What a won­der­ful Calabria

It is a won­der­ful land that de­serves to be de­scribed in its en­tirety. Its nat­u­ral land­scape, its artis­tic and cul­tural her­itage, its de­lec­ta­ble gas­tron­omy and its un­for­get­table tra­di­tions are pre­cious jewels just wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.

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Call­ing it re­dis­cov­ered would not be cor­rect, as Calabria has al­ways been there, ly­ing in south­ern Italy with all the beauty that dis­tin­guishes her. En­cir­cled be­tween seas and sur­rounded by moun­tains, it is left with its in­valu­able nat­u­ral and gas­tro­nomic re­sources. Now that Calabria is re­liv­ing its best pe­riod, we find our­selves in a land that we re­ally had to wait for. The col­umns of The New York Times and The Tele­graph have el­e­vated it to the places you should visit, for all the land­scape that she has to of­fer, the fine wine and de­li­cious food, for the wealth she can give back.

Calabria is a land of many faces, di­verse and con­trast­ing, which lead the trav­eler through pow­er­ful nat­u­ral beauty rang­ing from the north­ern bor­der with Basil­i­cata to the sea be­yond the tip that sep­a­rates it from Si­cily. With a ter­ri­tory to be ex­plored and ex­ud­ing a his­tory that de­serves to be un­earthed and de­scribed, Calabria is an undis­cov­ered land with ev­ery­thing to ad­mire. Let your­self get lost in the nar­row streets of tra­di­tional ter­rains, stop and eat at one of the restau­rants by the sea or in the moun­tains, choose to sit and just ad­mire the sun­set col­ors or the land­scapes that present them­selves: Calabria means de­cid­ing to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence and a whole world of scents and aro­mas that can­not leave you un­moved. There are places in Calabria where you should lis­ten with your eyes and con­tem­plate with your sense of taste: we are talk­ing about a land that you should visit, just for the plea­sure of not want­ing to break away from it ever again.


Calabria is in the heart of the Mediter­ranean. On Au­gust 16, 1972, in the sea just off the coast of Ri­ace Ma­rina, Stefano Mar­i­ot­tini dis­cov­ered two stat­ues, known as the Bronzi di Ri­ace. The news spread rapidly around the world, and the dis­cov­ery was later con­sid­ered as one of the most im­por­tant of the last cen­tury. The stat­ues are cur­rently kept at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Magna Graecia in the Ital­ian city of Reg­gio Calabria, and they rep­re­sent one of the ma­jor ad­di­tions to the sur­viv­ing ex­am­ples of An­cient Greek sculp­ture. Sev­eral arche­o­log­i­cal sights are dot­ted around Calabria, in­clud­ing the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum of Sibari, where you’ll find the his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant statue known as Toro Coz­zante, and the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park of Locri Epize­firi, with a the­ater from the fourth cen­tury.


A spe­cial men­tion should be given to the Musaba Spatari/maas Foun­da­tion, an unique ex­am­ple of an open-air lab­o­ra­tory park mu­seum near the vil­lage of Mam­mola. “Nik Spatari is at the fi­nal stages of mak­ing this dream come true. This lab­o­ra­tory park mu­seum in the heart of Calabria is the work in progress of a man and his com­pan­ion, con­tin­u­ally re­touched by their own hand and never aban­doned by their mind. It has enor­mous fig­u­ra­tive free­dom but to­tal struc­tural con­trol. This is one of those ex­tremely rare cases where an out­sider pours the salt of ar­chi­tec­ture onto the land”. Ar­ti­cle by Bruno Zevi, pub­lished in “L’ar­chitet­tura” mag­a­zine.


One of the best places to ex­pe­ri­ence the nat­u­ral beauty of this south­ern Ital­ian re­gion is at Capo Colonna, a promon­tory known in an­tiq­uity as Capo Lacinio, about 13km south of Cro­tone in eastern Calabria. This is the site of one of the most im­por­tant sanc­tu­ar­ies in Magna Graecia, the area of south­ern Italy pop­u­lated by Greek set­tlers from the eighth cen­tury BC. Nowa­days all that re­mains of the tem­ple is one sin­gle Doric col­umn, 8.35 me­ters in height. Nev­er­the­less, the sur­round­ing land and views of the sea still re­flect the sa­cred na­ture of this site, per­haps in­spir­ing the orig­i­nal idea for a sanc­tu­ary here.


One of the finest rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Magna Graecia is an im­por­tant arche­o­log­i­cal site of Greco-ro­man civil­i­sa­tion: the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park of Sco­lacium. Here a huge tem­ple is sur­rounded by a sec­u­lar olive grove, 200 me­ters from the sea. Ev­ery year, the park hosts the fa­mous fes­ti­val “Har­mony of Art”, a space for the soul, where mu­sic, the­ater, dance, leg­end and his­tory com­bine to cre­ate beau­ti­ful art.


Calabria is known for its va­ri­ety of beaches, from long sandy stretches to peb­bly coves. It has about 500 miles of coast­line, which takes in all the geo­graph­i­cal vari­a­tions of the Tyrrhe­nian and Io­nian seas. A spec­tac­u­lar wa­ter­front and cliffs over­look me­dieval cas­tles and an­cient watch­tow­ers. Em­bed­ded in the splen­did Coast of the Gods, in the prov­ince of Vibo Valen­tia, is a pre­cious jewel fa­mous around the world: a place of an­cient leg­end, his­tory and sea­side tourism by the name of Tro­pea. Built en­tirely on an enor­mous tufa rock fac­ing the sheer drop over the sea, it com­prises an up­per vil­lage with many no­ble houses of the 18th and 19th cen­turies, and a lower part, with the beaches and tourist-friendly har­bor.


Close to Tro­pea is the Light­house of Capo Vat­i­cano, where a se­lec­tion of beaches are tucked into the curves of the Tyrrhe­nian coast, the fi­nal part reached by wad­ing be­tween the rocks. One of the most charm­ing places in Calabria is Scilla where the sun­sets seem to as­sume unique new char­ac­ter­is­tics. Strange scin­til­la­tions oc­cur when you ad­mire this en­chant­ing fish­ing ham­let from within its arched nar­row streets and al­ley­ways, all sep­a­rated from each other by even more al­ley­ways, and all head­ing straight down to the sea.


In the north­ern part of the Tyrrhe­nian coast, the Riviera dei Cedri (Cedar Riviera), is a ex­tremely at­trac­tive area close to the mas­sif of Pollino Na­tional Park. With sig­nif­i­cant nat­u­ral value, it num­bers beaches from Paola to Dia­mante, Scalea, Praia a Mare to San Ni­cola Ar­cella. Calabria’s only two is­lands of Cirella and Dino lie off­shore. The Riviera dei Cedri is so called be­cause in cen­turies past this was where cedars were cul­ti­vated, pur­chased each year for re­li­gious rites by rab­bis from all over the world.


The evoca­tive lights, the scents, herbs and spices make Calabria an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. In that same at­mos­phere, we find the ther­mal baths of Terme Luigiane, a small vil­lage be­long­ing to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Ac­quappesa. Guardia Piemon­tese is con­sid­ered one of the old­est and most pop­u­lar ther­mal springs of Europe’s sul­furous wa­ter re­sorts. At the base of Mount Pollino are two more ther­mal springs with hot mud and pools: Cas­sano allo Io­nio staffed by highly qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als, and the sug­ges­tive Cave of the Nymphs at Cer­chiara di Calabria. On the Tyrrhe­nian coast, the Terme Caronte is a state-of-the-art com­plex, where for 2,000 years the salt waters of the Caronte spring have risen to about 39 °C. Within easy reach of the sea and the ex­ca­va­tions of Sibari are the Terme di Spez­zano, founded in 1923 around the Source of Graces. They are renowned for the ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties of its waters in the treat­ment of liver disease.


The Sila is the name of the moun­tain­ous plateau and his­toric re­gion lo­cated in Calabria. Its ecosys­tem is of great sci­en­tific value and has been pro­tected as the Sila Na­tional Park since 1997, the tenth Ital­ian ad­di­tion to the UNESCO World Net­work of Bio­sphere Re­serves. Win­ter and sum­mer tourism are very well de­vel­oped. In win­ter, the Sila is the best place in the area for ski­ing and snow­board­ing, while in sum­mer, many come to climb moun­tains and hike down nu­mer­ous for­est trails. The Aspromonte is a mas­sif in the prov­ince of Reg­gio Calabria (Calabria, south­ern Italy). Its lit­eral trans­la­tion means “Rough Moun­tain”. It over­looks the Strait of Messina, con­strained by the Io­nian and Tyrrhe­nian Seas and by the Pi­etrace River. The high­est peak is Mon­talto (1,955m). The mas­sif is part of the Aspromonte Na­tional Park.


“NDUT” looks like a word of Cal­abrian di­alect, but is in fact is the acro­nym for the Nor­man Dou­glas Ul­tra Trail, a route ded­i­cated to moun­tain bikers and run­ners that traces the path of writer Nor­man Dou­glas just over a cen­tury ago in the Cal­abrian hin­ter­land. Those ex­otic, wild land­scapes and the typ­i­cal vi­tal­ity of the south­ern peo­ple, de­scribed by the Bri­tish au­thor in “Old Calabria”, form the cor­ner­stone of this cap­ti­vat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence around ar­eas yet to be ex­plored. The path can be used through­out the year, like the most well-known ones in Europe. There are two dif­fer­ent cir­cuits: one of 500km that takes in the Sila Na­tional Park and the Pollino Na­tional Park; and one of 1,144km that con­nects all Calabria’s parks, monas­ter­ies, and the palms over­look­ing the Straits of Messina.


For more than a year, the brand “Rosso Calabria” has been work­ing on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket by launch­ing pro­mo­tional and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties with jour­nal­ists and blog­gers, in­volv­ing opin­ion shapers such as Lidia Bas­tianich, whose TV shows on PBS reach a world­wide au­di­ence of 196 mil­lion. Lidia Bas­tianich (mother of the equally fa­mous TV star Joe Bas­tianich) em­barked on a trip to Calabria to dis­cover its out­stand­ing lo­cal prod­ucts. The queen of cook­ery shows found an­cient va­ri­eties of fruit and veg­eta­bles, and lost types of vines that have been pre­served in long-iso­lated ar­eas of the in­te­rior, bring­ing us their un­changed qual­i­ties.


Calabria is a land of an­cient fla­vors that have re­mained in­tact over the cen­turies thanks to their raw in­gre­di­ents. Th­ese are cre­ated from plant va­ri­eties and live­stock species that have dis­ap­peared else­where, swal­lowed by more prof­itable and pro­duc­tive de­mands, and tai­lored to the needs of large re­tail­ers. Just as the age-old iso­la­tion of some ar­eas of the in­te­rior has pre­served lan­guages dat­ing back to Magna Graecia, it has also handed down fla­vors and foods through­out the cen­turies, which are found in this cui­sine of poverty. It was in the Cal­abrian town of Ni­cotera that in 1957, Pro­fes­sor An­cel Keys, pro­moter of a psy­cho-phys­i­cal Well­ness life­style, iden­ti­fied the diet he would call “Mediter­ranea”, later added to UNESCO’S In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage list. More re­cently, Ital­ian sci­en­tist Val­ter Longo, of the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia (USC) and the FIRC In­sti­tute of Molec­u­lar On­col­ogy (IFOM) in Mi­lan, con­firmed the virtues of the sim­ple and straight­for­ward nu­tri­tional habits of his child­hood spent in Calabria, call­ing it “The Longevity Diet”. The foun­da­tion of the Mediter­ranean diet is the ex­tra vir­gin oil pro­duced in Calabria, which cul­ti­vates olive trees across an area of 182,000 hectares. This is roughly a quar­ter of the to­tal area of or­ganic olive-oil cul­ti­va­tion through­out Italy, ac­count­ing for 12% of Calabria’s over­all pro­duc­tion.


Turn­ing the fo­cus on this im­mense wealth is the task of “Rosso Calabria” a re­gional brand that en­cap­su­lates the his­tory, cul­ture, art, beauty and the fla­vors of this re­gion.

Dur­ing “Sum­mer Fancy Food” in New York, Lidia Bas­tianich said: “Next year’s cook­ing trend will speak Cal­abrian”.


The prox­im­ity of the re­gion to the Io­nian Sea af­fects tem­per­a­tures and makes the soil a com­bi­na­tion of clay and sand, cre­at­ing an unique en­vi­ro­ment for vine­yards. Around 1,500 BC a tribe called the Oenotri (“vine cul­ti­va­tors”) set­tled in the re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to Greek mythol­ogy, they were Greeks who were led to the re­gion by their king, Oenotrus. At that time, the Oenotri grew head-trained bush vines sup­ported by posts.


The an­cient area of Kro­ton is the cra­dle of the old­est wine: Cirò DOC. A rec­og­niz­able red wine among a thou­sand, with the el­e­gance and struc­ture of Gaglioppo, which be­comes fresh in its un­miss­able rosé va­ri­ety. This wine was so ap­pre­ci­ated by the An­cient Greeks that it was of­fered as a prize to the win­ning ath­letes at Olympic com­pe­ti­tions. This is a chal­ice with 3,000 years of his­tory. In the Pollino Na­tional Park, we find the Slow Food Pre­sid­ium of the Sara­cena Moscato. As many as 1,500 bar­rels of this wine were reg­u­larly de­liv­ered to the pa­pal court of Pope Pius IV, who was one of its great ad­mir­ers. Across a vast area, down from the slopes of the Pollino Mas­sif and along­side the Crati Val­ley, grows the Magliocco, a su­perb grape va­ri­ety able to com­pete on equal terms with the ma­jor wines of north­ern Italy. The DOP Terre di Cosenza was founded to make the most of this great re­source.


The north­ern part of Calabria is one of the main ar­eas of pro­duc­tion for Calabria IGP clemen­tine man­darins present in food mar­kets through­out Europe. Other fine prod­ucts worth men­tion­ing are Rocca Im­pe­ri­ale IGP lemons. This is the area where the DOP Figs of Cosenza are grown, used in de­li­cious prepa­ra­tions with fill­ings of al­monds and wal­nuts or with lus­cious dark choco­late. Calabria also has its own black gold, not gaso­line, but Calabria DOP licorice. Pro­duc­tion is cen­tered on the Io­nian coast, in an area sur­round­ing the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park of Sy­baris, all the way up to Ros­sano. There is even a mu­seum ded­i­cated to tra­di­tional tech­niques of har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing. The north­ern part of Calabria be­longs to Sila – a UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve – with mas­sive win­ter snow­falls al­low­ing the Sila plateau to be the south­ern­most point where you can prac­tice dog sled­ding. The strong cat­tle breed of Podolica Cal­abrese, rec­og­nized by Slow Food Italy, are no­madic an­i­mals of the plateau ca­pa­ble of deal­ing with at­tacks by wolves and jump­ing two-me­ter-high fences. The pro­duce Ca­cio­cav­allo Si­lano DOP, one of the old­est cows’ milk cheeses of south­ern Italy. Another im­por­tant prod­uct is the PDO Pecorino cro­tonese, from the an­cient area of Kro­ton. Berg­amot or­anges have been in­ten­sively cul­ti­vated since the

18th cen­tury, ex­clu­sively in coastal ar­eas near Reg­gio Calabria. Since 1704, es­sen­tial oils are the key in­gre­di­ent for the pro­duc­tion of Eau de Cologne. Even today, es­sen­tial oils are used in the per­fume in­dus­try by fa­mous brands such as Burberry and Dolce & Gab­bana. Keep­ing with fa­mous names, IGP red onions, ad­mired by Queen El­iz­a­beth II (it is be­lieved she con­sumes up to 200kg per year), are sec­ond to none. With its un­mis­tak­able fla­vor, this pre­cious prod­uct of vel­vet farm­land has won over lovers of rich sum­mer sal­ads and so­phis­ti­cated fol­low­ers of new eat­ing styles, from vegans to peo­ple who only eat raw food for its known ben­e­fi­cial prop­er­ties. To­gether with olive oil, Berg­amots and Tro­pea red onions, licorice best rep­re­sents Cal­abrian iden­tity. Another fun­da­men­tal in­gre­di­ent is the un­of­fi­cial sym­bol of Calabria, the fa­mous peper­on­cino (chili pep­per). Dif­fer­ent kind of chili pep­pers can be found here, from ones with a mild taste to the ex­tra hot. Peper­on­cino is widely used in Cal­abrian cui­sine. The sea­side town of Dia­mante even hosts an an­nual fes­ti­val in its honor ev­ery Septem­ber. Dia­mante was where the world-fa­mous Peper­on­cino Ital­ian Acad­emy was es­tab­lished. Another fa­mous Cal­abrian prod­uct is the Tartufo di Pizzo ice-cream. This par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety is usu­ally com­posed of two or more fla­vors, of­ten with ei­ther fruit syrup or frozen fruit — typ­i­cally rasp­berry, straw­berry or cherry — in the cen­ter. Bag­nara Nougat is another char­ac­ter­is­tic/ tra­di­tional Cal­abrian dessert, dat­ing back to 1700 and ob­tained by cook­ing and pro­cess­ing lo­cal prod­ucts like honey and roasted al­monds, and in­gre­di­ents such as su­gar cin­na­mon and cloves. The end­less ex­panse of olive groves on the hills of the Lame­tini and Vi­bonese ar­eas of “Carolea” give ori­gin to Oil DOP Lamezia. DOP (Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gin) also ap­plies to Cal­abrian cured meats through­out the re­gion. Th­ese in­clude capoc­ollo (cold cut), pancetta (ba­con), sal­s­ic­cia (sausage) and sop­pres­sata (salami), all pre­pared with the best pork cuts. From Spilinga comes ‘Nduja, a sausage spread with a smoky aroma, not yet fea­tured among the more known brands, but gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity world­wide. This is the area where Pecorino del Monte Poro (sheeps’ milk cheese) is pro­duced. It is con­sid­ered among the best in south­ern Italy, and is now in the recog­ni­tion phase for the at­tri­bu­tion of DOP sta­tus.

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