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10 Reasons to Visit Calabria

visit calabria

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Situated right at the toe of Italy’s boot rests one of the country’s best-kept secrets – Calabria.

Southern Italy has numerous famous destinations, but none offer a hidden gem quality like this. Continue reading to find out the top reasons to visit Calabria.

Bordering the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the east, Calabria boasts 500 miles of coastline. The region is also home to the verdant green slopes of the soaring Apennine mountain range and the summit of Serra Dolce Dorme in the Pollino Massif.

Calabria is second to none, with welcoming locals, stunning beaches, captivating villages and towns, and an esteemed culinary scene. So, is Calabria worth visiting? Keep reading to find out.

1. The Stunning Beaches of Calabria

calabria highlights

If you’re planning a Calabria vacation, visiting the numerous beaches that frame its coastline is a must. The turquoise shores of Tropea are a standout, with the coastal stretch being called the Costa degli dei or “Coast of the Gods”.

Tropea’s white sandy beaches, dotted with multicolored umbrellas, meet the crystal-clear waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea under a perfect Mediterranean climate, creating a beach lover’s paradise.

Pizzo’s marina delivers a small but inviting beach sheltered by the pier. A bit down the coast, you’ll find Briatico Beach hugging a small fishing village of the same name, a snorkeling hotspot.

Paraghelia sits just north of Tropea, offering two fantastic beaches, Spiaggia Michelino, a bit more secluded, and Spiaggia di Vardano, close to Tropea. Although hotel resorts occupy much of the beach area, many public beach sections remain.

Close to Zambrone lies the beach of Paradiso del Sub. It’s a hidden paradise within a quiet bay highlighted by small sections of golden-white sand and striking rock formations.

Down the west coast of Calabria lies the Violet Coast (La Costa Viola). Renowned for its dramatic rocky coastline and deep plunging sea, its waters appear almost purple, making it the ideal spot for photography lovers.

Displaying all the beauty of Calabria’s stunning beaches, the famous Arco Magno is a must-visit. Its unique position within a rocky cove surrounded on all sides by spectacular cliffs is a sight to see.

2. Discover Calabria’s Eclectic History

visit calabria

Beyond being a part of Ancient Greece (Magna Grecia), Calabria was once an essential city of the Byzantine Empire. After that, it was long dominated by the Normans, Swabians, Anjou’s, and Aragonese.

The complex history of Calabria features a wealth of historical sites and museums offering everything from prehistoric rock art to Greek and Roman antiquities and folk culture, as well as classic arts.

To get a closer look, visit the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. Here, you’ll also come face-to-face with Bronzi di Riace. These two life-size nude Greek warrior statues of bronze with silver teeth and ivory eyes represent some of the most significant findings in the museum. 

3. Treat Yourself to Calabrian Cuisine

calabria highlights

Calabrian cuisine is in a league of its own. The beauty of it all lies within its simplicity, based on cucina povera, or ‘kitchen of the poor’. This approach maximizes and savors every local ingredient with a frugal approach that ensures nothing goes to waste.

Expect to find dishes made with only the freshest local produce, the finest olive oil, and a flair for spice. All of these are present in homemade pasta, real pizza that’s oven-fired, fragrant lamb and pork dishes, eggplant-rich antipasti, and fresh fish with various seasonal vegetables.

Regardless of where in Calabria you eat, whether in the northern regions or the many small towns and beautiful villages of the south, the food will always be great. These are some of the most prolific signature dishes and ingredients throughout:

  • Peperoncino – The peperoncino chili grows abundantly in Calabria and features on nearly every dinner table. 
  • Nduja – This spreadable cured pork salami is spicy and creamy, synonymous with Calabria, and has a kick of flavor. 
  • Provola  – Provola is one of the oldest cheeses in southern Italy and is characterized by its pear shape. You’ll find its sweet, slightly acidic taste in various Calabrian dishes.
  • Caciocavallo – Caciocavallo originates from the Apennine mountains. As the cheese matures, its texture changes, as does its color and taste.
  • Cipolle – Tropea is the only place in the world that produces these sweet onions, and you’ll find hints of it in various menu items throughout Calabria.
  • Bergamot – A unique citrus originating in Calabria, the bergamot fruit has an almost bitter, musty-smelling pulp but an incredibly light and fragrant zest.
  • Swordfish – Swordfish has been a part of Calabria’s culinary history for centuries. A must-try dish consisting of swordfish steaks cooked in olive oil and infused with Tropea red onions and anchovies is Pesce Spada Alla Ghiotta.

4. Roam the Hilltop Towns and Cities of Calabria

calabria highlights

When you travel to Calabria, Italy, one of the best things to do is to roam through its many cities and medieval villages that perch on hilltops and cascade down mountainsides. 

Tropea

Tropea is the crown jewel of Calabria. Its dramatic rock formations, picturesque beaches, and crystalline waters are the main draws – however, the pedestrian-only historical center and old town brim with character.

The highlight of the city’s landmarks is the 11th-century Benedictine sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola, at the top of 300 steps. The climb is well worth it for the views of the Strait of Messina toward the Aeolian Islands and the Stromboli Volcano. 

Scilla

A delightful fishing village resting on the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Scilla (pronounced “Sheila”) is well worth your time. Often referred to as Calabria’s little Venice, the enchanting town offers many inviting streets to roam, a castle to explore, and extraordinary sunsets.

Castello Ruffo, dating back to the 5th century, overlooks one of the most breathtaking beaches in Italy. Changing hands from the Etruscans to the Magna Graecia and then the Romans, the castle houses a lighthouse still used by the navy today. 

Santa Severina

Located in the Crotonese hinterland, the village of Santa Severina sits nearly 19 miles from Crotone. Within the town are dozens of decades-old small shops, majestic walls, and the main square, Piazza Campo. Be sure to visit the remains of the Byzantine Baptistery housed within the Cathedral of Santa Anastasia.

Pizzo

Offering quintessential southern Italian charm, the seaside village of Pizzo is one of the most beautiful towns in Calabria. Situated in the province of Vibo Valentia, highlights of the city include its historic center perched on the cliffside overlooking the Gulf of Saint Euphemia.

Visit the Piedigrotta cave church on the beachfront, carved into the rock face and filled with handcrafted stone statues.

Morano Calabro

calabria highlights morano calabro

If you want to discover Calabria, heading inland is a must. Morano Calabro is a fantastic first stop, often rated one of Italy’s loveliest towns. Visit the 11th-century Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which historically was a critical stop for pilgrims heading to Rome.

Pollino National Park and the Nibbio Natural History Museum are outside Morano Calabro. Courtesy of the mountainous areas surrounding the town, there are many hiking trails and rafting on the Lao River for outdoor enthusiasts.

Altomonte

Overlooking the river Esaro, Altomonte is one of Calabria’s most eye-catching medieval villages. Its cobblestone streets, lined with churches and palaces, make it an important tourist attraction in the Cosenza province. The prominent landmark is the Church of Saint Mary of Consolation, which sits at the highest point in town.

Bova

visit calabria bova

With its roots dating back to ancient Greece, Bova is an inviting little village that exemplifies living life at a slower pace, the Italian way. Much of its heritage is evident in the town’s and locals’ food, culture, and architecture.

Standout attractions include the Norman Cathedral of Santa Maria dell’Isodia, which dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to St. Maria dell’Isodia. Another must-visit is the Church of San Leo, dedicated to the village’s patron saint.

Pentedattilo

Often called a ghost town, the small village of Pentedattilo, located on the edge of the Aspromonte Mountains, is well worth an entry in your itinerary. The city has just one permanent resident and is set in a jagged outcropping among equally disjointed hillsides.

You can explore at your own pace and roam around the remains of the town, but you’ll need to be relatively fit as there are numerous steep uphill areas. Visit the Chiesa di San Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saint Peter and Paul), a short walk from the village center.

Le Castella

While the main draw to Le Castella is its proximity to the Le Castella di Rizzuto, the town is quintessentially Calabrian. Two small beaches provide the ideal spots for sunbathing, and along its streets are plenty of bars and eateries.

One spot to explore is the Le Castella marina, where you can easily undertake boat excursions around the jutting piece of coastline.

San Nicola Arcella

visit calabria san nicola arcella

With crystal-clear waters, one of the country’s most picturesque beaches (Arco Magno), a rough and rugged coastline, and an idyllic old town, San Nicola Arcella is the perfect destination for beach lovers and historians.

Appearing as the backdrop for the James Bond movie “No Time to Die”, the town is ideal for roaming around in. The ancient ruins of the Rocca di San Nicola fortress are close to the village, also featured in the film.

Lamezia Terme

Lamezia Terme is another staple for visitors to Calabria. Lamezia Terme Airport is located here and services both domestic and international flights. Visit the Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Paolo and the Museo Diocesano di Lamezia Terme within the town center. Beyond its borders, visit the Castello Normanno Svevo or head outdoors to the Parco Dossi Comuni.

5. Visit Calabria’s National Parks

pollino national park calabria highlights

Aside from endless stretches of pristine coastline and many beaches, Calabria is also home to three national parks, each offering a distinct wilderness experience.

  • Pollino National Park – Situated in northern Calabria, this is the largest in Italy and covers almost 775 square miles. Ideal to visit in either summer or winter, the park is characterized by its many black pines.
  • Sila National Park – A bit further south lies Sila National Park, which offers a lush green plateau with rolling hills and dense forests. One of the oldest parks in Italy, fun activities include many hiking trails, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails.
  • Aspromonte National Park – Deep into southern Calabria, with its token craggy yet majestic mountains, lies Aspromonte National Park. If you want to see Calabria at its wildest, the ghost towns of Roghudi and Pentedattilo are the ideal pit stops. 

LISTEN: To our podcast on Getting to know Calabria for a full breakdown of everything Calabria.

6. Explore the Capital Reggio Calabria

visit reggio calabria

Situated at the tip of the toe of Italy’s boot is the capital city of Calabria, Reggio Calabria. Having undergone an extensive renovation following a 1908 earthquake, the city today matches the look of modern European cities.

Stroll along the Lungomare Falcomatà promenade. Palm trees and numerous Art Nouveau palazzi line this pathway. You can also spot Mount Etna from the promenade in the distance, as Reggio Calabria is also known as the gateway to Sicily.

Other highlights include the Arena dello Stretto. Of course, you should visit the Museo Nazionale della Magna Graecia to view the Riace Bronzes.

7. Indulge in Local Customs and Traditions

tarantella festival calabria highlights

One thing you’ll never be left wanting for while in Calabria is local customary events and traditions.

Smaller villages and towns have unique cultural showcases, and you can expect to find festivities such as Easter flagellations to the five-day Festival del Peperoncino. A more festive atmosphere is present in cities such as Caulonia when the Kaulonia Tarantella Festival occurs from July to August.

The Magna Graecia Film Festival, now in its 20th edition, highlights the best names in Italian cinema, taking place annually during the last week of July. Foodies can flock to Spilinga for the Nduja Party hosted in August, while the Eggplant Festival happens annually in Palmi.

8. Admire Calabria’s Castles and Fortresses

visit calabria castello ruffo

Throughout the surrounding hills of many Calabrian towns, there are a handful of exciting sites that mostly center around century-old castles and wartime fortresses. 

Castello Ruffo

Described as a legacy of rare beauty, Castello Ruffo is an ancient fortification built on the peninsula of Scilla facing the Strait of Messina dating back to the 5th century.

Although it has a varied history, today, the castle is a cultural center hosting the Regional Center for the Recovery of Calabrian Historical Monuments. Here, you can view numerous exhibitions and attend events throughout the year.

Le Castella di Rizzuto

Situated within Isola di Capo Rizzuto lies the Aragonese Castle of Le Castella. Revered as one of the most beautiful and famous in southern Italy, it dates back to 204 BC.

The castle’s foundations date back to the Magna Graecia period, and you can still spot the different building phases superimposed on one another. These include influences from the Normans, Swabians, Byzantines, Angevins, and Aragoneses.

9. Savor Calabria’s Sweets

torrone calabria highlights

While the culinary scene in Calabria is irresistible, the beautiful region also boasts a variety of delectable sweet treats that you should indulge in.  These are often made using natural sweeteners like honey, fig syrup, or mulled wine.

  • Torrone – Traditional Calabrian nougat, torrone is an exceptional blend of almonds and honey. Toasted almonds cooked for six hours with egg whites and honey. The crumbly nougat is then cut into small strips and coated with white or dark chocolate.
  • Tartufo Di Pizzo – A prized delicacy hailing from Pizzo and dating back to the 1050s, the Tartufo di Pizzo is a chocolate ice cream bombe with a molten hazelnut ice cream center. This treat is usually sugared with hazelnuts and a thick chocolate sauce.
  • Mostaccioli – These typical sweets from Soriano Calabro are made from natural ingredients, flour, Calabrese honey, and mulled wine. The result is a hard candy in various shapes, usually decorated with tin foil.

10. Truly Venture Off the Beaten Path

visit calabria off the beaten path

Calabria, which covers over 5,500 square miles and dominates the south of the country, surprisingly is the least visited region by international tourists.

This means that Calabria boasts an off-the-beaten-path feel to it that you just simply won’t find elsewhere. Even though it is a popular summer destination for locals, you won’t find many North American visitors, which heightens the sense that you have the entire Calabria to yourself.

Visiting Calabria – Wrapped Up

visiting calabria highlights

Buried deep in southern Italy, Calabria is less than 2 miles from Sicily yet has unimaginable secrecy. While many flock to the ancient sites of Rome or the glittering coastal towns of the Amalfi Coast, Calabria deserves your attention.

Experience the Italian way of yesteryear and plan your next trip to the jewel of Italy’s south. Calabria has something for everyone: a relaxing beach breakaway, an outdoor adventure within the Calabrian mountains, a culinary tour, or a hunt for ancient artifacts.

LISTEN: To our podcast on How to spend a week in Calabria.

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