Italy remains an ideal holiday destination. Places like Rome, Toscana, Milano and Positano are visited by millions of tourists every year. The southern province Calabria however, has been untouched by mass tourism but is just as beautiful as other Italian region.
If you want to avoid the usual tourist routes but you still want all the goods Italy has to offer, keep on reading! In this guide you will find the perfect stopovers for a wonderful off the beaten track trip through Calabria. I was invited by Enotria Travel, which is especially designed for those that want to discover the less traveled and authentic places in Italy. Its owner, Tina Altieri was born in Calabria and has been living in the Netherlands for over 25 years now. Needless to say that she knows the region inside out! I would therefore definitely recommend consulting this organization if you prefer not to arrange a trip to Calabria yourself.
Renting a car is the most convenient option because many of the finest spots are remote.
How to get there?
Calabria is located in the toe of the Italian boot, the far south of Italy. Lamezia Terme Airport is centrally located in Calabria, so from here you can reach various cities in the region easily and quickly. Tip: Always check how to compensate your CO2 emissions! At the same time, it is also possible to travel by car or train, although it will take you around 22-25 hours from Amsterdam.
To begin with, our first stopover is in Rotonda which is less than a 2-hour drive away from the airport in Calabria. It is an atmospheric town where you hardly meet any other tourists. The village is an excellent base to discover the Parco Nazionale dell Pollino. Consequently, this park is the largest protected nature reserve in Italy and covers around 200.000 hectares. You can go rafting, tubing, mountain biking, river walking, trekking, yoga and much more. If you are interested in such an activity, River Tribe organizes the best excursions and outdoor activities for this part of Calabria.
Rafting on the Lao river is absolutely recommended, because the trail is exceptionally beautiful. When traversing the canyon, you witness the prowess of 300 meters high rock walls, with rays of sunlight shining through, leaves whirling around and drops of water falling down. Thereupon, you’ll truly feel like you are in some sort of fairy tale!
From Rotonda it is also worthwhile to visit the village Altomonte, which lies on a mountain top (approx. 490 meters above sea level). Walk to the charming 14th-century church Santa Maria della Consolazione on top of the mountiain and enjoy the view over the surrounding landscape.
Il Borgo Ospitale is an albergo diffuso with 13 rooms and a restaurant, right in the historic center of Rotonda. Basically, an albergo diffuso is a “scattered hotel” meaning that the accommodation is located in different houses and apartments in the same village. The fun thing about this concept is that your neighbours are probably locals. Particularly, this is a perfect solution for anyone who wants something else than your typical hotel experience.
Scilla is called “the little Venice of the Tyrrhenian Sea” for a reason. This little atmospheric village is astonishing beautiful. Small houses that are built on the water give a romantic feeling throughout the place. It is by walking through the narrow streets where you come across old fountains, little chapels and hidden pathways to the sea. The village is famous for their pesce spade (swordfish) plus the harbour is studded with blue and green coloured traditional fishing boats that don’t seem to have changed much through centuries. Scilla is a special place you won’t easily forget!
Scilla also has a cozy beach with a view of a big rock formation with a castle on top of it. You can go snorkelling and diving around this rock. Due to the sea currents, special anemones grow there and many different fish species can be seen.
Gerace is an exceptionally picturesque village with a whole load of history. You can wander around for a couple of hours in the small alleys where you constantly come across special historical buildings. One of the oldest churches dates from the year 900 and one of the highlights is the majestic Cathedral of Gerace. For me, it really felt like I was back in the middle ages when I strolled through the streets of this village.
Fun fact: Gerace has 250 inhabitants and 40 remaining churches. This means that every family could have their own church.
From Gerace you can also do some nice trips. The Aspromonte National Park (which is also called “Valley of the Great stones”) is about half an hour away and offers the possibility to hike. The park has mountains up to 2000 meters, a large number of waterfalls, rivers, archaeological sites as well as many species of animals.
If you wish for a truly authentic stay in this southern region of Calabria, I would recommend staying at an Agriturismo, which is a farm that is primarily used for agriculture but serves as a hosting place for tourists as well. People who live on the farm, produce everything themselves: oil, wine, meat, vegetables etc. In their restaurant they only serve their own products! As soon as you step on the farm grounds you’ll experience the tranquillity. The Azienda Macri is outside of the village, so if you would like to stay right in the old centre of Gerace we would recommend B&B Palazzo Candida.
The food culture is even stronger in Calabria than in other regions of Italy because agriculture is the most important sector. Be prepared for abundant meals, something the Calabres are known for.
Tropea lies on the coastline between Pizzo Calabro and Nicotera Marina. This coastline is called the Costa degli Dei (which means the “Coast of the Gods”) since the landscape is marvellous. The azure blue sea is reminiscent of the tropical beaches in South East Asia. The village of Tropea is also referred to as the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea and is located on a cliff at about 60 meters above sea level. Tropea itself is quite small but undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Calabria. In fact, Tropea was one of my favourite places because it has that great combination of beach, sea and Mediterranean town life.
A must-see is the Isola di Tropea. This is a rock in the clear blue sea with the Santa Marina dell’Isola monastery on top of it. From here you have a good view on Tropea and the sunbathing people down on the beach. Another recommendation is to do a boat trip with the company Shark Bay. Start with some snorkelling and then enjoy the panorama of Tropea from the water (with a glass of wine).
Tropea is a popular place in July and August by many tourists, but also by Italians who are enjoying their holiday. In these two months the town will be fairly busy but the rest of the year it will be calm. It’s the perfect place to spend a couple of days and enjoy the beauty of the town and the beaches.
Located about 10km south of tropea lies Capo Vaticano. Here you can find the most beautiful shores of South Italy. Stunning little beaches are hidden behind the high cliffs and are accessible via large stairs or by boat.
Le Case di Berto. This a very peaceful site, build by a famous Italian writer. There are 7 houses built on the property, usually for 2 people with a view of the Stromboli volcano and sea. A staircase with 440 steps will bring you to Spiaggette; a private beach that belongs to the writer’s site. Book it here.
Generally speaking, Calabria has something for everyone. Those who love nature and adventure can explore the Calabrian outback and discover unpolluted landscapes with lots of greenery. At the same time, if you prefer walking along the beach and enjoy the blue sea, you can choose between the many areas along the long Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts. The options are endless. Picturesque villages, stunning national parks, ancient towns and white sandy beaches along crystal clear water, but without hordes of people.
Iris was invited to Calabria by Enotria Travel. However, we always pick our collaborations carefully, so we can give you the best tips.