When I tell people that I am a native of Italy, the certain reaction is one of genuine interest and the reply is more often than not that they have always wanted to go there, or that they have been there and they find it beautiful. When I give more details and say that I am from Calabria, I usually get nothing in reply; crickets. They don’t know where it is and they’ve certainly never been there. But you should know that there’s more to Italy than the Tuscan Sun or Rome, beautiful though they may be. I love speaking about Calabria and all its beauty to anyone who wants to listen.
If you were looking at a map of Italy, Calabria is the toe of the boot-shaped country. Picture it giving Sicily a kick. The air is pure — the purest in the country in fact — the food is spicy, the beaches are breathtakingly beautiful, the mountains are equally as stunning and the people are characters to say the least. The winters are relatively warm, as compared to the North, and snow is rare, unless you find yourself in the mountains. The summers are hot, but all is well as there are plenty of beaches to cool you off.
The beautiful beach of Soverato, with the mountains in the back!
Calabria is a must visit region for anyone that likes to sunbathe and people watch by seaside or swim in the salty ocean. While Calabria is relatively unknown to the rest of the world, other Italians flock by the thousands during the summer months. Surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, Calabria’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country. My family, and many others in Calabria refer to their region as “Calabrifornia” – a reference to the beautiful waters and climate resembling that of our West Coast. Some of the most beautiful beaches can be found in the cities of Tropea, Pizzo, Copanello and Soverato. A rental umbrella is a must and the best investment you might make for the season. I prefer the beach during the early morning hours, before the crowds flock down like they’ve never tasted seawater before. The sun is light on the skin, the water is already warm, and you can get a whiff of the morning espresso, cappuccino and famous cornetti alla crema (cream-filled croissant-like brioche) baking just steps away at the café on the beach.
Hazelnut cream cornet. Makes a delicious breakfast on the beach!
The famous “panino al gelato” – the brioche filled with gelato and topped with fresh whipped cream.
So many delicious pastries in Calabria!
The gastronomy in Calabria is as lively and vibrant as its seas. Because of its vicinity to the ocean, seafood is quite popular in Calabria, particularly sardines, swordfish and salted cod, known in Italy as baccala. Produce grows easily under the southern sun and tomatoes, zucchini and their blossoms, eggplants and sweet red onions, particularly from the town of Tropea, are plentiful. Sheep and cows roam freely in the lush green landscapes and as such, soft cheeses, like ricotta are plentiful and incredibly delicious. Rare is a day when Calabrians don’t eat pasta, which in the south is mostly made with just flour and water, not egg-based, as in Northern Italy. Meat selections usually include pork and lamb. And then there’s ‘Nduja. Have you ever heard of spreadable pork? Well, as strange as it sounds, ‘Nduja is just that: spicy, hot and not for the faint of heart. At first sight it just looks like a salami stick, but the inside is much softer and is spreadable and a perfect accompaniment to sharp cheeses, a tomato salad made with sweet red onions, or a slice or two of crusty homemade bread. Washing it all down with a glass or two of homemade wine doesn’t hurt.
This vendor at the market was ready for his photo op!
The various salumi sold at the open door markets.
Homemade salumi and cheeses make for a delicious post-beach lunch!
I have spoken to many people this past year who, after hearing about it from a native, want to travel there. I tell them how wonderful and unspoiled it really is. While the main cities in Italy, especially the “Holy Trinity” of Florence, Rome and Venice remain on everyone’s must-see list, and if you have not been there, I highly encourage that you visit. Yet Calabria and the entire South are by far the most authentic Italian locations to visit. Tourism is low, allowing for ease of getting around, and the locals are very hospitable to visitors. And while in the main cities, you will have to carefully select your restaurants as to avoid the ones that cater to tourists (thus, the food is not as good because, frankly, they think your palates aren’t as refined!), in the South, you will never find a touristy restaurant, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a delicious meal, even if you stop by the side of the road.
Swordfish is king in Calabria.
Mozzarella, ricotta and Calabria’s version of “string cheese!”
I’m getting ready to head back to Calabria very shortly. And though I usually return for vacation and to bake under the sun, this year, I’m combining business with pleasure. I will be organizing a culinary tour of Calabria in September 2018, so on my upcoming trip, I will be scouting new locations, interviewing possible vendors to work with and hitting wineries and cheese shops for possible stops on our tour. The tour promises to be as authentic as Italian travels can possibly be. The food will be delicious and the olive oil and wine will likely be the best you have ever tasted. But don’t forget your swimsuit, chances are, we’ll be hitting the beach at least once during our trip.
If you are interested in this trip, be sure to contact us
as this one is sure to sell out!
October 2016 trip to Calabria, it felt more like summer!