Calabria: Italy as it once was is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen.
The southernmost place in Italy
2500 kilometers south of Denmark ends mainland Europe. Calabria is the toe in Italy. Where you look over at Sicily, which is a few kilometers away separated only by the famous Strait of Messina. And where you can best see the volcano Etna on a clear day.
But unlike Sicily, only a few tourists come to Calabria, and most are Italians or others who have family roots to the region - often Americans and Argentines with Italian roots.
In other words, Calabria is something as unusual as a piece completely authentic and fantastic piece of Italy. Without all the tourist hordes you can find in the north and very far from Costa del Sol; its counterpart in Spain.
Calabria's local fruits
I know that scent. It reminds me of tea! It is fantastic. Aromatic. Sour. Sweet. Uhmm…
Our host has picked a lemon-like fruit down from the tree in the plantation. He scratches at the surface, and the scent of summer spreads with the speed of lightning. "It's a bergamot," he says. "Or what you may know as 'bergamot' in Earl Gray tea."
It only grows here in Calabria, and if tried elsewhere, it rarely bears fruit. Its juice is wildly sour, but its peel is so amazing that it is used in everything from Eau de Cologne for tea. "This is our pride, our fruit."
All roads lead to Reggio Calabria
I know no one who's been here. None. I myself have never been so south in Italy, but still in Malta just south. Reggio Calabria is the capital, and here you can fly to. And ride in trains to. Or by car.
All roads lead to Reggio Calabria at the end of the boot country of Calabria.
It's a nice city. Great promenade. Malls along the waterfront. Luxury ice cream shops in the shade of the trees. And then also worn house blocks. An abandoned bathing establishment by the city beach.
A city that has seen more than most. It was leveled by an earthquake 100 years ago, just like several Sicilian cities, and today is a beautiful mix of new and old, beautiful and worn. And all with an unmistakable Italian soul.
Scilla - idyll on the cliff side
We can sense the volcanoes Etna and Stromboli in the haze and have local swordfish, pasta and ice in the stomach. It's 27 degrees and sun. It's easy to enjoy life in the coastal town of Scilla, which clings to the cliff side of Calabria.
The local legends tell of the sirens that lured Odysseus to, and the city is named after the alluring women who today mostly flock to the beach in the middle of the small town. Most arrive by small train here, so you land in the middle of it all without having to find a parking space. Smart.
The whole coast here is not so little reminiscent Cinque Terre in northern Italy, but in the calm, relaxed way. The largest hotel in town reportedly has 8 rooms. Here you walk around, e.g. down to the neighborhood along havet, where you can fish directly from the balcony.
The idyll will never end.
Aspromonte National Park
The mountains here are not what they first appear to be. They are actually a piece of the Alps that have migrated from the south of France down here over a few million years, and are therefore also called the 'Middle Alps'havet'.
It should be taken quite literally. You can ski here with a view of Middelhavet, and it happens that snow falls in the mountains in May, even though the highest point is "only" just over 2000 meters.
It also means that if you are not happy with the temperature, you can move a little up or down or around a mountain and then it is just the way you want it. That's smart.
Ghost villages and pirates in Calabria
And then there are beautiful views and geological puzzles everywhere. The national park is quite close to Reggio Calabria, but it does not take long before you feel in another world.
Here are plantations and cozy villages. There are also several ghost villages that speak their clear language that this part of Italy has always been less rich than in the north and has provided more emigrants than many others.
It's an obvious area to hike in and just slow down.
Many preferred to live up here in the mountains because it was safer than down by the coast, where pirates and invading fleets made life unsafe. Therefore, some of the oldest settlements are also up here, where there are descendants of Greek monks and immigrants to a degree, so today there is a dialect called Greek dialect of Calabria.
Al Borgo - gourmet in Calabria
We had lunch in Bova at the local restaurant Al Borgo named after the Norman castle at the top of the hill.
Even for a foodie like me who had high expectations, it just peaked. Everything was homemade. Also the ham, salami and pasta. And the wine. And vegetables and mushrooms were from the village or the mountains.
I pushed my stomach to the limit so as not to miss anything and was glad that dinner that day first landed on the table at. 21.30pm, because I was simply so full. And full of impressions from the beautiful region.
By the way, Bova is one of the most charming mountain towns I have visited in Southern Europe.
Pentedattilo - they left five fingers in Calabria
With a common sense of adventure and drama, the locals have taken over one of the local abandoned towns and created a cultural festival.
There was now no festival the day we passed by, but only a fascinating sight of a village defying gravity.
Capo Spartivento, 37 ° 56′N 16 ° 3′E
A little further down the coast is the equivalent of the North Cape, namely the South Cape. Locally called Capo Spartivento with an iconic lighthouse.
Calabria is far away. Far away from mass tourism. Far away from over-exploitation of resources. And wonderfully close to everything that makes Italy such a formidable travel destination; the food, the nature, the people. The sweet life.
Where many other destinations struggle to be most authentic, Calabria is just that all by itself. It's incredibly liberating.
There are places that are easier to get to, but with a minimal extra effort you will experience a place that can do something completely different. And then you can easily combine it with a day trip to Sicily or a few days north to Europe's European Capital of Culture from 2019, Matera.
Good trip to Calabria. You deserve it.
What to see in Calabria? Sights and attractions
- Reggio Calabria
- The coastal town of Scilla
- Aspromonte National Park
- The mountain town of Bova
- The ghost town of Pentedattilo
- The iconic lighthouse in Capo Spartivento