Calabria’s dramatic landscape imparts more than a stunning panorama. Back in time, the mountains served as an escape from Arab marauders and malaria. Today, they’re a place for coastal dwellers and visitors seeking recreational getaways – skiing in the winter, hiking in the warmer months and a sought after refuge from the summer heat.
The community of Gambarie in the heart of the Aspromonte Mountains is just 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the beach and the center of Reggio Calabria. Founded in the 1920s by woodsmen and shepherds, the mountain hamlet, which sits at an elevation of 1,350 meters (4,429 feet), has grown into a tourist enclave with vacation homes, hiking trails and ski facilities.
Officially, Gambarie is a frazione or district of Santo Stefano in Aspromonte, itself a modest village with a population of just over 1,000. Its best known citizen, however, reached national and even international fame in some parts. He was none other than Giuseppe Musolino, Calabria’s most famous brigand. In addition to the “Trail of the Brigands,” which starts in Gambarie, the area is home to the site of the wounding of an individual more famous still, although often not so popular with Calabrians themselves.
GARIBALDI AT GAMBARIE
Giuseppe Garibaldi is a tricky figure in southern Italy. On the one hand, he’s a national hero. His likeness graces piazzas and his name given to important streets in town centers throughout the country. On the other hand, his role in Italian unification has taken more than a bit of luster off those marble statues from the southern perspective.
Garibaldi first passed through Calabria in 1860 when he successfully led the “Expedition of the Thousand” in the campaign that caused the downfall of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and brought about the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. Two years later he was stopped in his tracks in his attempt to conquer Rome, which hadn’t yet become part of the newly formed nation. On August 29, 1862 Garibaldi was wounded and taken prisoner near Gambarie in what is known as the Battle of Aspromonte. The Roman question wouldn’t be resolved until 1870, when the city was captured and became part of the young Italian nation.
I rounded out one daytrip to Gambarie with a visit to the very tree upon which the wounded “Hero of Two Worlds” leaned. A placard placed by the town of Sant’Eufemia di Aspromonte on whose territory the incident took place, states that the injured military leader shouted “Roma o morte!” (Rome or death!) as he reclined against the tree that today sits protected behind a circular, wrought iron fence. This scenario came to pass in a lovely pine grove about five miles from Gambarie.
A stone’s throw from the tree stands Il Cippo di Garibaldi or the memorial. The rather stately edifice contains a bust of Garibaldi and as I observed through the glass, assorted debris that looked as though it had blown in quite some time previously. A walk in the woods, around the little lake nearby (Laghetto Rumia) and in Gambarie proper made for a pleasant afternoon.
LUNCH IN GAMBARIE
Of course, an excursion in Italy would not be complete without a meal, whether a summer picnic under the welcoming shade of a pine canopy or a sit-down affair of several courses in one of Gambarie’s restaurants. On this day I opted for La Tavernetta on Piazza Carmelo Mangeruca, the main square. It’s a small, family place, always open, that serves what’s referred to as casereccio or casareccio – homemade, traditional – food with an emphasis on local ingredients.
We started with antipasti that featured generous portions of capocollo*, salami, pecorino cheese, ricotta, jacket potatoes and an assortment of vegetables preserved in oil – eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and mushrooms. The very casual atmosphere almost highlighted the goodness of the local ingredients served atop the red and white checked pattern of the classic trattoria.
I enjoyed a first course of tagliatelle with mushrooms plucked from the surrounding woods, while my dining companion eagerly lapped up a substantial bowl of beans. A second course of lamb rounded off the hearty lunch that was washed down with a good house red. Perhaps there’s something to the notion that mountain air stimulates the appetite.
I suppose if you’re reading this and you can’t make it down to Calabria, you can see a few Garibaldi mementos from the Battle of Aspromonte in the Central Museum of the Risorgimento at the Vittoriano Monument in Rome – the boots he was wearing along with the bullet that damaged them. However, I recommend a trip to Gambarie with a pleasant walk in the Aspromonte Mountains either before or after a very satisfying lunch.
*Capocollo is a cold cut made from the pig’s neck, often capicollo or capicolla in English. Pecorino is sheep cheese.
Read more about this fascinating Southern Italian region on My Italian Blog and in the award-winning book Calabria: The Other Italy, my nonfiction book that explores daily life, culture, history, the arts, food, society and tourism of Calabria, Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions.
Sign up below to receive the next blog post directly to your email for free.