How did my recent Calabria Cultural tour go? Many have asked this question as sometimes I forget to mention the obvious. I put so much work into the preparation and execution of a project, then move on to the next without fanfare. So I apologize if I’ve left you wondering, and I’m proud to say that the fall tour was a great success! On this post, I’ll share a few photo highlights of Calabria and a glimpse of an experience with Karen’s Travel LLC.
CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS OF CALABRIA: TRAVELERS
First off, I would like to say that I was as pleased with my group as they were with the tour. Undoubtedly, the cultural focus attracts the curious individual, and in Calabria’s case, travelers willing and eager to go “off the beaten path,” a phrase that’s been incessantly bandied about in the past few years despite the continued mad rush to popular sites. However, regardless of all the talk about avoiding crowds in these difficult times and indeed there have been fewer travelers to Italy, one member of our group, whose first stop was Rome, expressed her relief of getting away from the hustle and bustle of it all, and the joy of elbowroom with the lack of tourists down in the toe of the boot.
The Calabria Cultural Tour starts at the center of the region in Lamezia Terme, where guests are met at the international airport or train station. A few opted to arrive a day early and I met them at a nearby hotel, situated along the Tyrrhenian Sea. From there, we headed to Cosenza, where we stayed for several days, taking daytrips to visit sites in the province, as well as touring the old and new sections of the city and listening to local artists perform both traditional and international music on a variety of instruments. (For larger images and captions, click on a photo, which will open up the gallery.)
In this post I am just scratching the surface of the highlights of Calabria and all we experienced, which goes for the food, as well. Sometimes it’s just not possible to get a photo of every course, especially when you’re hungry, you’re deep in conversation or when the number of dishes reaches into the double digits…
Our first all-day excursion took us to Rossano, a town renowned for its Byzantine history with a second-to-none 6th-century illuminated manuscript and its natural licorice, which I describe in great detail in Chapter 14 of my book Calabria: The Other Italy. The Amarelli family has been involved with licorice for over 500 years, and needless to say, the factory and museum are fascinating. We sampled everything from the 100% pure licorice bonbons to chocolate confections filled with a divine licorice liquor.
SILA NATIONAL PARK AND SANTA SEVERINA
Calabria boasts an infinite variety of landscapes and the old forests of the Sila Mountains is often a delightful surprise. Fresh mountain air doesn’t get any better than that of the Sila’s woods, which we breathed in as we walked amongst majestic centuries-old pines in a lovely nature reserve. The local cattle breed apparently enjoys the atmosphere, as well, as a herd and their herder crossed our path that day. They browsed, and we dove into a rarified abundance of top-tier meats, cheeses, vegetables in oil, potatoes with mushrooms, grilled meats and veggies, all washed down with excellent Calabrian wine and followed up with the best of Calabrian liquors.
Our visit to Santa Severina, one of the Borghi piu belli d’Italia (Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages) and found in Chapter 15 of my Calabria book, featured a tour of the majestic castle, which boasts 1,200 years of history, a Byzantine baptistry, and a rather substantial cluster of old men, conversing and playing cards in the piazza, with a stack of white plastic chairs at the ready to triple the group size.
CIVITA AND ALTOMONTE
Our day in the Pollino Mountains in Calabria’s very north focused on the Arbereshe village of Civita, where we enjoyed traditional cuisine, visited the museum and orthodox church, strolled through the town, learned about its characteristic architecture, and walked across the Devil’s Bridge over the Raganello Canyon. In medieval Altomonte, we admired the impressive gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria della Consolazione, wedding destination for many a Calabrian couple – just imagine the great photo-ops.
SCILLA, SEMINARA AND REGGIO
We then headed south to the Province of Reggio Calabria, making stops for a seaside lunch and walk in beautiful Scilla of the famed Scylla and Charybdis (Chapter 12) and a visit to a new museum in Seminara, noted for its fanciful ceramics. We settled into Reggio for a few days, where our first stop was the renowned archeological museum with its world-famous statues, the Riace Bronzes.
A walking tour of the beautiful waterfront along the Strait of Messina and through the downtown area was capped by a delectable lunch with a breathtaking view all the way to Sicily.
BOVA, PENTEDATTILO, CASIGNANA AND GERACE
On our visit to the Locride area, on the Ionian side of the Province of Reggio Calabria with Locri at its center, we explored the remains of an opulent Roman complex with thermal baths and mosaic floors at the Villa Casignana and toured Gerace, another of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages (and Chapter 7 in my book).
CATANZARO LIDO, SCOLACIUM PARK AND WINERY
Our final hotel was at Catanzaro Lido from where we visited the nearby Scolacium Archeological Park and enjoyed a wine tasting at Lento Winery. Truth be told, we enjoyed a wine tasting at every meal, as all wine was included!
TROPEA and PIZZO
Our final excursion took us to Tropea, Calabria’s most famous seaside town and not only one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages, but the most beautiful of the beautiful villages, nearby Spilinga, home of the original ‘nduja salami, and Pizzo, with its castle and delicious “tartufo” gelato (Chapter 13 in my book). It was a full day with beautiful views and exquisite taste sensations, from the earthy pork products to the delicate gelato treat. But there was more, our final dinner and numerous toasts with Calabria’s signature amaro, the Vecchio Amaro del Capo.
CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS OF CALABRIA: CONCLUSION
What was the final verdict of the Cultural Tour and its highlights of Calabria? Here are a few comments left by tour guests on social media:
“Words cannot describe and photos cannot capture the incredible moments we have experienced on our trip to Calabria, Italy. We’re not fans of taking tours and prefer to do our own thing while vacationing, but this tour was special. That sentiment was also echoed by seasoned tourists in our group…. I wish you could all enjoy it as we did and the best way to do that is with Calabria: The Other Italy.”
“Karen’s tour of Calabria is fantastic! We are experiencing places and events we would never have discovered on our own. This is truly a tour worth taking!”
“This tour of Calabria exceeded my expectations! My husband and I have traveled quite a bit and have seen wondrous things; however, this particular tour went beyond that! We were treated to beautiful villages, forests, a licorice factory, marvelous museums, delicious meals. Karen has a wonderful sense of humor and knows her Italian history. Gianluca is a walking library of world history and is a marvelous storyteller. We learned so much on this trip to Calabria! I would encourage others to go and highly recommend this particular tour.”
Wow! There was even an article about it in the Gazzetta del Sud, the Southern Gazette!
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.
Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook page, Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page, Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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