Calabria a land with a great value
Mario Oliverio, President of the southern Italian Region of Calabria, tells us about the relaunching of this region in order to give it a new international appeal. An exceptional testimonial talks to the United States about his Calabria.
Calabria is often seen as the starting place for one-way journeys to go elsewhere, with one’s hopes and dreams stuffed into a suitcase. It is best known as a place that was abandoned by men and women who moved away but who forever kept their sense of intimate belonging to this land. For many years this was the generally accepted but rather superficial story of Calabria and Calabrian identity, especially outside its borders. But now the institutions and citizens of Calabria have decided to update this old narrative and they are finally talking to the world about a courageous population that is not afraid to face the challenges and changes of the future, and that is rediscovering its history and its peculiar characteristics. This region has a new-found pride in its excellent natural, cultural, artistic and culinary heritage, and it has decided to communicate and promote these fine qualities as effectively as possible in Italy and abroad. The governor of the Calabria Region, Mario Oliverio, has become a spokesperson for this favorable wind of change and renewal, and he describes an all-round promotion strategy featuring several carefully targeted initiatives and actions involving international markets, with particular attention towards the US.
The New York Times lists Calabria among the 52 top places to visit in 2017. So what initiatives have been planned to ensure the effective promotion of the
Region of Calabria abroad?
Our activities of international promotion for Calabria started in 2015, and in January 2016 the Rough Guide mentioned some of our locations as top destinations. This guide, intended for a niche target, made it possible to reach “travelers” who love to discover places that are outside the ordinary circuits. Calabria has of course been promoted for many years and it is well known for its coasts and the beauty of its coastline, but it is much more than this, with many rich resources such as national and regional parks, archaeological sites, castles, abbeys and convents, villages and historic town centers, which are also ideal locations for television and movie productions. It is no coincidence that the Calabria Film Commission is having good results with several of its productions being shown at the Film Festivals of Cannes and Venice. In the USA in particular there is an increasing level of interest in Calabria as a tourist destination. This is why The New York Times has listed Calabria among the 52 locations to visit in 2017.
We have adopted a single strategy in all our international tourism events and agreements, from Prague to Berlin, Moscow and Shanghai. An important agreement with China has also been initiated, with the project “Welcome Chinese” that aims to attract a part of the flow of tourists from
that great country, also thanks to the certification of the international airport of Lamezia Terme. Last June we hosted a large group of Chinese journalists, bloggers and media influencers who visited Calabria to discover and appreciate the beauty of our territory, and our cultural and gastronomic traditions. Over the last two years we have witnessed a rise in tourist numbers after a long period of negative trends, and these results of our work show that our actions have been effective in turning the spotlight onto Calabria and bringing it to the attention of the international markets as a tourist destination. In the first half of this year there was an increase of about 60% in the numbers of passengers using Lamezia airport as compared to the previous year, with many of those passengers coming from abroad.
Obviously, the kind of tourism you are aiming for is also based on the sector of food and wine. How does this involve your collaboration with the famous US chef and entrepreneur Lidia Bastianich?
Our collaboration with Lidia Bastianich, who visited Calabria from the north to the south in May, has the goal of encouraging and guiding Calabrian agri-food producers in strengthening the process of internationalization, contributing towards the promotion of a positive image of Calabria. The practices of so-called “slow tourism” allow people to discover locally sourced organic foods, with the discovery of environmentally-friendly destinations that are concerned with energy-saving and that offer healthy and eco-friendly forms of tourism. This philosophy is embraced by Lidia Bastianich herself, who is basically a testimonial to the effects that Calabria has all over the world. In fact, during the last edition of the “Summer Fancy Food” held in New York (in June 2017), she stated that “the trend-setting foods of 2018 will be Calabrian”.
Regarding the Calabrian wine-making heritage you have repeatedly mentioned the fragmented way in which wine producers present themselves on the market, and have you underlined the need for them to team up. How is the region coming together to become a system?
The quality of local wines has grown enormously thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of the farmers and wine producers, who have made some bold decisions. With the help of research they are continuing to improve genetic variety by enhancing native grape cultivars. For many years now, Calabrian wines have been receiving
This is not one of Italy’s top tourist destinations. Calabria is often considered to be the Caribbean of Europen thanks to its amazing beaches, colorful coastline, picturesque villages and amazing food and wine Mastercard #Tophiddentreasures
numerous national and international awards. Also organic wine production in Calabria increased last year, with a rise of 2.5% over the previous year. This year, at the international wine competition and exposition Vinitaly, the Calabria region was represented by 58 separate wine companies which, together with the associations of producers Vini DOC Cirò and Melissa and Vini DOP Terre di Cosenza, exhibited about 500 different Calabrian labels. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that Calabria has a rich heritage of about 350 native grape varieties that have been preserved over time thanks to the relative isolation of the inland areas, with 12,000 hectares of vineyards producing about 10 million bottles of wine. Thanks to interventions supported by the Rural Development Program PSR 2014/2020, the Region of Calabria now aims to strengthen the innovation and competitiveness of this sector, through promotion in third markets, restructuring and improvement of vineyards, investments and green harvesting, also so as to obtain positive effects on occupation. In addition to the wine sector, I would like to mention olive production, which is a fundamental industry in Calabria. Its impact on the agricultural sector in our region is significant, as it amounts to over a third of total production. We are the second-ranking Italian region for olive cultivation, and the first in terms of organically farmed extra virgin olive oil.
In 2017 an article by Eric Asimov in The New York Times brought Calabrian wine into the spotlight. What’s your positioning in this sector on the US market today?
By means of an intensive program of events and tastings involving journalists, bloggers, and US influencers, we have worked to strengthen the image of those wine producers that are already present on the US market, in order to increase their marketing potential and stimulate interest in the many Calabrian wineries that are offering ever increasing numbers of high quality labels. Also for this reason, on March 24th, Eric Asimov, writing for the prestigious New York journal, honored our Gaglioppo grape by including it in his list of “12 Wine Grapes Worth Discovering”, saying that it “can make gorgeously rustic reds, with aromas of roses and smoke and grippy tannins”. This is another great step forward for the Calabrian wine industry.
Calabria’s recovery is one aspect of a gastronomic revolution now being carried forward by Michelin star restaurateurs both young and old, who are united by their mission of giving back recognition to an invaluable land. Are they being successful in this mission?
I like to bear in mind the fact that Calabria is the true home of the Mediterranean Diet. It was in 1957 in Calabria, at Nicotera, that Professor Ancel Keys, the founder of a new style of food and psychophysical well-being, identified a diet that he would define as “La Dieta Mediterranea”, which UNESCO recently designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Today, the Italian scientist Valter Longo of the University of Southern California (USC) and the Institute of Molecular
Oncology (IFOM) in Milan, originally from Molochio in Calabria, never fails to cite the virtues of the simple and genuine food of his Calabrian childhood as in his book “The Longevity Diet”. On the basis of the ingredients that nature has made available in Calabria, several young chefs have come to prominence in recent years, combining age-old traditions with innovative cuisine that is now establishing a trend all around the world.
I think that these young chefs are the true ambassadors of Calabria to the world, as they are contributing towards giving this land that is so rich in opportunity and potential the credit that it deserves.
After 10 years in which the numbers of visitors have declined, since 2016 there has been a significant increase in visitors to Calabria, a substantial percentage of which are international tourists. What are the most popular locations for foreigners?
The seaside continues to be in the lead, with Tropea, the Marine Protected Area of Capo Rizzuto, the Gulf of Squillace, and the coastlines near the island of Dino, as well as around the towns of Locri and Sibari. But the discovery of the villages and historic town centers and the natural scenery in three National Parks as well as one Regional Park attract high levels of niche tourism. In fact we have planned the longest cycling route in the Mediterranean, which will go across the whole region of Calabria along the Magna Grecia itinerary, as well as a second cycling route through the parks which, starting from the park of Pollino, will cross the parks of the Sila, the Serre and the Aspromonte to reach Reggio Calabria.
The interest of tourists in the Calabrian mountain areas is growing, as the data from the last two years reveals. In fact there is a good influx of outdoor enthusiasts from all over Europe, who are discovering the Calabrian mountains as a place to practice outdoor sports or just to enjoy a close contact with nature. Just now in July, the Italian National Canoeing Team chose the Sila as the training location for
“Gaglioppo. This grape from the Cirò appellation in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, can make gorgeously rustic reds, with aromas of roses and smoke and grippy tannins”. Eric Asimov - The New York Times
junior athletes in the period preceding the world championships, with a program of sporting events intended to revitalize the Calabrian mountains as an “open-air gymnasium”. These range from well organized rowing and rafting events on the Lao River, to adventure parks, canyoning and mountain biking. And at the end of the summer we hosted the “NDUT - Norman Douglas Ultra Trail”, a mountain bike race along a 1,144 km trail that faithfully mirrors the journey made by this British travel writer in the early 1900s and that goes through all of the regional parks in the region. The athletes who took part have spoken of the warm human welcome that was extended to them along the route.
The implementation of tourism also consists of enhancing the transport network, especially by air and there has been talk about this in Calabria. What will it consist of?
As I mentioned earlier, the international airport of Lamezia Terme has had an exponential increase in the number of travelers coming from abroad over the last six months, but we are working on a more extensive relaunching of the Calabrian airport system. We have issued an important co-marketing tender for airlines which is worth 12 million Euros, and another call for tenders concerns new routes between the airports of Reggio Calabria, Crotone and Lamezia, and the rest of Italy and Europe. We are also planning to establish high speed rail connections as far as Reggio Calabria. The modernization and speeding up of the Jonica railway, that connects Sibari, Crotone and Reggio Calabria, is now in progress, and we have allocated 530 million Euros to this program.
We have decided to use our oldest railways for purposes of tourism, such as the one that connects Cosenza with San Giovanni in Fiore, which is proving to be extremely successful in its currently operational section in the Sila. Precisely this ancient railway line that crosses the Sila Mountains is being used in present months in the shooting of an Anglo-american produced television series for Fox. The director was fascinated by the evocative sight of those tracks that penetrated those remote and isolated areas in the last century. The Interministerial Committee for Economic Planning (CIPE) has also given the go-ahead for maintenance works on the “Jonica” state highway 106, which will make a significant improvement to road transport along the Adriaticionian-tyrrhenian route.
How would you describe Calabria in just three or four words?
I would tell you that Calabria is nature, cultural and historic heritage and fine food and wine.
Lidia Bastianich with the governor of the Calabria Region Mario Oliverio.
Santa Maria dell’isola, the monastery on the island in Tropea.