Italians know that Calabria, the toe of the boot-shaped peninsula overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the east, is the place to escape for a mix of medieval villages, working farms, stunning mountain terrain, and wide, sandy beaches. Cherrye Moore of My Bella Vita Travel has built a travel advisory focused on this relatively undiscovered region of Italy. And while she has carved out a specialty in heritage tours, connecting travelers with their Calabrian roots, you don’t need family ties to uncover the history, cuisine, and charm of the region. We asked her to share some of her favorite spots.
Calabria will always have a special place in my heart. After college, I landed a job at Disneyland Paris where I met my husband. (Job perk!) First I fell in love with him, then I fell in love with his native Calabria where we settled. I’ve spent the last 17 years looking into every nook and cranny for special discoveries that I share with guests on small group tours and private experiences. Here are places I love to go — the beaches, farms, villages, and mountains.
On the Beach
Giovino in Catanzaro Lido is my home beach, the place to be all summer. The crowd is totally local; I rarely see (or hear) English-speaking tourists. When I first moved to the area, there was nothing here, and it’s been fun to see how much has changed over the years. About a dozen lidi (beach clubs) with colorful umbrellas now line the Ionian coast, some family-friendly, others for a younger crowd. You can have drinks, lunch, and snacks directly on the beach or play volleyball, soccer, or foosball on the wide sandy beaches.
Calabrians claim Caminia near Staletti is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. They aren’t wrong. The mountain meets the sea here, and it is stunning. Unlike the beaches on the Tyrrhenian Coast (where there are a lot of beach services), Caminia is an amazing natural beach with just a few beach bars. Blanca Cruz, located steps from the water, is a must for lunch: Chef Massimo shines with his exquisite fresh seafood.
For the best granita this side of Sicily, venture into the winding mountain roads up to Staletti to Bar Jolly. Work your way through the dark entrance to the terrace in the back. My favorite place to view a spectacular sunset is in Diamante on the Tyrrhenian side, from a private terrace at Hotel Ferretti or from a boat off the coast of Capo Vaticano.
On the Farm
La Locanda del Parco, a family-owned agriturismo at the base of the Pollino Mountains, has a small hotel, cabins, a fabulous restaurant, a beautiful pool, and seasonal spa services. Italians are so welcoming, and especially here. We have danced in the farm kitchen, had after-work drinks with the chef at her home, and gone foraging for mushrooms with the owner’s husband.
Also worth a visit is the mulberry farm Nido di Seta where they breed silkworms. If you love mulberries, head into Catanzaro Lido to Bar Centrale for seasonal granita made with their home-grown mulberries.
In the Villages
Santa Severina, a medieval hamlet in the province of Crotone — one of the most beautiful villages — is home to Azienda Agrituristica Le Puzelle, an agriturismo hotel and restaurant with great views and delicious food.
Another great medieval mountain village is Morano Calabro: I like to bring guests to the castle on the top and let them take their time walking down. While we’re talking castles, also great is Castello di Corigliano Calabro near Sibari, an ancient Greek village from which the word sybarite was derived. While we’re talking ancient Greeks (they spent a lot of time in these parts), local lore holds that the settlement of Scolacium was discovered by none other than Ulysses.
Plan a stop for lunch at Bistrot near Corigliano Calabro, one of my husband’s favorites. You’ll find owner Patrizia and her brother in the dining room, their mom in the kitchen. Order an amazing feast of antipasto: That’s all you need. At Osteria dal Cugino in Dipignano near Cosenza, owner Cesare knows everyone’s name and has pictures of locals on his wall (including of me and my travel guests).
Another must-see is Rossano for its beautiful cathedral, which is home to the Codex purpureus Rossanensis, the priceless Byzantine manuscripts also known as the Rossano gospels. More whimsical is the Museo della Liquirizi, a licorice lover’s dream.
In the Mountains
In winter, we ski in Aspromonte National Park, but the place to escape in summer is La Sila, the mountainous green heart of Calabria. It is divided into three parts: Sila Grande, Sila Piccola, and Sila Greca. The alpine-like villages in Sila Piccola are great during the summer when it's too hot near the beach. A top place to eat here is the restaurant at Hotel Villa Marinella in Villaggio Racise.
The most famous mountain resort is Camigliatello Silano in Spezzano della Sila, close to the man-made Cecita Lake. You’ll want time to walk through the Giants of Sila pine forest. Another stop on the must-visit list is Civita, a village settled by Albanians in the 1400s, for its fascinating cultural heritage and dramatic Pollino Mountains scenery — the deepest gorge in Europe. Stop at the restaurant Kamastra, where the owner, Enzo, will sometimes grab his guitar and start singing. You’ll probably join in.
Plan Your Trip
If you want help planning a trip to Calabria, get in touch with Cherrye at My Bella Vita Travel.