Welcome to our special feature page about a beautiful, vibrant part of Italy that is dear to our hearts - Calabria, Southern Italy. We hope you will enjoy our brief virtual tour of this area and be encouraged to visit this lovely, relatively undiscovered area of the the country yourself.
We first visited Calabria about fifteen years ago and have noticed the way it has changed each time we have returned in the last few years. It is located in the "toe" of Italy and, until recent years, was relatively unkown to all but the northern Italians, who have long made its coastline the destination for their holidays, or vacations. This comes as no surprise when you learn that Calabria has the least amount of rainfall and the most hours of sunshine in the whole of Italy.
Calabria has always been agriculturally rich but, in recent years, a there has been a vast improvement to the infrastructure of this region and a great deal of money is still being poured into the area both to attract tourism and to preserve its culture, history and architecture. Thankfully, the Italians have a sense of responsibility towards their heritage and the ancient buildings have to be restored sympathetically, so that that both ancient and modern buildings are able to sit alongside one another in their proper context.
Take, for example, the town of Amantea, which is a coastal town on the west coast in the region of Cosenza. We have a particular affection for this town, which has been described as one of the prettiest towns in Calabria. Like many of the towns along this coastline, Amantea has a "new town" and an "old town". Most of the people live in the new town, which is near the coast, because it is more convenient for their work, the shops and restaurants but there are still some who prefer to live in the ancient medieval town, which nestles in the mountains. From the old town, you will capture some wonderful views of Amantea and you can spend many an hour exploring its "centro storico" (historical centre), strolling through the narrow, winding alleyways and nodding "buon giorno" to the local residents as they pass by.
Centro Storico, Amantea
View over Amantea Town from Centro Storico
View of Amantea Centro Storico from Mountains
View over Old Grotto at Amantea
The main town of Amantea boasts a variety of designer shops selling anything from clothing to shoes, handbags, jewellery, sportswear, perfume and so on. It is unusual to find so many shops specialising in these high end items in a relatively small town but you have to remember that this is Italy - the design centre of the world! There are even shops offering couture and designer children's clothing - anything from exquisite silk suits for boys to beautiful bridal wear and items for everyday or special occasions, more often than not from Milan.
"Il Nido dei Piccoli" - children's designer clothing store in Amantea High Street
Because of the warm, sunny climate, there is always an abundance of fresh, local produce and you won't have to travel far before you will find a restaurant or cafe that will have something to suit your particular palate. There are some excellent fish restaurants in the area, offering a wide selection of fresh fish and shellfish, cooked in different ways and served with salad, bread and wine. It's amazing how many different varieties of fish can be served on one plate! Then, of course, there are the many varieties of pasta dishes to try - don't eat too much, though - you need to leave some room for the next course! There is a wonderful selection of other foods to be tried: cold and cured meats, salamis, hams, cheeses, olives (from which extra virgin olive oil is made), almonds, beautiful "pomodori" (large, ripe tomatoes) and vegetables which are truly "sun-blessed". The same is true of the fruit and you can sample the grapes (used to make wine), apples, oranges, lemons, melons, cherries and kumquats, which are often eaten as a simple dessert. Among the local indigenous products are the "Cedro", which is a citrus fruit, and the "peperoncino", which is a hot pepper used to add a hot, spicey flavour to dishes. In fact, the locals like it so much they even put it in chocolate!
Typical selection of Calabrian Salamis
Calabrian Pomodori and other Local Produce
If, however, you are the sort of person who simply likes to go out for a pizza - well, you can forget your normal UK takeaway food - a family pizza here is the size of a small dining table! Now that's what I call a pizza! One thing you won't find here is burger bars or "junk" food - who needs it when you can have such a variety of superb, fresh produce? For me, there is no contest.
Oh, and did I mention the ice cream (gelato)? You simply can't visit Italy without tasting the ice cream - it's wonderful! I do have one reservation, though - the Calabrese are very partial to a certain onion grown locally and......well......they like it so much that they have an onion flavoured ice cream! Now that's where I draw the line - I even have difficulty in putting the word "onion" and "ice cream" into the same sentence but I do know that a lot of people in Calabria absolutely love it! I have to say I was too busy trying out all the other flavours on a daily basis, just to find out which one I liked best! Delizioso! It must be the best job in the world!
Yes, the Italians take their food very seriously and it seems to me that they can turn out what we would think was a cordon bleu meal for lunch at the drop of a hat but, with all those fresh ingredients at their disposal, it must add another dimension to the art of cooking. The flavours achieved certainly give the taste buds a treat! More importantly, food and communal dining is an important part of Italian family life. At least twice a day the whole family is usually seated at the dining table to eat together and discuss the day's events and news. Yes, family life is alive and well in this part of the world and the siesta arrangement enables you to relax and digest your food before returning to work. This is particularly relaxing when you are taking a holiday because it means a complete break of routine. What a contrast to bolting down a sandwich in half an hour before rushing back to work!
One of the biggest attractions of this area to us is the warmth and friendliness of the people, which certainly makes you feel at home. They are also happy to help you out when you struggle with the language and are pleased that you have made the effort to communicate, so it is always a good thing to try and learn a few Italian phrases, or practise some basic sentences with the aid of a CD. Take a good phrase book and dictionary with you, too, as English is not widely spoken here yet. However, there will always be someone who can help you out as there are people who have travelled abroad to other countries, such as the USA, but then decided to move back to the area.
Along this coastline, which overlooks the Tyrrhenian sea, there are other interesting towns and places of interest to visit, such as the National Pollino Park and the Sila mountains, further to the north. You can ski in these mountains during the winter months and there are also some superb areas along the coast which are suitable for scuba diving. There are also some rocky pools where the children can play under supervision, so there is something for everyone. North of Amantea, there are the towns of Paola, Diamante and Scalea, with the smaller towns and villages in between for you to explore and also find somewhere to eat. Further south, you will discover the pretty towns of Pizzo and Tropea, and the beautiful views and sandy beaches of Capo Vaticano. This area tends to be more expensive as a holiday destination - the views, however, are free! You can take a ferry to Sicily across the Messina Strait and spend a day exploring the towns and countryside, or a trip to the volcanic island of Stromboli, where this active volcano is particularly awe-inspiring at night-time. Then there is Reggio Calabria right at the tip of the "toe", where there are some very interesting archaeological museums to visit. So there really is a great deal to see in this region, and plenty to explore. We find the area around Amantea is ideally placed for this as it is situated no more than about 45 minutes from Lamezia Terme airport and you can travel by car or train to just about anywhere in Italy from here. There is plenty to see and do, though, along this part of the coastline of Calabria.
Tropea Town Centre
Diamante Beach Front
The beaches along this western coastline range from a composition of small, grey volcanic stones to golden stretches of sand, though these latter areas tend to be more expensive for accommodation. Around the area of Amantea and its neighbouring towns, you can often have a whole stretch of beach to yourself when it is low season. This is the best time to visit (May, June, September, October) because, during the months of July and August, the Northern Italians pour into the area for their well-deserved annual holidays, so everything becomes much more expensive and, of course, the beaches become more crowded. You can, however, get a very reasonable price for accommodation during the off-peak periods.
Rocks at Capo Vaticano Beach
Beach View at Scalea
Capo Vaticano Beach
In the past few years, we have stayed at a village called Belmonte Calabro, which is a mile or two further north from Amantea. Again, it has it's quaint little old town in the mountains, with fascinating twists and turns and beautiful views out to sea. We usually stay at the marina part of the village, near the sea, and find it very relaxing and peaceful, while it is still within easy reach of Amantea and all the amenities. This family has now built some brand new luxury self-catering apartments right next to where they live and are currently letting them for holidays. They are built to a high specification and are very well appointed. You can view their website at the link below and this provides detailed information and pictures of the apartments and the surrounding area. We can vouch for this family, who are very well respected in town, where they own a business, and who will do their best to make you welcome. They do not speak any English themselves but they have an employee who speaks fluent English and who can deal with requests for accommodation. Should you decide to book an apartment, you can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org giving your details, the number of people you wish to book in and your required dates. She will then get back to you via email.
Curcio Family Apartments, Belmonte Marina
Belmonte Sunset over the Beach
View over Belmonte from Historic Monument
Mountain View of Sea with Historic Monument in Distance
With regard to travelling to the area, we simply take the coach from where we live in the UK to Stansted airport, from where we usually take a morning flight to Lamezia Airport in Calabria via Ryanair, which takes under three hours. We pre-book a hire car through Ryanair at a very reasonable rate and also book our insurance excess for the car through Insurance4carhire, which is much cheaper than what you will be offered at Lamezia airport when you pick up the car. Other than that, you can check out the local trains with Trenitalia and then use a bus or taxi for your other transfers. The railway runs right along the coast, so it is not far away from the accommodation.
Before making a booking with Curcio s.r.l., you should first check flight availability from the particular airport you will be using. At present, budget airline Ryanair fly direct from Stansted to Lamezia Terme airport and First Choice fly from Gatwick to Lamezia Terme. Ryanair also fly from other destinations in the UK to Milan and Pisa, from where you can get a connecting flight to Lamezia. Other companies flying from the UK to Milan and Pisa are Easyjet and Jet 2 but you would need to check these companies' respective websites to determine whether this is the right option for your particular location. If you are not able to get a suitable flight to Lamezia and prefer not to get a connecting flight, you could always choose the next nearest airport, which is Naples, if you don't mind travelling the rest of the way by train or car (around four hours in total). At the time of writing, different flight options for getting to Naples are Thomson, Easyjet, BA, BMI Baby, Aer Lingus and First Choice but, again, you would need to check their websites to determine what's best for you, depending on where you live. You could also fly to Rome (Ryanair, Easyjet, Jet 2) but, in my opinion, it would be better to use this option as part of a sight-seeing tour of the area, stopping over in Rome for a day or two before making the onward journey because it would mean travelling for around a further six hours. You also need to take into account any interim time involved between connecting to your particular choice of transfer to the accommodation. Once you have found the company and flight choice that suits your particular needs, you can then check availability for an apartment with Curcio s.r.l. before you make your booking with them and confirm your flights and transfer arrangements.
One word of caution: Scheduled flights and flight times are apt to change from time to time (particularly with Ryanair's flights to Lamezia towards the autumn period), so keep checking your booking online to make sure that everything is as it should be. Flight companies are supposed to let you know of any changes that affect your booking but sometimes emails are slow to get through and it pays to be one step ahead. This then gives you the opportunity to book with another company, should a flight be cancelled, or organise connection flights and transfers should this become necessary. It's always good to have a contingency plan in place and, by being informed before the event, you can find a suitable alternative travel plan.
We are very pleased to announce that Ryanair have now re-established their flight route from London Stansted to Lamezia Terme airport in Calabria. Flights commence from Wednesday, 13th April, 2011 and there are currently some very good deals available, although there are checked-in baggage charges to add on when you complete the payment process online. However, some of the flights during April and May are tax-free. This will be much more convenient for many UK visitors to the area, as well as for frequent travellers. It is wise to book your flights early, to avoid disappointment, as this route is expected to be very popular. If you are travelling from other parts of the UK, you can still take alternative routes with Ryanair, Easyjet and other companies to airports such as Rome, Milan, Pisa and Naples, with a view to taking a connecting flight to Lamezia or alternative transport to Calabria. At the time of writing, Alitalia also offer direct flights from London Heathrow to Lamezia and Monarch Airlines fly from Gatwick to Lamezia, but these are usually more expensive, generally speaking. The best way to find out which route is best for your needs is by doing a targeted search on the internet. (This information was added on 23rd February, 2011 and is more recent than the following update with regard to Monarch flights.)
NEW ROUTES TO LAMEZIA TERME - IMPORTANT UPDATE
We are pleased to announce that we now have confirmation of the proposed return flights from London Gatwick to Lamezia Terme, Calabria, which will be laid on by Monarch Airlines and will fly from Gatwick to Lamezia on a Saturday from April, 2011. You can check out additional information about these flights at Monarch's own website.
(Information added 5th October, 2010)
Now all you need to do is to pack your case and make sure you have enough Euros with you for the journey. Of course, you can now use certain card accounts, such as with the Nationwide or Post Office which will allow you to access your cash through a hole in the wall without having to pay commission - many people have found this to be a much more cost effective and secure way of accessing their holiday money, rather than having to carry a lot of loose cash around with them or paying commission fees to convert travellers' cheques.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of the area and hope you will find the additional information regarding how to get there to be useful in your travel plans. There is very much more to see and experience than we have been able to include here but we hope you will be encouraged to go there and see for yourself. It is well worth the effort to explore, experience and enjoy all that what has been called "the real Italy" has to offer. We are sure you will fall in love with this captivating region of Italy, too!
Here is a link to the Holiday Apartments website: