Way Down South: Calabria

Way Down South: Calabria - Rome, Italy

Calabria, that overlooked gem of a region in southern Italy, is one of our favorite Italian regions. It is amazingly affordable and charmingly rustic. Because it is often neglected by guidebooks, Calabria has remained veritably untouched by tourist crowds, leaving its friendly villages and rolling hills positively picturesque.

Quick Facts

Where is Calabria?

It's in the far south of peninsular Italy, the foot kicking the ball.

Why would you want to go to Calabria?

Unspoiled beaches and farmland, lush wooded groves, delicious country cuisine, friendly locals, inexpensive accommodations, budget-friendly pricing throughout.

How much will you spend in Calabria?

€40 a day—for accommodations and meals is easily managed. And that's what we call a bargain, Cheapos.

How do you get to Calabria?

Air connections to Lamezia Terme and train connections to many cities along the west coast of the region. If you choose to make Calabria the focus of a vacation to Italy, fly into Rome and work out air or rail connections from there.

About Calabria

One of Italy's least touristed regions, Calabria occupies the far south of peninsular Italy. It's the arch of the foot and the toe kicking Sicily.

Guidebooks often ignore Calabria, either in part or in full. One otherwise comprehensive guidebook we consulted (an 800-plus page tome) contained just over 8 pages on the entire region. Compare this to the same guidebook's listings on Tuscany, which easily topped 100 pages.

The dearth of coverage of the region is partially a result of the fact that Calabria has traditionally been an area of mass emigration. Calabrians moved north to bigger cities in Italy as well as to Argentina, the United States and Australia. The discovery of the region as a tourist destination has been slow and partial.

While Naples to the north and Sicily to the south have long been major tourist haunts, Calabria has remained a little secret. Part of this has to do with its distance from major tourist centers.Even Naples is four hours away by train. For Europeans exploring Italy by car, Calabria's position at the far south of the country also contributes to its status as a relatively unexplored region.

Calabria is distinctive. It is poorer and friendlier than Italy's rich north. This is not the Italy of Donatella Versace and urban buzz. It's a bucolic, relaxed Italy of hills and beaches and clusters of cacti.

Our Experience in Calabria

We saw Calabria for the first time in the spring of 2005. We were alerted to the region by a Calabrian friend, who arranged accommodations and showed us part of the region. Having criss-crossed much of Italy in the past, we have to admit that we'd never journeyed south of Sorrento.

We can happily report that the far south of Italy is gorgeous country, and among the most budget-friendly regions in Western Europe to boot.

We spent one night in the unremarkable transit town of Lamezia Terme and then drove off to the little hill village of Monterosso. In four nights, we picked up a delightful number of invitations to lunch and dinner. We feasted on regional country specialties like succulent rabbit, spicy cured meats and fagioli, beans soaked in the most extraordinary olive oil.

Food is far spicier in Calabria than in much of Italy, and many locals will rip apart little peppers and toss them over their pasta and pizza for an additional blast of spice. Full-bodied local red wine accompanied every lunch and dinner, and post-meal grappa was another requisite. We were happily stuffed and tipsy every night.

We booked an apartment for four nights at the amazing rate of €35 per night (for the apartment, not per person!) From the apartment, we enjoyed views of the town's newer buildings and hill after rolling green hill. Monterosso itself contains structures that date back nine centuries. Its narrow streets and stairways are strikingly beautiful.

As picturesque as the village was from within its walls, it was the vista from far above the village that hit home how exquisite the spot actually is. We drove through woods to an agriturismo farm above Monterosso, with views stretching to the Mediterranean. From there, the village appeared like an inhabited nest in a sea of green.

Around Calabria

Side trips to the picturesque port town of Pizzo and its neighboring city of Vibo Valentia were amazing. Pizzo is known all over Italy for its superior gelato, known as tartufo. We reveled in delicious truffled globes of tartufo while sitting on the glorious Piazza della Repubblica.

Pizzo is guarded by a formidable castle. The town was the site of the execution of Napoleon's brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, in 1815. The central piazza is a perfect place to laze away a long afternoon.

A few kilometers away, Vibo Valentia is the home of the amazing V. Capialbi Archaeology museum, which occupies the Castello Normanno Svevo, a hilltop castle built in 1070.

The views from the castle are extraordinary, and the museum itself offers a dizzying overview of the archaeological and historical richness of the region.

Calabria sports fabulous beaches as well. Diamante and Tropea both offer beautiful beaches within easy distance of their city centers. Locals sport sly smiles when asked about beaches, implying that the best beaches are revealed on a need-to-know basis. Even more reason to make friends with the locals, eh?

Some of the most noteworthy parts of Calabria are far off the (limited) tourist path. The region's forests are gorgeous. Drives between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas usually involve passage through wooded areas. We found the areas inland of Lamezia Terme to be particularly beautiful, and the drive between Pizzo and Stilo also receives rave reviews.

How to Get to Calabria

Lamezia Terme has a decently sized regional airport, with frequent connections from Rome. Recently, several low-cost airlines have begun to fly to Lamezia Terme from various points in Europe. Among EuroCheapo's favorite budget airlines, Air Berlin, Ryanair and Transavia fly to and from Lamezia Terme. Check out our nifty budget airline overview for more European budget air information.

A car rental is highly recommended, as public transportation in the region is not stellar. (Many people utilize school buses as public transportation. Hopping aboard a school bus is an entertaining way to get a sense of local culture, although not the easiest form of transportation to coordinate with a sightseeing schedule.) See our guide to renting a car in Europe and check out our partner, rental car company consolidator AutoEurope.

Keep in mind that English is spoken by far fewer people in Calabria than in the big Italian cities to the north, do learn some basic Italian phrases and be liberal with your buongiornos and grazies. Asking people if they speak English in Italian will go a long way toward establishing a friendly vibe. Italians (and Calabrians exemplify this trait remarkably) will go some distance toward trying to communicate, and nine times out of 10 you will work everything out almost effortlessly.

Calabria is dotted with many small agriturismo facilities. Take advantage of their concentration and spend a few nights on a farm, luxuriating in the rural vibe. See our brief introduction to agriturismo for more information.

How Much It Costs

Inland, agriturismo facilities can be found for €20 per person per night based on double occupancy, and private house rentals for about the same. In larger towns and seaside resorts, plan to spend between three and four times this much. High season stretches from the end of July through the end of August. During high season, prices spike considerably.

Good pizza and country cuisine restaurants inland will set you back between €8 and €20 for extraordinary four-course meals. In bigger cities, costs will be higher, but will still be a great value for your money.

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