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.
“Calabria’s like the Amalfi Coast in the 1950s — glamorous but discreet and chic in a low-key way,” said a Swedish expat who lives in Tropea when we fell into conversation in the bar of the local yacht club after a daylong boating expedition along the Costa degli Dei, the “Coast of the Gods,” an aptly named littoral lapped by the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. And as we discovered during a recent trip through the region, Calabria 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. Among the sights, beyond the superb museums in Crotone and Reggio Calabria, are the Norman churches at Stilo, Bivongi and Gerace; the sixth-century illuminated Gospels in Rossano; and paintings by Mattia Preti, Calabria’s famed artist and a follower of Caravaggio, in the museum in Rende. A week in Calabria is easily added to longer itineraries in southern Italy, which might include nearby Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Sicily.