beauties of Calabria

Beauties of Calabria

With the “stay at home” order in place, I find myself flipping through old books and photos. And as news outlets report scenarios ever more ominous, I turn to images of better times and lovelier places. In this post, I would like to share a few beauties of Calabria through the words of visitors who passed through the region over a span of more than 200 years.


American Gertrude Slaughter (1870-1963) loved the severe beauty of the Calabrian landscape. In her 1939 book Calabria: The First Italy, she characterizes the region as:

… a country of great variety, of surprises and contrasts. Farther north, in the Basilicata, the mountains seem to shut in the valleys all day long and darken them with shadows. In Calabria there is far more sunshine. Barren mountains rising abruptly in barren cliffs or lifting their peaks out of dense forests descend in valleys that lie open to the sun and drop down to the open sea.

Calabrian village

View to the Ionian Sea from the old town of Badolato

Scarred hillsides of bare rock of every shape and color alternate with idyllic glades, massed thick with ferns.

Strait of Messina

View of the Strait of Messina from the Aspromonte Mountains

By precipitous descents, past towns perched on incredible heights, over ridges on which you seem suspended in mid-air, you pass through the shade of quiet woods to meadows brilliant with flowers—and always there is the sea, either close at hand or far away in the blue distance.

Tyrrhenian Sea

View down to the sea from Mount St. Elia in Palmi


The English journalist and travel writer H.V. Morton (1892 –1979) dedicated several chapters to Calabria in his 1969 book A Traveller in Southern Italy. Amongst many impressions, he spoke glowingly of the region’s flora and fauna. He was particularly taken with the olive trees:

I have seen the olive trees in Greece and Cyprus, in Turkey and the Near East, and in many parts of Italy, but never have I seen such splendid and romantic trees as in this part of Calabria, from the Plain of Eufemia southward to Gioia Tauro. From my window I looked into one of the most beautiful groves I can remember, a place which appeared to sum up the romance of the Mediterranean world.

Calabrian olive trees

Olive trees of St. Eufemia Plain, courtesy of Tenuta Statti di Lamezia Terme

And of the fresh air and strikingly clear seawater, Morton writes:

The air in South Calabria seems to have an added silkiness, while the water, where it meets the sand, is the clearest green ribbed with sun ripples fading to the darkest of blues. The wind blows scented with orange blossom and jasmine.

beauties of Calabria

Clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the Calabrian coast

The English travel writer Henry Swinburne (1743–1803) spoke glowingly of the waterfront constitutionals he took on his visit to Reggio Calabria in his 1783 book Travels in the Two Sicilies.

I enjoyed several delightful walks along the beach… The views on every side are enchanting, equal to the charming ones of the Neapolitan gulf, and superior to all others that I have ever seen. Messina rises out of the waves like a grand amphiteatre; and the Faro, lined with villages and towns, seems a noble river, winding between two bold shores.

prickly pear cactus

Prickly pear cactus along the beach in Reggio Calabria


British travel writer Richard Keppel Craven (1779 –1851) positively gushed over the chance sighting of a gorgeous calabrese woman in his 1821 book A Tour Through the Southern Provinces of the Kingdom of Naples:

On crossing the streams of Bagnara a young woman of the most extraordinary beauty arrested my attention… The steepness of the road, and its difficulty just at that spot, where the loose stones in the torrent rendered the footing very insecure, made it impossible to stop; and the transient glance to which I was compelled to limit my admiration, probably heightened the effect of the apparition which called it forth; but I can with truth aver, that nothing in human shape ever approached so nearly to all the ideas we are wont to form to ourselves of a supernatural being. Regularity of feature was combined with brilliancy of complexion, expression of countenance, and exquisite symmetry as well as gracefulness of form; her dark blue eyes glowed in softened radiance beneath straight black eyebrows, and her smooth low forehead was shaded by a profusion of light brown hair. Her teeth were no less perfect than the smile of goodness which disclosed them; while her cheeks bloomed in all the freshness of the most brilliant health.

siren statue

“La Sirenetta” in Bagnara, photo courtesy of Salvatore Migliari, Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps commonplace in the 19thcentury, Craven’s elegant turn of phrase would turn a few heads in the 21st.

Clearly, Calabria has turned the heads of many a traveler over the centuries, for many different reasons. The off-the-beaten path nature of the region can surprise and bring unexpected rewards. Not the Cinque Terre, not the Amalfi Coast. And you better bet that those olives transform themselves into a wonderful oil.

Italian bread

Bread drizzled with Calabrian olive oil

More from visitors to the region in my blogpost Three Classic Books on Calabria. All about the beautiful region in the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my award-winning book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating area of South Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions. And when it’s safe to travel, think about seeing the beauties of Calabria for yourself on one of my Calabria tours.

“Like” Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page and follow me on Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for more beautiful pictures and information.

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CALABRIA: THE OTHER ITALY makes a great gift!Calabria book

Comments 24

    1. Post

      Prego, but this, too, is reality. It’s just that we aren’t able to participate in it at the moment. Best to you.

  1. Ms. Slaughter’s phrase “in the blue distance” really brought home to me how much I love to just sit and look out on the sea, either from our little balcony just east of the SS18 or from a table at the beach bar Lido Ligea on the westward side of the SS18 at mile marker 357, Marina di Nocera Terinese.
    Forza Italia, Forza Calabria, Forza Nocera!
    We still plan to return to the wonderful South mid-August….

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      Gertrude Slaughter’s descriptions lovingly capture the exquisite landscape. I wish you a safe return to this place on the sea so dear to your hearts.

  2. What do you think of Norman Douglas’s “Old Calabria,” published in 1911, I think, descriptions of the land and people? He seemed to be a cantankerous British traveller, but does offer insights–and history–of the region.

    I read this about 35 years ago as the train chugged down the Ionian coast to Locri, where I met my parents to visit the village of his birth, Cirella di Plati.

    Thanks for those lovely photos

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      I like Douglas’ writing. Yes, as you say, he has his particular point of view, but his book is an important account of the region. Your reading on the train must have been the perfect setting for his words. I quote him in Calabria: The Other Italy and included him in my blogpost Three Classic Books on Calabria. In this post, I thought I would highlight lesser-known writings about Calabria. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. How nice to go over your pictures. With the passing of time, I had forgotten how beautifully special Reggio Calabria truly is.

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      Yes, after time there’s the risk of taking things for granted. Perhaps that’s why visitors can bring a fresh perspective, even those who lived a couple of hundred years ago.

  4. Reading this blog heightened my spirits today. Loved the excerpts from long past travelers. I look forward to joining Karen Haid’s tour next year!
    Judy Basofin
    Palatine, IL

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      Thank you. The nature of the geography makes it such that the sea is never too far away. Best to you, as well.

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  5. Ciao Karen. Your blog and Instagram posts are always so evocative. I yearn to visit Calabria – especially the museums in Reggio Calabria that you speak so fondly of – and travel to the vineyards in Ciro and the beaches of Tropea. Hopefully we will be able to fly from the UK again, before too long, and Calabria will once more be a possibility. Thanks for helping us dream of S Italy

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      Glad you’re enjoying my posts. Of course it changes every day, but I just read that Italy will be opening up to European travel on June 3rd. And I also saw an interesting article with a map of Europe showing green and red zones with regard to the virus. South Italy was green. Let’s knock on wood or tocca ferro as they say in Italian that things continue to move in a positive direction.

      1. They sound like some positive developments Karen and, yes, I did see Calabria and Basilicata went relatively unscathed in the pandemic. My fear is that UK flights and visitors may not be as welcome as we struggle to get things under control over here…! I’ll keep an eye on your blog and social media posts to see when you starting planning new itineraries. Warmest wishes.

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          I just saw a notice today that the June 3rd travel date to Italy was for the European Union and that there wouldn’t be the 2-week quarantine for EU country members. Then, on June 15th there will be a reassessment of the lifting of non-essential travel from outside the EU (USA/UK). We’ll hope for the best, and sending good wishes your way, too.

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          Oh my, I suppose the winters Down Under aren’t bad. Maybe you can find a pair of ruby slippers and click your heels…

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