A trip in South Italy was planned for a few years now, but for different reasons, we only got to make it happen this May. We chose a small area of the Calabria region for a one week vacation, rented a car and drove all around the “toe” of the Italian boot.
End of May was the perfect time for traveling and visiting Italy. The air temperature is good (we had around 28 – 30 °C), water is warm enough to have a swim and there are very few tourists. Tourists show up only in July and August, so most of the places we checked out were deserted, quiet and relaxed, exactly what we were actually looking for.
Calabria is one of Italy’s less visited regions, but still it has a lot to offer – mountains, 3 national parks (Aspromonte, Pollino, and Sila), hundreds of kilometers of coastline, turquoise waters, green hills filled with olive, lemon and orange trees, picturesque villages, history, culture and definitely great food.
Calabria’s history stretches back to the 8th to 5th centuries BCE, when it was a colony of Greece known as Magna Graecia. Over the centuries, various cultures, including Spanish, Arabic and Norman, have influenced the region’s culture, language, and architecture.
We chose Calabria mainly because we were looking for a destination that’s not yet so famous as other regions in Italy (like the Amalfi coast or the Tuscany Region). We thought that this would mean we would find everything more authentic – the places, the people and the food, and we were not wrong at all.
We only visited half of the Calabrian region, from Lamezia going South, but it was more than enough for one week to get us into that Italian way of living. Beautiful landscapes, with small villages on top of high hills, narrow roads that take you up and down, small beaches with crystal clear waters, fresh and tasty food, people with great stories about the area and all this, away from big cities, crowds and noise.
Hedre’s how the trip looke (more detailed articles on each of the places we visited will follow):
Day 1 – Lamezia Terme Airport – Squillace – Squillace Lido
We landed on Sunday afternoon on the Lamezia Terme Aiport, rented a car for the whole trip and spent the first night in Squillace Lido. The first thing we did right after checking in at our accommodation was to run directly to the beach and enjoy a first well deserved swim for this year at the Copanello Beach.
After the refreshing swim, we drove up to the Squillace village and wondered on its streets until sunset. For dinner we went to a very nice guesthouse, just a few kilometers away from Squillace to get a perfect view and a very delicious dinner made especially for us.
Day 2 – Caminia and Pietragrande Beach – Badolato – Stilo – Ionica Gioiosa Beach – Gerace
Our second day was a full day of visiting and getting used to the area and getting more into the vacation and summer vibe. We had a first quick stop in the morning and checked out the Caminia and Pietragrande Beaches, very close to where we had our accommodation, in Squillace Lido. We didn’t have time for a swim, so we only had some photos taken and drove further.
For this day we planned to visit 3 of the beautiful Calabrian villages. Badolato was the first stop. We found a small and quiet village, with almost no one on its streets. It was a very pleasant walk we had for that morning, just wondering on the narrow streets, enjoying the view and taking advantage of all the calm and the quiet around us.
Stilo was our next stop. The village is included on the list of the most beautiful villages of Italy. A Bizantine village with Middle Ages and Baroque buildings, Stilo is a must see when in Calabria. They also have a nice hiking trail on the high hill next to the village, which will give you a great view over the surroundings.
Before heading to Gerace, where we spent the night, we made a quick stop at the Ionica Gioiosa Beach to cool down after all the walking and the visiting of the day.
Day 3 – Villa Romagna Archeological Site – Bova – Roghudi Vecchio – Pietra di Drako – Melito di Porto Salvo
Day 3 started with a history lesson, by visiting the Villa Romagna Archeological Site. Of course that everywhere you go in Italy, you get to see all sorts of fortresses, castles and ruins dating as far as the Roman Empire and it’s also the case with Calabria. In this place precisely, we bumped into a Roman Archeological Site with some beautiful mosaic floors still remaining almost intact.
Next we were driving again up on the hills to check out the Bova village, a place where a small Greek community still lives (there’s a whole story of the Greeks living in Calabria, I will tell you more in a future post).
After Bova, we had a drive on the narrow roads of the Aspromonte National Park, planning to visit Roghudi Vecchio, a village that was left deserted in the 70s due to a big flooding. The place looked rather creepy and we only spent a few minutes there. Also the road from there to the next village was a bit destroyed and it took us a while to finally get to our next destination.
On the way from Bova to Roghudi Vecchio, we stopped at Pietra di Drako, a weird-looking stone in the Aspromonte National Park. It looks a bit like ET and it’s set in a beautiful area, with a perfect view over the national park and the surrounding villages.
In the evening we got to Melito di Porto Salvo where we also spent the night and quickly headed to the nearby beach for a relaxing afternoon.
Day 4 – Pentedatillo – Reggio Calabria – Scilla
Pentedatillo was one of the highlights of our trip – this lovely village, forgotten somewhere on top of a cliff looks amazing. Small streets, beautiful stone houses and all so quiet and relaxed.
Driving further we also had a quick stop in Reggio Calabria, which is the capital city of the Calabria Region. As it happens for every city, we got back into that noise and hustle that we have been running away for the last few days. We walked a bit around the city center, had some gelato and a typical Calabrese lunch.
In the afternoon we got to Scilla, a beautiful sea side village, with a perfect view over the coast and a great beach to relax and have a well deserved swim. This is where we also spent the night.
Day 5 – Capo Vaticano – Tropea
Starting the 5th day, we only spent our time at the beach. We finished with all the visiting and concentrated more on diving into the blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Every day we tried to move from beach to beach, to explore more the area.
We spent almost all of the day in Capo Vaticano, relaxing on the beautiful beach they have there. This part of Calabria is a bit more known to tourists and we did see more people than we had seen in the last days, but still, there weren’t as many as to feel suffocated.
In the afternoon, we headed to Tropea, where we would also spend the next 3 nights. Tropea is one of the main touristic attractions of Calabria. It was also Italy’s national day when we got there, so everyone took a weekend off to celebrate. For us, Tropea was mostly just for sleeping, as every day we headed to other small and less crowded beaches.
Day 6 – Riaci Beach
The plans for this day were a bit different, but when getting to the Riaci Beach, we decided that there’s no point in not spending all the day here. The beach and the sea looked so good together that it was very much worth it just lying there and enjoying everything that was around us.
In the afternoon we got back to Tropea and we also had a swim and a walk on the beach there, just before dinner.
Day 7 – Spiaggia Michelino – Spiaggia Il Paradiso Del Sub – Pizzo
The last day was dedicated to the more remote small beaches, where you cannot get with a car. We spent first part of the day on the Spiaggia Michelino from Parghelia. There’s a paved path that will take you down to the beach. Just a few people there and a beautiful beach.
After lunch we headed to Spiaggia Il Paradiso Del Sub. To get to this one you have to get to Zambrone, and from the train station follow a small path down the cliff. It was one of the most beautiful beaches we had checked out during our trip.
For the evening, we headed to Pizzo, walked around the village a bit and had dinner in a lovely traditional restaurant.
Day 8 – Last swim and back home
After a full week of enjoying Italy with its authentic villages, its perfect beaches and its delicious food, here we are heading back home. We did have a last quick stop on the beach right next to the Airport in Lamezia Terme for a last swim.
It was a very enjoyable vacation, with so many new and beautiful places to discover, with people telling stories of these places, with sun and quiet and time to relax and rediscover ourselves.
Some useful tips:
- Renting a car is a very good idea if you want to explore more inland Calabria. For the villages and towns on the coast, there are regular trains to connect them all. The roads are in a very good condition and in the small towns and villages you don’t need to pay for parking. For us, as we traveled off-season, we didn’t have any issues in finding parking places very close to our points of interest.
- English is not really spoken in the mountain villages, not even in the guesthouses and restaurants we checked out. In Tropea and the main touristic destinations you have more chances of people speaking English.
- Have cash as in most of the places we visited there are no ATMs
- For a very authentic experience, try the ecotourism guesthouses – they also offer meals cooked with ingredients from their own farms, besides accommodation.