The famed Victorian England artist and poet in his notes and drawings during travels in Calabria is among many to admire the province at Italy’s extended foot. Calabria has been a place of trade, foreign settlement and invasion since 3,500 BC. Its appeal is its central position in the Mediterranean, extensive eastern and western coastlines and fertile undulating landscapes, all set in a pleasant climate.
The ancient Greeks first realized its potential as a colony in the 8th century BC giving Calabria its lasting secular identity and high educational standards. The word sybaritic or fondness for sensuous pleasure and luxury is derived from the Calabrian town of Sybaris on the Ionian coast known for its hedonism during two centuries. In the centuries after, Calabria was influenced and occupied as friend or foe by the Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, and Saracens to the Normans, Swabians, Aragonese and Bourbons.
More profoundly, shifts in international trade to the Atlantic and beyond from the 16th century undermined Calabria and the Mediterranean’s fortunes. Relative decline, lost glory, neglect and foreign incursions brought an independent spirit, resilience, self sufficiency, and other worldliness to the region. The dark side of Calabria’s isolation and impoverishment resulted in mass migration and a criminal underworld in the nineteenth century, since overemphasized and even glamorized by film and media at the expense of the region’s unusually willing, talented, well educated, friendly and fun loving population. Among Calabria’s many famous sons and daughters – beginning in ancient times with philosophers, poets and Olympic athletes – are the world renowned artist, Umberto Boccioni, the bodybuilder, Charles Atlas, and the designers, Gianni and Donatella Versace.
These days, the region’s multi cultural histories are celebrated at fifty museums and numerous places around Calabria. That influence can also be experienced at religious celebrations, local festivals and other events in most towns all year round – from medieval tournaments, music, and cycling, to spicy sausage, octopus, and pastries – that enliven this ancient agricultural society to the delight of visiting tourists. After many years of public sector investment, Calabria now offers visitors an almost unique combination of high quality services at relatively low cost. This ranges from excellent hotels and restaurants which serve local and international cuisine to sightseeing, entertainment and sport.
Calabria is a little smaller than Britain’s East Anglia region. It enjoys 800km of coastline and is between 40km-110km wide with 90% of the land 200 meters above sea level. Temperatures range from 22-31 degrees Celsius in summer to 8-15 in winter alluring visitors all year round. The region is divided into five parts made up of three mountain ranges rising to 2,000 meters. In summer, you can walk and bathe in their nature reserves enjoying the lakes, woodlands, waterfalls, gorges, flora, and fauna at lower temperatures than on the coast. In winter you can ski there up to advanced level. On the Tyrrhenian Sea or western coast the hills rise into the distance and the beaches are often pebbled and the sand whiter. Along the Ionian Sea the terrain is flatter and the beaches narrower and sandier.
Calabria is easily accessible by air, sea and land. The region has four airports with Lamezia on the west side offering international flights to 39 destinations in 12 countries. On the south west tip, Reggio Calabria, which has a small airport, serves cruise liners and is among 18 yacht marinas around Calabria. At several of these marinas it is possible to charter a yacht and learn to sail, ideally between April and October with the freshest winds found off Lamezia, Reggio, Botricello and Crotone. Trains run along the coast and cross inland via the two cities of Cosenza and Catanzaro though the region is best explored by car. Within Italy, Calabria is two and a half hours south of Naples and three kilometers by ferry from Messina, Sicily to the south west.
Calabria is blessed with a growing number of top quality hotels. Conde Nast’s Johansen’s guide lists luxury hotels on the coast in Tropea in the west and at Praialonga in the east. Michelin adds another five 5 star hotels mainly in the south west. Luxuryhotelguru adds many more four star including some new hotels. There are at least a dozen top rated holiday home villas available across the region.