Its 800 kilometers of coastline make Calabria, located at the tip of La Botte, an ideal destination for holidaymakers who want to take it easy. Far from the chaos of Rimini or the Amalfi Coast, its wild beaches stand out for their calm and sometimes their cleanliness. Something rare in Italy, they are mostly public and not very crowded because they are rarely mentioned in tourist guides.
Perched on an imposing reef overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, the seaside town of Tropea stands out. “It’s the place most frequented by tourists because all the tour operators stop here,” notes Caterina, a 33-year-old Calabrian who manages the Facebook page “Tesoro Calabria” (“Treasure Calabria”, in French).
In summer, Germans, Dutch and even Americans jostle to taste its red onion, labeled IGP (Protected Geographical Indication), and visit the Byzantine church of Santa Maria dell’Isola, flanked on a rock. From up there, the water seems even more turquoise than on the fine sandy beaches.
On the Ionian Sea side, international tourism is almost non-existent. In the region of Locri, named after this Greek colony which left temples and ramparts among its remains, the feeling of solitude dominates on these immense beaches. Except in high season during the first two weeks of August.
Caminia Bay is a ‘hidden treasure’
Going up the Ionian coast, towards the north, the bay of Caminia is a “hidden treasure”, says Caterina, who has spent every summer there since her childhood. This strip of sand surrounded by two cliffs and its transparent water are a delight for Calabrian families. Here, the parents play cards under the parasol while the kids have fun counting the sea urchins, using a mask and a snorkel.
Snorkelling enthusiasts also appreciate the Saraceno cave and Le Castella, famous for its Aragonese castle, “surrounded by crystal clear water rich in fish”, she continues. Situated on an islet connected by a strip of land, the 15th century fortress is a sight to behold when illuminated at night.
“The most beautiful kilometer in Italy”
The other strong point of the region: its steep mountains, which reach up to 2,000 m in altitude. Cut off from the world, they attract hikers of all levels. While some devote themselves to picking mushrooms or berries, others are in search of freshness.
Witness the attraction of locals and tourists in summer for Bivongi, whose waterfall in the shade of the trees is accessible by 4 x 4 or on foot for adventurers. Ditto in Valle Cupi, where nocturnal tours in canyons are offered.
By bike, on horseback or accompanied by a donkey, the walks allow you to discover very dense vegetation: chestnut trees, oaks, fir trees… In the Sila National Park, dotted with farms, a pear-shaped cheese is made there: the caciocavallo. In that of Aspromonte, to the south, Etna can be seen.
And to take a closer look at Sicily, separated by 3 km by the Strait of Messina, you have to go down to Reggio Calabria, renowned for its bergamot. Its “lungomare” offers a breathtaking panorama as the island seems within reach. Inspiring the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who described this walk as “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy”.
Greeks, Romans, Bourbons… have been there
Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Bourbons… The civilizations that mattered in the Mediterranean have left traces of their greatness, some of which are still appreciable. Recently modernized, the archaeological museum of Reggio Calabria, the main city of the region, retraces the history of “Magna Graecia”. The stars of this important collection are the two Warriors of Riace, bronze statues discovered in 1972 by an amateur diver.
Before joining the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, Calabria also came under French rule. A period well known to the inhabitants of Pizzo. It was in this Calabrian town that Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, was shot in 1815, while trying to reconquer the region. A castle now bears his name.