In their haste to reach Calabria’s beaches, many travelers mistakenly overlook the region’s largest city, Reggio. This handsome and little-touristed place of around 200,000 inhabitants is built on slopes overlooking the Strait of Messina. Founded by the Greeks around 730 B.C., it later became an important center of Byzantine culture until being occupied by the Arabs in the 10th century. Spanish rule ended with Napoleon’s invasion in 1806. The city thrived during the late 18th century, when the Lungomare Falcomatà, “the most beautiful kilometer of Italy,” a long seaside promenade, was constructed. On a visit in 1847, the English artist and writer Edward Lear wrote: “Reggio is indeed one vast garden, and doubtless one of the loveliest spots to be seen on earth. A half-ruined castle, beautiful in colour and picturesque in form, overlooks all the long city, the wide straits and snow-topped Mongibello (Mount Etna) beyond.”
An earthquake destroyed large areas of Reggio in 1908, and much of it was rebuilt in the art nouveau style. Lining the Corso Garibaldi, the principal thoroughfare, these elegant buildings give the city its singular charm.
Alas, Reggio does not have a hotel of a standard to merit a Hideaway Report recommendation, but the Hotel Medinblu provides a friendly, comfortable and well-located base from which to explore. Booking a Superior Room is advised. An excellent breakfast is served on a rooftop terrace with a dramatic view of the Strait of Messina.
This superb museum is reason alone to visit Reggio, especially for the Riace bronzes, two life-size ancient Greek statues of naked warriors that were found in the sea near Riace in 1972. Archaeologists believe that they were cast between 460 B.C. and 430 B.C. The powerful figures have an astonishing presence. The museum contains other remarkable Greek and Roman statues, plus architectural fragments, pottery and jewelry.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale
Piazza Museo, 19. Tel. (39) 081-442-2149
Highlights of this art museum include two wooden tablets — “Saint Jerome in Penitence” and “Three Angels Visiting Abraham” — painted by Antonello da Messina around 1460. There are also many wonderful 18th- and 19th-century paintings of Calabria.
Via Osanna, n.6. Tel. (39) 096-532-4822
This waterfront promenade is adorned with art nouveau buildings, including the Palazzo Zani and the Palazzo Spinelli (both now part of Mediterranea University). Archaeological remains include sections of the ancient Greek city wall. A renewal project that began in 1994 has created a system of interconnected walks at various levels.
The hometown of the late Gianni Versace and his sister Donatella, Reggio Calabria is a fashion-loving city. Early each evening, watching from a café table, it seems as if the entire population is to be found strolling along this stylish, mostly pedestrian road, chatting with friends and flaunting their latest outfits.
At this restaurant housed within a villa overlooking the Strait of Messina, Calabrian chef Filippo Cogliandro creates traditional dishes like fava bean soup, as well as more-inventive ones, such as sole with bergamot and caciocavallo cheese.
L’A Gourmet L’Accademia
Via Largo Cristoforo Colombo 6. Tel. (39) 096-531-2968
Located beside the sea on the Strait of Messina, this friendly restaurant has a wonderful terrace from which to enjoy views of Sicily. Try the fritto misto, tuna tartare and pasta in a swordfish sauce.
Contrada Giunchi. Tel. (39) 096-531-2925
An easy walk from the Hotel Medinblu, this stylish but relaxed seafood restaurant serves dishes like shrimp tartare with mozzarella, linguine with clams, and grilled swordfish with pickled Tropea onions.
Via Biagio Camagna 11. Tel. (39) 347-717-3218
Carnivores will relish this notable Italian-style steakhouse. Start with some San Daniele prosciutto and mozzarella, or maybe the panciotti pasta stuffed with caciocavallo cheese and eggplant, and then tuck into a thick Chianina beef steak. The wine list is spectacular.
Officina del Gusto
Via Placido Geraci 17. Tel. (39) 096-533-2830
The locals have a passion for ice cream, which arrived in Reggio Calabria during the Arab occupation. At Gelato Cesare, try the bergamot-flavored gelato, since this citrus fruit is native to Calabria; the pistachio is also delicious.
Piazza Indipendenza 2. Tel. (39) 096-589-9058