On the day of Calabria’s creation, God found fifteen thousand square kilometers of green clay – with slight purple reflections – and Calabria flowed from His hands to become more beautiful than California or Hawaii, the French coast or even the islands of Japan.
-Leonida Repaci, the Calabrian intellectual, declared in his poem The Land of the Bruzi, transforming a physical place into a literary landscape of a thousand shades.
Calabria is a territory of rich and varied contrasts. Over its storied history it has been known by many names: Ausonia for its fertility; Esperia for its Western ways; Enotria as a land of flourishing vines and wine; Italy as home of Italo, the king who conquered it and inhabited it with his people from the late Iron Age; then Magna Grecia, although from the eighth century BC onwards, simply as Magna because it is more sumptuous than the mother country; Bruzia of the Bruzi, people who conquered and inhabited its cities for four centuries; and finally, for the last thousand years, Calabria, from the Greek Calon-brio, which means rich in every good way,
Its position is as enviable as it is strategic: stretched-out at the toe of the boot, between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, and only a little more than three kilometers from Sicily across the Strait of Messina. Mostly hilly and mountainous, it is flat along its eight hundred kilometers of enchanting coast, yet boasts the highest and most rugged peaks on its border with the region of Basilicata and, at the end of the peninsula, where the Aspromonte Mountain peaks exceed two thousand meters. Famous above all for its long, white-sand beaches, that alternate from small inlets to rocks and high cliffs overlooking the sea, with many places, both on the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coast, still intact and wild, not yet exploited by tourism.
Pollino National Park
With four natural parks, ranging from north to south, Calabria is the ideal destination for those who want to immerse themselves in nature. Monte Pollino, gives its name to the massif that extends to the borders of Basilicata as well as a National Park, the largest protected area in Europe and one of the most popular destinations for hikers, nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. It’s especially popular for those who love to explore canyons, and the Raganello Gorge offers beautiful multicolored rocks and cliffs, which have been created and smoothed by water and wind.
Sila National Park
Located, in a central position, between the provinces of Cosenza, Crotone and Catanzaro, is the Sila Plateau where you will breathe the cleanest air in Europe, and from which the Sila National Park takes its name. Boasting 150,000 hectares of natural wealth, diverse landscapes, and a great variety of animal and vegetable species, interspersed with many villages, each with its own traditions.
Forests and Waterfalls
Another green lung of the region is the Serre Regional Natural Park, located between the Aspromonte and the Sila, and characterized by the presence of vast forests, gorges, streams and waterfalls. Rich in itineraries and paths, and immersed in nature, the territory and canyons are best explored on foot, horseback or bicycle.
At the tip of the boot is the Aspromonte, a mighty granite-crystalline pyramid that stands imposingly on the last edge of the Calabrian Apennines. The alpine ski slopes of Gambarie d’Aspromonte National Park, wind for 10 kilometers, offering a vast variety of panoramas, extending from the alpine landscape to the Mediterranean scrub, and onward to the Strait of Messina. From the mountain, it is actually possible to admire the smoking Etna Volcano, and at the same time, the Aeolian islands.
Certainly, more popular with tourists is the vast Calabrian coast, offering natural beauty and pristine water. Bathed by both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, Calabria boasts fine, white-sand beaches, which are considered among the most beautiful in the world, as they are interspersed with inlets and cliffs, overlooking the sea and secluded rocky bays. Between Tropea and Capo Vaticano is a long stretch of wide, beautiful beaches, known as the Costa degli Dei, and famous for the unique colors of the sea that change from turquoise to deep blue. Known as the ‘Picolo Paradiso’ the stretch of coast between Palmi and Bagnara, is adored for the intense, undulating shades of colors that the sea assumes throughout the day. At the toe of the boot the sea is open and deep, its clear water offers precious testimony of the many ancient civilizations that settled and lived here.
The many villages in the region – keepers of historic memory and ancient traditions – are the gateway to experiencing medieval and Renaissance atmospheres. In each village, it is possible to discover an unexpected jewel of art, such as the Polyptych of Bartolomeo Vivarini in Morano Calabro or the works of Simone Martini in Altomonte, the city of bread. Many of these small towns are nestled between sky and sea, such as Fiumefreddo Bruzio on the Tyrrhenian coast, embellished by its castle and by its many historic buildings. Gerace is one of those places where time seems to stand still. An important Norman center, it has maintained the architectural lines of the period in the Basilica of S. Maria Assunta, the largest Romanesque Cathedral in Southern Italy. Showing evidence of the Byzantine domination, we have The Catholic Stilo and the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, a 6th century evangelical manuscript kept in Rossano Calabro.
The only place of its kind, located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea, is Scilla, whose ancient origins blend between mythology and history. The ancient village, of great charm, is a succession of characteristic narrow streets, dominated by the austere Ruffo Castle, from which you can enjoy a spectacular view over the Strait of Messina. The most evocative part of the town is Chianalea, the ancient fishing district, also known as little Venice for its position, which is almost immersed in the waters of the sea. The close-knit houses are separated by small alleys and rise directly from the blue sea, with their foundations built directly on the rocks.
Castles and towers are still visible and stand-out on the beaches and hills overlooking the coast. These sentinels, placed to defend the territory, have been historically coveted for their positions, beauty and wealth, against those who tried to conquer the region.
Especially enchanting is the Aragonese fortress of The Castella on the island of Capo Rizzuto, an ancient testimony of the constant struggle against attacks by invaders from the sea. This large military fort towers over an islet, linked to the small urban center by a thin strip of sand. The stronghold dates back to the 15th century, but stands on Greek foundations dating back to 400 BC.
Throughout history, the fortress was used by the Romans, and later the Normans, Swabians, Byzantines, Angevins and Aragonese, all of whom left their identities in the addition of castle defenses fitting the tastes of those who constructed them. The beach behind the fortress is sandy alternating with stretches of sandstone cliffs and a perfect spot to relax in the sun with an ancient castle view.
In the northern part of the region, well connected to the international airport of Lamezia Terme, is Cosenza, which in 2008, was proclaimed a city of art and called the ‘Athens of Calabria,’ as a driving force of culture and dynamism. The city has succeeded in combining its past and present by connecting the historic center, perched on the mountain, with the modern city located in the valley. Dividing the ancient from the modern, are the Crati and Busento rivers, which intersect the city and act as natural dividing lines. Among the ancient legends, is the story of the burial of the king of the Visigoths, Alaric, who died in 410 in ancient Consentia, and was buried at the confluence of the rivers.
Symbols of the present and future are the Ponte San Francesco di Paolo by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the nearby Planetarium and the beautiful Museo all’aperto Belloti, a unique museum experiment housed in the streets, completely open and free to enjoy, with works by De Chirico, Modigliani, Dalì and others.
Another city of art is Reggio Calabria, known in ancient times as Reghion, with a magnificent promenade, described by D’Annunzio as the most beautiful kilometer in Italy, and from which you can admire Sicily across the Strait of Messina.
An invaluable treasure for all of Italy, is the National Archaeological Museum which, among the many prizes of its rich collection, are two rare sculptures: the famous fifth century BC, Greek Bronzes known as I Bronzi di Riace, found in local waters in 1972.
A Melting Pot of Culinary Traditions
Thanks to the mixture of culinary traditions, originating with invading people from the north and south, from the Saracens, Byzantines and Normans, Calabrian food has evolved into an unmistakable blend of enchanting tastes. With its many powerful flavors, the Calabrian cuisine manages to delight even the most demanding palates, ranging from tasty appetizers to traditional Arabic desserts.
Among the most famous and appreciated local products are Nduja di Spilinga, a spicy and spreadable salami, which goes nicely with the Tropea onion and the chili pepper, which have always been associated with Calabria, as well the delicious local bread made from ancient grains.
Not everyone knows that the region also boasts a top-level dairy tradition, one of the oldest in the country. In fact, Calabrian cheese occupies a prominent place among local products. Pecorino, Caciocavallo Cilano and Musulupu dell’Aspromonte being among the most popular.
Already in ancient times the Greeks knew Calabria as Enotria, that is, the land of wine, and Calabrian wines were offered as a prize to the winners of the Olympics.
Today, thanks to the fortitude of many local winemakers, regional production maintains a remarkably high level of quality. The most common grape variety is the Magliocco Canino, which is flanked by Gaglioppo, Greco Nero and Aglianico.
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