bianco made with dried grapes which weighs in at 17% – so to be taken in sips rather than glugs.
The Calabrese have a reputation (in Italy in any case) for being stubborn, but another way of saying that is persistent, unwavering, determined – all the qualities needed if you are to cling on to your traditions and local ways in this increasingly bland world. So carry on Calabria – keep the faith.
4 beautiful places to stay in Calabria
If we have piqued your curiosity, explore four of our favourite places to stay when taking a trip to the ‘toe’ of Italy:
For waterfalls, thermal baths in Caronte, Sila archaeological park, ancient churches, markets to explore, beaches and an ancient textile mill.
A working olive and citrus farm. Ride or hike in the nearby mountains, visit archaeological sites, have a go at kite surfing.
Doze by the sea at this unexpected haven, stride the hills of the National Park of Sila and visit the canyons of Valli Cupe.
From here you can stride in the Pollino mountains, visit the Palaeolithic Romito caves and medieval Belvedere.
With more special places than ever before, Sawday’s 9th edition of ’Special Places to Stay: Italy’ sees some 140 new places added to the collection, a mini-boom in Agriturismi, mindful destinations, a smattering of Sicilian island idylls and for the first time, Calabria.
Available in all good bookshops or through our online bookshop.