Eyebrows raised when I wrote my book about Calabria, then again when I organized my first tour of the region, and once more when I branched out with a second itinerary. Somehow, it’s considered more logical to write about, read about and return to a tiny, crowded beach on the Amalfi Coast or to shop for pricey designer labels in packed tourist centers than to explore a beautiful and fascinating lesser-known region. Luckily, not everyone is the same, and as with my Calabria Cultural Tour, my Traditions and Food of Calabria Tour was a great success!
TRADITIONS AND FOOD OF CALABRIA, GREAT NEW ITINERARY
Narrowing down the options and selecting an itinerary for a tour in Calabria is a challenge. The “toe of the boot” may not seem that big when looking at a map of Italy, but between the mountains running down its length, the surrounding coastline, its rich history and culinary prowess, I was forced to make tough decisions even with two itineraries.
Traditions and Food of Calabria embraces the region’s excellence in craft and food. Truth be told, in Calabria, it’s always about the food. This tour was originally scheduled for June 2020, which seems so long ago…, and it was wonderful to finally set the program in motion two years later! We had a full group of fifteen, two of whom had signed up for this tour on its original dates, and two of whom had enjoyed the Calabria Cultural Tour so much last fall, they returned for the other Calabria itinerary! Travelers with calabrese roots and non, embarked on the journey from the U.S. to Lamezia Terme Airport in the center of Calabria, to immerse themselves in this beautiful region.
TROPEA AND ENVIRONS
On the first day of the tour, participants were whisked to our first hotel, a gorgeous beach location to rest from the international flights. The heart of our program began at a hands-on bread-making experience with local village women. The men enjoyed it at least as much as the women! Not to mention, the eating and the dancing! A visit to the ancient grottos of Zungri balanced with a stroll through Tropea, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages. (For larger images and captions, click on a photo, which will open up the gallery.)
Comment voiced by multiple group members: “It can’t get any better than this!”
FOLK MUSEUM AND SCILLA
After checking out of our hotel, we drove up the road a bit to our first stop at Capo Vaticano, a point between two bays which affords a stupendous panorama. Certainly, this view would be the most beautiful. “Piano, piano” – take it slowly, I assure them that every day will be beautiful and special.
The folkloric collection at Palmi’s House of Culture always delights, particularly the collection of masks to ward off the evil eye. And then on to Scilla for a castle visit followed by a stroll through the historic Chianalea fishing village, where we enjoyed an excellent swordfish lunch on the water. We then continued down the coast to Reggio Calabria for two nights.
A visit to the region’s largest city wouldn’t be complete without saying hello to the spectacular Riace Bronzes at the archeological museum in Reggio Calabria. On this tour, we also had the opportunity to view the excavated portion of a Roman road under the main piazza, go inside the Aragon Castle, and to learn about the bergamot citrus fruit at the city’s relatively new Bergamot Museum.
MODERN ART AND A BYZANTINE JEWEL
A day in the southern hills featured the contemporary art park MuSaBa and an exceptional Byzantine church, the Cattolica di Stilo. Lunch was a kaleidoscope of sensory experience in an award-winning, slow-food, family-owned restaurant. We contentedly continued up the Ionian coast to Catanzaro Lido for a couple of nights, high with emotion and with that wonder, “Can it really get any better than this?”
GULF OF SQUILLACE
Our visit to a husband-and-wife pottery workshop brought the traditions of ancient times to the present as we watched terracotta being formed and observed the historic graffito technique, still used today in the town of Squillace. Our mini cruise along the gulf was delightful: the fresh sea breeze, the crystal water and even a dolphin sighting! And what fun to swim off the back of the boat! Dining on the delicious fresh catch of the day made it perfect. The best?
LE CASTELLA, CAPO COLONNA, WINE AND CHEESE TASTINGS
The iconic visions of the picturesque castle of Le Castella and the last ancient column standing on Capo Colonna (Cape Column) never disappoint. Cirò wine and pecorino cheese tastings put the icing on the cake in the Province of Crotone. What was next? Four nights in the Sila Mountains.
SAN GIOVANNI IN FIORE
Our full day in the Sila’s largest population center brought us up close and personal with local textile artist Domenico Caruso and the Spadafora jewelery family, creators of everything from church crowns to Venice Film Festival Awards! After a spectacular lunch in San Giovanni in Fiore‘s historic center, we learned about the town’s founder Gioacchino da Fiore, an important medieval theologian and prophet, and visited the impressive Romanesque Florense Abbey as well as a Museum of the Working Class.
On our relaxing day in Camigliatello Silano, we met cows and Calabria’s special black pigs at an organic farm, where we dined on pasta made by our own hands, together with local products that ranged from the family members of said animals to a very tasty pecorino cheese made with cannabis sativa! We enjoyed the evening in our historic residence sipping excellent local amaros as we bathed in the glow of the fireplace.
We had a beautiful drive through the Sila Mountains’ lush, green forest to Longobucco, historically known for silver and weaving. Rich, garden plots dotted the road on our approach to the town and once on foot, we met a delightful gardener, working his parcel of land, and later on, we had a fortuitous encounter with the man known as Calabria’s “last brigand”! Lunch featured a white lasagne made with local mushrooms and ’u sacchiattu, a “sack” of Calabria black pig sewn up in its own skin and served in slices, only found in Longobucco. We also visited a textile workshop and museum with fabrics woven from wool, silk and scotch broom. Pizza and folk musicians rounded off a wonderful day.
COSENZA AND PAOLA
In Cosenza, we admired faded palazzi along its narrow streets and steep lanes, as well as its historic cathedral at the center of the old town. After a satisfying lunch that featured lagane e ceci (a rustic, flat, fresh pasta with chickpeas), we continued west to the Tyrrhenian coast for a visit of the sanctuary of St. Francis of Paola, the patron saint of Calabria, before heading to our final airport hotel for a heartfelt arrivederci (‘til we meet again).
TRADITIONS AND FOOD OF CALABRIA TOUR: THE REVIEWS
I couldn’t have been more pleased with the group and their reaction to my first Traditions and Food of Calabria Tour. Their enthusiasm for the program and for Calabria continued through to their travel back home. Social media comments included:
“The trip of a lifetime!”
“We had a wonderful time enjoying fabulous food and culture in Calabria!”
“The cultural sights, artisan experiences and gastronomic delights were outstanding at every carefully curated location. I highly recommend this tour!
“Best trip ever! Take the tour if you can, you won’t be disappointed!”
“I would HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone who wishes to see a more authentic part of Italy, enjoy lots of excellent food and wine and have a wonderful time experiencing it all.”
And from one of the personal notes I received:
“The sights, sounds, and tastes were exhilarating. The touch and feel of experiential activities was the frosting on the cake…. I look forward to reflecting on this trip. It has opened my eyes to the beauty of southern Italy in so many ways! Thank you for everything you have done to share your love of Calabria!”
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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CALABRIA: The Other Italy and BASILICATA: Authentic Italy make great gifts!