Visit Calabria: what to see, how to get there and get around

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Aina Martin
@ainamartin
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wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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Located in the southern tip of Italy, Calabria is an exceptional land, formed by a territory rich in history and traditions, but also from tourist resorts and magnificent landscapes between sea and mountains. Bathed by the splendid waters of the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, it is separated from the Sicily from the Strait of Messina.

The history of Calabria dates back to the VIII-V century BC, when it was a colony of Magna Graecia. Over the centuries various peoples, including the Spanish, Arab and Norman peoples, have influenced the culture, language and architecture of the region.



The warm environment, the splendid colors of the sea, the rocky coasts alternating with sandy coasts, its wild and mysterious nature, the intense and genuine flavors of the local cuisine, together with the traces of its ancient origins, make Calabria a unique place.

The region is made up of five distinct provinces: Catanzaro (center), Cosenza (north), Crotone (east), Reggio Calabria (south-west) and Vibo Valentia (south).

È surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea: the Ionian Sea to the east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Strait of Messina to the south. As such, the sea is an important part of the region's culture and cuisine.

Hill towns, ancient Greek temples and Byzantine churches dot its countryside and rolling green hills lined with olive, orange and lemon trees.

Why visit Calabria

For its beaches

Calabria is better known for its vast beaches along the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west coast and the Ionian Sea on the east coast, and their spectacular cliffs, coves and surreal rock formations.

Scilla, Tropea and Nicotera are the pretty towns and tourist resorts on the Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Reggio with the town of Tropea in particular situated in a spectacular way on the cliffs overlooking the sea and very popular with tourists. Other highlights of this part of the coast include Capo Vaticano, Lace and (much further north) Paola.



On the Ionian coast you can visit Squillace, a seaside resort and historic city, and the beaches and villages around Soverato.

Visit Calabria: mountains

But the region doesn't just offer beautiful beaches. The other strong point of Calabria are its steep mountains, which reach 2.000 meters above sea level.

Much of the Central Calabria it is a mountainous region, with the Pollino mountains to the north and the Aspromonte mountains to the south, separated by the vast wooded Sila mountain range that occupies much of central Calabria.

Il "Heart" of the region it is made up of dense forests, dotted with canyons, streams and waterfalls that attract hikers of all skill levels. How not to mention for example the Marmàrico waterfall in the municipality of Bivongi, or the Cupe Valley where night tours in the canyons are offered. In winter you can ski in Sila and Aspromonte.

Villages and historic towns in Calabria

I medieval villages they are scattered throughout the region and are worth a visit. Gerace, on the Ionian coast, is probably the best preserved medieval village with the largest cathedral in Calabria. The historic center of Castrovillari, the Corigliano Castle, the medieval center of Cariati and the pretty village of Scala Coeli are worth a visit.

Altomonte, Bova, Chianalea, Morano Calabro and Stilo are among the most beautiful villages in Italy. If you like them the ghost towns, you can also find them in Calabria: Amendolea, Brancaleone, Pentedattilo and Roghudi are the most visited.


Calabria is one ideal travel destination in all seasons. The whole region is known for its mild Mediterranean climate. It has long hot, dry summers and very short, mild winters. The intermediate seasons are warm and guarantee the possibility of sunbathing for most of the year.


What to see in Calabria: the best places to visit

Reggio Calabria

It is the most beautiful Calabrian city, both from a naturalistic and architectural point of view. Reggio Calabria is set in a splendid position on the Strait of Messina, with a magnificent seafront, defined by Gabriele D'Annunzio as “the most beautiful kilometer in Italy”. This long tree-lined avenue offers residents and tourists pleasant walks and fabulous sunsets, among centuries-old tropical plants and beautiful monuments and palaces.

Reggio Calabria is a bustling port city that serves as a transport hub for the region, with travelers who often pass by to reach nearby Sicily.

To visit the restored towers of Aragonese Castle, which are now used to host events and concerts; there Cathedral, one of the largest religious buildings in the province and the National Museum of Magna Graecia. Among the most famous pieces exhibited in the museum are the Bronzi di Riace, dating back to about 450 BC.

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Tropea

Tropea fascinates not only for the splendid blue and clear waters that surround it, but also for its historic center, full of ancient stately buildings and of that typical architectural style of the 1700s, which fascinates its visitors so much. The city is a succession of narrow streets, alleys and panoramic corners.


A few steps from the historic center you can see its port, surrounded by piers and boats. Don't miss the Benedictine Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell'Isola, of early medieval origin, lying on a rock overlooking the sea, which represents the archetypal emblem of the city. In July, the Festival of blue fish and red Tropea onion is celebrated.


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Scilla

Scilla is a small town in the province of Reggio Calabria, in southern Italy. Perched on a promontory that extends into the Strait of Messina, the city is located precisely in front of the Sicilian town of Cariddi. According to Greek mythology, Scylla and Cariddi were the two monsters guardians, in a certain sense, of the strait and from which Ulysses manages to escape.

In the charming village of Scilla, the San Giorgio district, on top of the promontory, it houses the Church of San Rocco and the Town Hall. From the church you can enjoy a magnificent view of the beach of Scilla, located in the so-called area of Marina Grande. Here, in addition to the beautiful sixteenth-century church of the Holy Spirit, there are the seaside areas of the city.

Finally, don't miss the named area Chianalea, north of Marina Grande. Considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, the town is also called the Venice of the South, for its spectacular houses built directly on the rocks close to the water and separated by narrow streets that resemble the canals of the lagoon. In Chinalea there is the Ruffo Castle, whose origins date back to the times of Magna Graecia.

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The Riviera Dei Cedri

This is the name of the piece of Calabrian coast that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and extends from the municipality of Tortora (to the north) to that of Paola (to the south). The coast, with its eighty kilometers of beaches and cliffs, owes its name to the cultivation of cedar, which has found its natural habitat in this strip of Calabrian land.

Among the small towns that deserve a visit we find aieta of Byzantine origin which, in addition to the splendid view of the Gulf of Policastro, offers important historical-religious testimonies such as the chapel of San Nicola and the church of Santa Maria della Visitazione.

Then, there is Praia a Mare, with its spectacular island of Dino, where you dive into one of the most beautiful seas of Calabria.

Not to mention the small town of Paola, known for being the birthplace of San Francesco da Paola, patron saint of Calabria, who in 1453 founded the sanctuary, an imposing complex that absolutely must be visited!

And finally we must mention a splendid village overlooking the sea, Scalea, known for its splendid churches, such as that of San Nicola di Platea, and its sea.

Rossano

Located in the north east of Calabria, Rossano is a little known wonder. It is one of the architectural and artistic treasures of the region and is an unmissable place during a holiday in Calabria.

The city encloses a very rich historical center, extended on a hill dotted with olive trees. With its alleys that wind here and there, its squares surrounded by magnificent buildings, this historic center offers a magnificent walk. Don't miss the impressive Diocesan Museum!

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Calabrian lace

Located in the southwest of Calabria, Pizzo is one of the most picturesque towns in the province. It is a ancient medieval village, very popular with tourists, a small town that stands on a rocky spur overlooking the sea, and offers one idyllic scenery.

Take a nice walk in its historic center, among the small alleys dotted with shops and its square, and climb up to its promontory to observe the view and the sunset. Visit the Mother Church of San Giorgio, the Church of Piedigrotta and the Murat castle-museum, the architectural protagonist of the city.

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Catanzaro

Capital of the region, Catanzaro is one of the places absolutely to be discovered during a holiday in Calabria. Built in the late XNUMXth century, the city was completely rebuilt in the XNUMXth century and boasts varied architecture.

Catanzaro overlooks the gulf of Squillace, in the Ionian Sea. The city is composed of a coastal area on the Ionian Sea, which is home to 8 km of beach and a marina, and an area that goes up the valley to a height of about 600 meters, where the historical center of the city.

Between peaks, ridges and mountain ranges that stretch as far as the eye can see, the view is simply breathtaking. Make sure you visit the Norman Church of Sant'Omobono, the oldest monument in the city.

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Cosenza

The city of Cosenza, also called the Milan of the south, is located in a natural setting of hills of the Crati Valley at the confluence of the Busento river, which divides the modern part of the city from the old one.

The old historical center is characterized by sloping alleys, numerous ancient churches, small houses and palaces. Surrounded by mountains, Cosenza offers splendid views from its historic center. The city has very ancient origins, founded by the Bruzi in the fourth century BC, is one unmissable destination.

Do not miss to visit the XNUMXth century Cathedral, the Swabian castle, built at the behest of Frederick II, very close to Cosenza and the XNUMXth century Palazzo Arnone, which houses the National Gallery where the Stauroteca is located, a precious cross offered to the city. by Frederick II. The National Library and the San Domenico and San Gaetano convents are also of considerable interest.

It is not only the history, culture and art that make this city attractive, but also its gastronomy, traditions, hospitality and its beautiful scenery.

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Sila National Park

Established in 2002, the Sila National Park extends north of Calabria, in an area of ​​about 73.000 hectares and includes a vast territory rich in naturalistic and landscape beauties.

An excellent starting point for visiting the park is the Center Visit Cupone, from which you can undertake 10 different types of trekking routes of various lengths and difficulties. One of the most evocative routes of the entire Sila National Park is the one that runs along the Cecita river.

Another must-see is there Riserva dei Giganti della Sila, a reserve in which 58 Calabrian black pine trees are protected which are over 350 years old.

A fun way to admire the incredible beauty of the Sila National Park is to board the Sila train, a steam train that leads from Moccone to Silvana Manzio, or use the electric boat in Lorica, which offers a new point of view to admire the park.

Pollino National Park

Located between Calabria and Basilicata, it is one of the largest parks in Europe and, perhaps, one of the last wilderness areas on the continent. Try taking a walk in one of these Calabrian reserves: the Lao River Valley, the Raganello Gorges, the Argentino River Valley and the Rubbio River Valley, it's really worth it! Here you can practice various sports and outdoor activities: rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, mountaineering and caving excursions.

Stylus

È one of the most beautiful destinations and interesting for history and art, pride of Calabria, included in the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The position in which Stilo appears is already a great show. The ancient village extends, in fact, on a hill of olive trees and vines.

To visit the Cathedral, the Cattolica di Stilo (one of the museum poles and one of the most important Byzantine sites among those present in Calabria), the Grotta di Sant'Angelo with frescoes of Byzantine origin, the fountain of the dolphins or Gebbia, which testifies to the alliance between Byzantines and Arabs, and the Norman castle of Roger II, dating back to the XNUMXth century.

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Santa Severina

Santa Severina is an ancient medieval village located in the center of the province of Crotone, halfway between the Ionian Sea and the Sila Mountains. The town stands on a cliff in the center of a vast valley that makes it look like one large stone ship.

In addition to being a historical place of particular interest, Santa Severina is also one of the most beautiful medieval villages in all of Italy, which with its baptistery, castle and cathedral, represents perhaps the most important Byzantine testimony in Calabria.

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Gambarie

Gambarie is an important one tourist destination not only in summer, but also in winter, thanks to the recent new ski lifts and its slopes overlooking the Strait of Messina, the Aeolian Islands and Mount Etna.

This mountain resort, in the municipality of Santo Stefano in Aspromonte, is located at 1.310 meters above sea level in the heart of the Aspromonte National Park, 35 km from the center of Reggio Calabria. From here various trekking routes start which offer visitors a wide choice in terms of difficulty and duration.

The landscape is truly spectacular, with centuries-old beech woods, crystalline streams and silent mountains. Two modern cable cars they bring tourists and skiers to the peaks of Monte Scirocco and Monte Nardello.

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How to get to Calabria

You can easily reach Calabria by plane, by car, by train or by ferry.

By plane - The region has three airports: Reggio Calabria, Crotone and Lamezia Terme. Lamezia airport is the main airport in Calabria and is served by several low-cost airlines that offer national and international flights to and from Lamezia, including Ryanair and Easyjet.

Find out the availability and book a plane to Calabria

 

With train - The railway network in Calabria extends for about 850 km of lines, with 115 stations. The main network is the Tirrenica route. It directly connects Rome - Naples to Calabria, the most important areas of the Calabrian coast between them, and continues to Sicily, through the maritime connection from Villa San Giovanni to Messina.

Find and book a train to reach Calabria

 

By car - For those who prefer to take a road trip, it is possible to reach the various locations using the A3 Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway (now called A2). Calabria can also be reached by taking the state road 18 which runs along the Tyrrhenian coast or the state road 106 which runs along the Ionian coast.

By ferry - There are several ferry services to reach Calabria by sea. The main ports are:

  • il Port of Reggio Calabria, from where ships leave for Messina (ferries and hydrofoils), the Aeolian Islands and Malta
  • il Port of Vibo Valentia which offers direct connections with the Aeolian Islands
  • il Port of Villa San Giovanni, from where the main connections to Sicily pass.
Find and book a ferry to reach Calabria

 

There are also many tourist marinas like those of Bagnara, Cetraro, Diamante, Tropea and Scilla on the Tyrrhenian coast, and those of Cariati Marina, Catanzaro Lido, Le Castella and Roccella Ionica on the Ionian coast.

How to get around Calabria

The best way to get around Calabria is with your own means or with arental car. There is public transport and it works quite well, especially in larger cities, but trains only run along the coast, so you should travel by bus, sometimes they change several to visit the hinterland and schedules can make the journey long and uncomfortable.

For vacationers, there is a free bus service from Lamezia Terme airport to Tropea. Other modes of transport include the train that runs along the entire Calabrian coast and stops in the main towns or alternatively you can rent a car from Lamezia airport.

Tropea - Calabria - Photo from Istock
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