vacation in Calabria

Why Vacation in Calabria?

I have been following several Italy travel groups on Facebook recently. The would-be vacationers are both looking for and giving out advice. The top destinations are Rome, Florence and Venice with the Amalfi coast and the Cinque Terre right behind. Calabria pops up rarely, usually because someone has shared a stock photo of Tropea and is asking if anyone has been there or knows anything about it. Then, the self-prescribed experts begin to weigh in. They talk about it almost in the same way that they talk about their visit to Sorrento or Positano. What’s the best hotel? What’s the most romantic restaurant? I never understand how people come up with the “best” so easily. My tastes are apparently more complicated, and my priorities are different when I think about a vacation in Calabria, or anywhere for that matter.

THE VERY BEST ITALY VACATION

vacation in Calabria

Simple elegance in Calabria

Who doesn’t want to stay in the best hotel? Sign me up! What? 600 Euros a night? Breakfast not included? And the most romantic restaurant? My heart palpitates just thinking about the bill. Who are these people taking such extravagant vacations?

Would-be Italian vacationers are always asking me about the very best in Calabria. Last year, I agreed to write a Best Beaches in Calabria blogpost for a friend’s website. It hadn’t ever crossed my mind to write the piece for my own blog as much traffic as it would have surely generated, although I was inspired to write a best licorice blogpost once. I could have said “the best licorice I’ve ever tasted,” but that would have lessened its authoritative impact.

When I think about a vacation in Calabria, I don’t focus on superlatives in a narrow sense and I certainly don’t imagine those prices. I look for the experience. I’ve had many fabulous meals in Calabria, but to select the very best restaurant or pinpoint the very best meal? I would be too busy enjoying it to waste time trying to get that perfect photo of the scene through my wineglass, which would be all smudged up from my unbridled savoring and might not even have a stem.

UNCROWDED VACATION IN CALABRIA

vacation in Calabria

Looking out from Tropea’s old town to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola on the Tyrrhenian Sea

Last year, we visited Tropea at the end of my Calabria Cultural Tour, and interestingly, the participants commented with surprise in their voices that it was the first time during the whole tour that they saw other groups of travelers. Nothing even approaching the well-known destinations, mind you, but they really appreciated how for the majority of their vacation in Calabria, they felt as though they had the whole place to themselves. It was us and the calabresi, and in the mountain villages no worries about keeping money and passport under three layers of zippers and Velcro.

Although we were a small group, the feeling was that we were getting away from it all. We were immersed in a scene with the locals. Everyone was speaking Italian.

In social media travel groups, I often see the comment, “It was great. Everyone spoke English.” What, were you in England? Even if I don’t speak the language of a country, I would rather be reduced to miming on occasion than have the sensation that I just stepped off a cruise ship.

WHAT TO SEE ON A VACATION IN CALABRIA

Incredible Landscapes. Tropea does not exist in a vacuum; the lovely town is one of many along 800 kilometers (500 miles) of the region’s coastline that ranges from dramatic cliffs to wide, sandy beaches. Then there are the mountains down the entire length of the “toe,” the highest, Serra Dolcedorme in the Pollino Massif, reaching 2,267 meters (7,348 feet). Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy everything from a pleasant walk in the woods to alpine skiing, scuba diving to mountain biking and kitesurfing to hiking historical trails.

vacation in Calabria

Pollino National Park

Great Food. Calabria is blessed with an abundance of excellent agricultural products and a people who know how to cook them. From a seemingly simple homemade maccheroni with tomato sauce to contemporary dishes incorporating regional specialties, such as the unique bergamot, the sweet Tropea onion or the spicy ‘nduja salami, to name just a few, Calabrian cuisine is esteemed throughout all of Italy. In Calabria si mangia bene. One eats well in Calabria.

Calabrese food

Vegetables preserved in olive oil, served with bread as an appetizer

Quaint Villages and Attractive Towns. Italy’s architectural appeal lies in its connection to the landscape from which communities appear to grow. Calabria is no exception with medieval town centers that cling to precipices, picturesque castles and towers, churches in all shapes and sizes, and even your occasional modern construction.

Italian village

Morano Calabro in the Province of Cosenza

Fascinating History and Culture. Calabria has a complex past with a wealth of historical sites and museums that offer everything from prehistoric rock art to Greek and Roman antiquities to folk culture and classic arts. Its geographical location, surrounded by water at the heart of the Mediterranean, has put the region in the path of countless peoples, whether searching out greener pastures, looking to conquer or just passing through. This contact, while at times a challenge, has enriched Calabria’s cultural fabric, the exploration of which could take a lifetime.

Roman sculpture

Author trying on Athena’s marble toga at the Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria

Warm Hospitality. Calabrians are welcoming and appreciative of travelers to their region. Does everyone in the service industry speak English? Absolutely not. And that’s part of the charm.

Calabria specialty foods

Friendly employees at a specialty food store in the Sila Mountains

MORE INFORMATION ON A CALABRIAN VACATION

My book and blog have an abundance of information about the region. Calabria: The Other Italy, which shares my experiences living, working and traveling throughout the area, gives a good overview, while my Italian blog has over 100 posts full of details and photos about specific topics.

If you’re thinking of traveling to the region, check out the itineraries of my small-group cultural tours, as organized programs to lesser-known places are often the best option. In Rome, for example, you can show up for the 10 a.m. English-language museum visit or sign on to an evening walking tour without enrolling in a complete package. Off the beaten path, it isn’t profitable to have guides available for whenever a tourist happens to walk in, not to mention multi-lingual guides. For this reason, a tour may often be the only choice for a traveler interested in exploring the culture.

So consider Calabria for your next vacation. It’s Italy without the crowds.

Calabria book

(Blogpost cover photo: Scilla on the Strait of Messina north of Reggio)

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

Comments 27

  1. Dear Karen, I woudl love to participate in your tour, however they do not fall in a time frame that is going to work for me.
    I so love that you are promoting Calabria, I can see so much similarity with my parents life, food and culture, though now in Australia it has become somewhat ‘Australianised”.
    I wonder if there are other local tours and opportunities that you know about that I might be able to access for a September trip.
    I like walking, meeting the local people and even doing some seasonal work.
    I am looking for a three week expereince.
    I am already subcribed for your wonderful blog.
    Thank you

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      Sorry the spring tours won’t work for you. Several people have asked me about a fall trip and so I might consider that if I get enough interest. I will keep you posted. I am happy to hear that you enjoy my blog and can relate to what I present about Calabria with your parents’ experiences. Of course, traditions can’t help but change and adapt when transplanted to another place, but the thread carries through.

      1. Hello my family is from Olivadi and I would love to tour with you on a vacation for a week what is the cost per couple

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          At the moment, I have two small-group tours scheduled this spring. You can see detailed itineraries with costs on my Calabria Tour page, and I will also email you more information.

  2. Great post and new site layout Karen! Wishing you all the best for your tours this year.

    I love taking friends and family to new places in Calabria, which I’m still exploring but. They’re always surprised that there is so much to see here and it’s not touristy at all. My visitors also love the food of course, which is a testament to my ever-expanding waistline… 😉

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      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, but I haven’t changed the layout. Perhaps these photos jumped off the page more… Yes, people are always surprised at how much there is to see, especially because they haven’t heard about it. I’m sure your waistline is perfect – you can’t offend anyone and walk around like a rail!

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  3. Great blog Karen. You bring Calabria to life wonderfully well. I feel deeply embarrassed that I have not visited yet, especially when I live just a couple of hours away. Keep up the good work. Love the photo of the togo! Orna

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      Thanks! Italy is bigger than people think and it takes a long time to get anywhere with all the hills and mountainous terrain. Even within Calabria, people who live in the north and south of the region don’t bop around from one end to the other very often. But you’ll get there. This museum sculpture seemed to call out to me to do a photo – I love the way the marble “clothing” drapes so beautifully on ancient statues!

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  4. I loved this post. We took our 21st trip to Italy, but first to Calabria, in late September/early October 2019. Many people asked us what we did and saw on this trip, but it was actually hard to pinpoint. Some of our favorite experiences included meeting the lovely gentlemen working at the Aragonese castle in Reggio, who gave us tips on our entire trip. We also had fun with the women working at the alimentari in Badolato, who talked us out of what we thought we wanted to buy into what they thought was better, plus gave us lots of samples of local food and drink. Calabria is not really a good place for people who love to check off boxes from a long list of must-sees; you really need to sit back and sink into the experience. (In fairness, though, maybe some need the check boxes because this is their ONE chance to see Florence, or Rome, or Venice, whereas we know we’ll be back.) P.S. We met you at the bar in Gerace; I recognized you from your book.

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      And what a surprise that was, being recognized in a bar in one of Italy’s most beautiful villages! It was so lovely to meet you and your husband. You have an impressive traveling record under your belts, and your description of a few of your favorite experiences on your first trip to Calabria was interesting to read. Surely, you saw the Riace Bronzes, Scilla, Tropea and other “must-sees” of the region, but in the end, it was the connections with the people that gave you the special memories. I hope we run into each other again some day, perhaps in another beautiful village of Calabria.

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      Ha, ha! These verdura sott’olio were particularly tasty, and I have a particular weakness for sun-dried tomatoes. Thanks!

  5. “Who doesn’t want to stay in the best hotel? Sign me up! What? 600 Euros a night? Breakfast not included? And the most romantic restaurant? My heart palpitates just thinking about the bill.” -> the worst (and I add MANY Italians into this equation) are those who pretend the BEST hotel and extras and then they complain all was too expensive and make scenes in the halls in front of everyone…embarassing!

    It is absolutely true that Calabrian cuisine is estimeed in the whole country: a good Tropea onion is basically in every Italian kitchen! It’s also the only regional cuisine that values hot food (I don’t know if it’s the right translation for ‘cibo piccante’?!). Calabrian chili peppers are famous throughout the whole peninsula.

    Good luck with your tours, I’m sure you give your customers the best Calabrian experience they can hope for!

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      Thank you, I certainly try to give the very best Calabrian experience to my guests! With reference to the chili pepper or peperoncino, we would usually say spicy food. “Hot” could work too, but it might be confused with an elevated temperature, as in caldo. And funny thing for a non-Italian, one of the first times I went to Tropea, it happened to be with a busload of Calabrians from Reggio. Of course, they had all been there many times before, and the real purpose for the stop wasn’t to look at the view but to buy bags and bags of onions to take home! Nothing like getting produce right at the source.

      1. I have always been confused by the term “spicy” because in Italian we make a distinction between “piccante” and “speziato”, so I have always had the impression “spicy” was more like the second, speziato (with spices). I though spicy was more confusing than hot, haha. Thanks for explaining!

        Lol at the Calabrians buying the onions! It’s the same here: when locals are on a trip, they take advantage of the situation and buy tons of local products directly “at the source”.

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      Sort of surprising that Calabria has been under the radar for so long. Just a glance at the geographical layout – a peninsula with mountains running down the center and surrounded by Mediterranean waters – gives more than a hint at its potential. And then there’s the food…

  6. Calabria is quite literally a hidden gem for Italy. It has so much to offer and the experiences you can have here are like no other in Italy! The more I discover here, the more I fall in love (if that’s possible!). Thank you for continuing to share your passion for this beautiful.

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      Hopefully, Calabria will attract quality travelers who want to explore the culture rather than the type of people for whom laws have to be made not to sit on the Spanish Steps and for whom walls have to be built to protect the Trevi Fountain. Calabria is thankfully not a notch on someone’s belt. My pleasure to share it!

  7. I have been to 14 of Italia’s 20 regioni, and i’m sad to say that Calabria is not one of them! I will have to fix that. I am actually going to a conference in Torino in early October, then going to Puglia right after for an event. i have 2 weeks before another event, so I want to use that time to go somewhere i would not go in the summer. Calabria is one of my choices! We’ll see if it works out. Ciao, Cristina

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