Calabria – a hidden gem of a region

Destination – Calabria, Italy

Date – September 2018

How did we get there?  – We flew to Palermo on Easyjet arriving early in the morning. We then took the train from Palermo to Messina where we boarded the ferry from Sicily to the mainland and then grabbed a train at Villa San Giovanni up to Ricardi which was the closest station to where we were staying. A full days travelling but worth it as we wanted to finish our holiday in Palermo.

How much did it cost ? – We pre-booked most of the train journey and it only cost about £50 and we booked that through Trenitalia

Where did we stay? – We stayed at the Villagio Albergo da Ciccio sul Mare which was a typical Italian hotel on the coast. I’ve written more about it below.

What was the best things about Calabria –.   The best things has to be the food. Tropea Onions, Nduja, seafood and gelato, our hotel had their own gelato station, yum yum.

What was the worst thing about Calabria –  I can’t think of anything bad really about this trip. Calabria was truly an Italian Gem.

Tip of the trip – Use local transport as much as possible, bus and train are both cheap and accessible and can get you to all sorts of wonderful places

Capo Vaticano

If you are looking for a traditional Italian holiday hotel then look no further than Villagio Albergo da Ciccio sul Mare It really is a true Italian experience. Very little English is spoken here and the hotel, albeit, towards the end of the season was filled with Italians and the occasional Dutch or German. The hotel was right on the beach so you litereally stepped from your room onto the sand.

The hotel had a fairly good restaurant and gelateria/bar and your sunlounger and parasol was included in the cost of your room. It also has a webcam where you can see the whole stretch of the beach so check it out before you go. We loved it here. So relaxed, quiet and peaceful, it was the perfect way to spend a week under the Italian sun. There were boat trips, snorkelling, canoeing, paddle boarding and swimming. Loads of activities to keep. you smiling.

In the village of Capo Vaticano there are other bars and restaurants to choose from including a really good pizza place. A small supermarket and a bus stop to take you up and down the coast. There are walks to do nearby that take you through the countryside and up and over the surrounding hills to other beaches and there is bike and boat hire if that’s what you fancy. Take it from us, if you don’t want the hustle and bustle then here is the place to be.

Nduja

Ever wondered where the spicy Italian sausage that is taking the cullenary world by storm comes from. Well its right here in Calabria, Spliniga to be exact. One of the most famous of all Calabrian foods, nduja (pronounced en-doo-ya) is a soft, sweet-spicy spreadable salami., it is made with pork meat, a little fat, salt and a lot of red pepper and is delicious. We visited a local manufacturer and the family who ran the business showed us not only the shop but the production site and the innerworkings of the factory. It was really fantastic to see how this delicious food is made.

We got some free samples of the different types of pastes and bought some more from the on site shop. The friendliness of the Calabrian people is outstanding and if you get a chance, go see how Nduja is made and remember to take some home.

Aspromonte National Park

Whilst in Calabria we hired a car one day (Kung Fu Panda!) and ventured out of our base of Capo Vaticano. Our destination was the Aspromonte National Park. The park is situated in the southern section of the Apennines, in Calabria, Italy. The park lies near the sea and includes mountain summits nearly reaching the 2,000 meters of height. We drove up to a vantage point on one of the mountains and the views were superb. I must say though the roads were pretty rough towards the top and our little Kung Fu Panda took a bit of a hammering but he got us up there until the roads became virtually undrivable. It was about that time that we were caught out with a heavy and hard thunderstorm so getting out and walking was not an option today but regardless of the weather, the wilderness shone through.

This is a place I would definitely love to come back to. It was be great to get off the beaten track and into the forests and made a welcome change from the beach.

The Riace Bronze Statues

If ever you are in Calabria, you simply cannot miss these statues. The bronzes also called the Riace Warriors, are two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BC that were found in the sea near Riace in 1972. The bronzes are in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria. It was an amateur scuba diver that found these statues whilst on holiday in Calabria and they say that they are one of the most important historical finds in the last 100 years. Now I kid you not. These statues are kept in a temperature-controlled environment. Only a few people are allowed into see them at any one time and I am not sure if it was the coolness of the room, or the quiet but they have a presence. There is an energy to these statues that I have never felt before with any inanimate object (ok well perhaps the veiled Christ in Naples) but these bronzes are spectacular. I would urge anyone to make the trip to see them.

We took the train down from Ricardi to Reggio Calabria and although it was a good few hrs on the train the views were excellent and the destination worth the travel.

Pizzo

Pizzo, also called Pizzo Calabro, is a seaport and commune in the province of Vibo Valentia, situated on a steep cliff overlooking the Gulf of Saint Euphemia. Fishing is one of the main activities, including that of tuna and coral.

It has an old castle, built by the Aragonese in the 15th century, in which an ex-king of Naples, was shot on October 13, 1815. Other sights include the Baroque church of St. George (1632) and the cave church of Piedigrotta (17th century)

We visited the cave church and after parking at the top of the cliffs, we paid our €5 and walked down the walkway and steps that took you down the cliffs to the church. The Piedigrotta Church is situated near the entrance to an ancient Roman tunnel and is located within a cave carved out of porous rock and supported with hewn arches and pillars. The inside is filled with statues recalling biblical stories, including the Madonna di Pompei and the Angel of Death. It is worth noting that this historic site is a bit out of town but worth the stop.

Another thing Pizzo is famous for is an ice cream called Tartufo, this is an Italian ice cream dessert originating from Pizzo. It is usually composed of two or more flavours of ice cream, often with either fruit syrup or frozen fruit — typically raspberry, strawberry, or cherry — in the centre. It is typically covered in a shell made of chocolate or cocoa, but cinnamon or nuts are also used. Deeeeeeeelicious!

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