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