Calabria, the rugged toe of Italy eternally poised to give Sicily a nudge, is little known even to a majority of Italians. Isolated until recently by poor transportation, this Connecticut-size region was also associated with the chronic poverty that drove millions of Calabrians to immigrate to the United States between 1876 (when Italy had a severe economic recession) and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Savvy Roman and Milanese vacationers have long been aware, however, that Calabria contains many of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, along with some of the most spectacular ancient Greek ruins in the Mediterranean, plus dozens of charming villages perched on seaside cliffs or on mountaintops in the interior.
Along with its excellent traditional cooking, Calabria has a growing number of Italy’s most inventive modern restaurants and, as we discovered during a recent trip through the region, also now has several hotels that are delightful, distinctive and comfortable enough to be good bases for anyone who wants to combine a seaside vacation with day trips exploring this quiet and still authentic corner of Italy or to longer itineraries in southern Italy, which might include nearby Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicily.
From coastal roads and charming villages to breathtaking beaches and forested mountains, this region has much to offer. The mountainous, often thickly forested interior of the province, can be just as rewarding as Calabria’s beaches and archaeological ruins. Enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and remarkable biodiversity of Aspromonte National Park, then take a drive along SS18, a coastal road that follows the region’s western coast from Villa San Giovanni to Palmi, and dine on seafood in the charming fishing village of Scilla. On another day, spend an afternoon exploring the charming old town of Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria, which is often overlooked. Most unique to the region are its spectacular caves, especially the Blue Grotto, which appears to be illuminated from below.
Archaeological digs have revealed that pots, pitchers and plates for domestic use were created in Calabria by Phoenician settlers 3,500 years ago. Today, many Calabrian towns still have working studios. The foremost destination for ceramics is Squillace, 17 miles southwest of the region’s capital, Catanzaro. One of the best ceramics shops in Squillace is La Bottega d’Arte Il Tornio, which carries a variety of ingobbio pottery, plus colorful glazed pieces.