Calabrian village

Is There Anything to See in Calabria?

Many of my readers and followers have roots in Calabria – Calabrian-Americans, Calabrian-Canadians, Calabrian-Australians, Calabrian-South Americans, Calabrians living in other regions of Italy and throughout Europe, and then there are just plain Calabrians. In Italian, that would be calabresi-americani, calabresi-canadesi, calabresi-australiani, etc. Many have visited the more famous spots of Italy and a few have visited Calabria, often just one village. So, what would motivate a Calabrese, or anyone, to explore further and travel around the toe of the boot? What’s there to see in Calabria?

PEOPLE ALWAYS SAID THERE WASN’T ANYTHING TO SEE IN CALABRIA

Have you ever been to a place away from home, and you were looking for something or wanted to know what there was to do in the area? So you ask the associate behind the front desk at the hotel or your waitress or a shopkeeper, and he or she just looks at you blankly? Never heard of it. Nothing to see here. And then you discover that what you were looking for was right around the corner or you walk up the block and stumble into a delightful, one-of-a-kind museum or a little diner where time seemed to stand still, where they served an apple pie that rivaled your grandmother’s.

food in Calabria

Not apple pie…

This is what it’s like to visit Calabria, even for Calabresi. There’s a very deep connection to a place, tied to relatives or ancestors, and there’s a village or town, but people always said there wasn’t anything there. Perhaps one persistent family member made the trek to the ancestral homeland back in the 80s. If still in contact with relatives, he is warmly embraced and treated to an enormous Calabrian meal, about which he continues to reminisce fondly. Otherwise, he visits the church, returns to his rental car and heads home. “Non c’e niente.” (There’s nothing there.)

church tower in Calabria

Old church tower in Palizzi, Province of Reggio Calabria

If it’s summertime, which is often the case for those who travel to Calabria, the region’s 500 miles of coastline, rather, one of the popular beach spots with tourist facilities, rounds out the trip, and may even become a repeat destination.

things to see in Calabria

Beach in Tropea, Province of Vibo Valentia

LOTS TO SEE IN CALABRIA FOR CALABRESI AND NON

Visitors who only focus on the beach or on the “best of” lists or worse yet, on the opinion of someone who has never been there or hasn’t dedicated more than a cursory glance, might exhaust a region of extraordinary beauty and diversity rather quickly. Perhaps one of the most surprising questions I frequently hear is: “Is there enough to fill a couple of days?” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

anything to see in Calabria

Roman sculpture at the Scolacium Archeological Park in the Province of Catanzaro

Those in-the-know travelers and readers of my books and blog are well aware of Calabria’s incredible landscapes, both by the sea and in the mountains, its outstanding food, attractive villages and towns, fascinating history and culture, and warm hospitality. (For a brief description, see my Why Vacation in Calabria? blogpost.) For the nay-sayers who haven’t ever been, well, what more can I really say?

Scilla, Calabria

Chianalea, Scilla, one of Italy’s “Borghi più Belli” – Most Beautiful Villages

The reader might be thinking that the traveler doesn’t need to go all the way down to the toe of the boot for beautiful vistas, excellent food, a wealth of history, etc. True enough, but maybe you want a little elbow room, something that abounds in Calabria and other off-the-beaten-path locations, or perhaps you’re interested in a place where you just might be able to stumble upon that piece of apple pie…

Napolitan pastiera

Also, not apple pie… but a delicious “pastiera,” a Neapolitan tart usually eaten at Easter

CALABRESE IN CALABRIA

For the Calabrese, the question remains, why not visit Rome, Florence and Venice, then tack on your ancestor’s village and call it a day? After all, most of the major guidebooks barely mention the region. And with the comprehensive recommendations (read that, paid advertisements) for up-scale food and lodging, the researchers clearly left no stone unturned.

old doorway

Old door in Gallicianò, Province of Reggio Calabria

But the Calabrese persists. He is known for his testa dura (hard head), after all. Visiting the ancestral village is a deeply emotional experience, walking the streets and imagining forebears taking the same path, perhaps entering a grandparent’s former home or seeing the family name around town and in the cemetery. Strong emotions, indeed.

things to see in Calabria

In Rossano, Province of Cosenza

But what of the contesto? What were the townsfolk like? What framed the circumstances of the many departures? How does this land fit with Rome’s Colosseum and Florence’s David statue? Is it true what has been said? Non c’è niente? There’s nothing there?

old house in Calabria

In Bova, Province of Reggio Calabria

Travel gives context to both the casual visitor and the calabrese in search of ancestral roots. Viewing the village or town as part of the entire region or country allows for a broader vision, the società nel suo complesso, that wider social context. It can help put a family narrative into perspective, to see what made the region tick throughout history and up to the present day, to develop an understanding as to why one’s forebears may have left, and to perhaps even give insight into the significance of “Calabrese.” (Hint, it’s more than a spicy sausage.)

sausage calabrese

Grilling sausage in the Sila Mountains

IS THERE ANYTHING TO SEE IN CALABRIA?

Of late, Tropea has been getting a lot of attention – to be expected, as not only is it gorgeous, but last year won the Most Beautiful of Italy’s Beautiful Villages contest. Photos of Santa Maria dell’Isola Church surrounded by an emerald-green sea and flanked by a white sand beach fill glossy magazines and social media pages. Some of the tourists who can’t find a spot for their beach towel on the Amalfi Coast are heading for Tropea. They have now been to Calabria.

What’s there to see in Calabria? “Tropea, it’s beautiful.”

True enough. But don’t forget, there’s a whole lot more.

what to see in Calabria

Salute!


Interested in experiencing Calabria on a small-group cultural tour? Check out the itineraries of my Calabria Tours and get in touch!

(The cover photo is Tortora in the Pollino Mountains, Province of Cosenza.)

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.Italy booksFollow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook pageCalabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook pageKaren’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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CALABRIA: The Other Italy and BASILICATA: Authentic Italy make great gifts!

 

Comments 28

  1. We have an apartment in Nocera Terinese and have been visiting for over ten years. I find your posts very informative and interesting. I still have a list of places we plan to visit while we are there.

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  2. Three of my four paternal great-grandparents are from the Calabria region. Are Marsedusa, Carlopoli & and Cozenza( the 4th is from Valledolomo, Sicily). I can’t wait for the day that I walk within the towns they are from. That I am from.

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          You’re welcome, there’s a Cosenza link in the above response and there’s also a chapter about Cosenza in my book Calabria: The Other Italy. Marcedusa is an historically Arbereshe village with fewer than 500 people, which means they speak an ancient Albanian language. You can read a similar story about these peoples in Southern Italy in my blogpost about Civita, I mention them in my Calabria book but have an extensive chapter about the Arbereshe in Basilicata: Authentic Italy.

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  3. I loved your blog “Is there anything to see in Calabria”. Would love to join you on a tour there in coming few years. My father and his mother’s family is from AquaPesa, I have been on a Country Walkers tour of Sicily…wonderful. My grandfather is from Erica. Have also traveled to Rome and Venice but as soon as I landed in Sicily I felt deeply at home. I am sure I will feel the same way about Calabria. Have ordered your book.

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  4. I have a question about Catanzaro and was Cerva my grandfathers name Talarico and grandmother was Sacco. I think village is in the mountains. Can you give me any information about there and places to see there. Thank You, Joanne Talarico Capello

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      Cerva is a small town in what is called the Presila Catanzarese or the hills of the Sila Mountains in the Catanzaro area, and is positioned in a beautiful naturalistic setting that ranges from about 40 to 1300 meters above sea level. The area is particularly noted for its chestnuts. As mentioned in the blogpost, a visit to the village would be greatly enhanced by an exploration of the surrounding province and region such as offered by one of my in-depth Calabria tours.

    2. Cerva is 30 minutes from the beach of Cropani Marina and 30 minutes from the beautiful Sila Villaggio Mancuso Villaggio Racisi Camigliatello beautiful tree and Laches .40 minutes from “Le Castelle” beautiful borgo sul mare and a maestoso Castle inside the water i live in Cropani Marina now use to live in Reading Pa i think we had a Family in Reading from Cerva with that last name.La Calabria it’s all beautiful with beautiful places hope you got all the info you need.

  5. I love hearing all about the places you visit in Calabria. I use your ideas to discover new places for us to visit every summer. This year, 2022, will be our sixth year since we bought our summer home on the Ionian Coast. I STILL haven’t seen half the places you mention. But it’s certainly fun trying! Keep traveling and blogging for us. Thank you, Karen!

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  6. My maternal grandparents are from Altomonte,CS. I have visited several times and planning more. What we thought children were “odd traditions-food” finally made sense. The people, food, vistas and culture and history is a wonder for the senses. The lack of tacky tourists ads to the pleasure. HURRY before more discover it!

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      Everyone who visits Calabria remarks on the fact that they are able to breathe without all the tourists underfoot. And as you say, for someone who has grown up with various traditions that may have seemed odd to a youngster, a visit to the region puts it all together in a marvelous way. And for those readers wondering about Altomonte, it has a beautiful old town and cathedral, which we visit on my Calabria Cultural Tour! There are a few photos on my Highlights of the Calabria Cultural Tour post.

  7. Both of my paternal grandparents are from Borgia. My maternal family is from Palermo. Thinking about a short visit to see both areas. Are you a tour guide? If no, who would you recommend. I want to speak to someone to help me coordinate.

    Thanks,
    Nick

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