A lesser-known Italian gem, Calabria sits at the toe of the country’s boot bordered by the Tyrrhenian Sea and Ionian Sea in Southern Italy. The mountainous region isn’t visited as frequently as other regions, but it’s a beautiful, historic and culturally rich destination.
Nature-focused activities are a must in Calabria if you’re traveling on a budget. The region has a unique wildness to it, unlike some of the more refined, touristy destinations along the Amalfi Coast. The Pollino, La Sila and Aspromonte mountains, surrounding seas and 485 miles of coast make for great beach lounging and scenic hikes through national parks and coastal trails.
La Sila, known as The Great Wood of Italy, is home to numerous lakes and dense coniferous forests, as well as some of the tallest trees in Italy, known as the Giants of the Sila. The lower terrain in Calabria is also worth visiting for its lush vineyards and citrus fruit orchards, as are the beaches — Tropea is one of the loveliest.
If culture and history are on your list of priorities, Calabria is home to some of the oldest structures in the world and one of the oldest records of human presence in Italy, dating back to 700,000 BC. The best part: You can explore it all without any crowds and for free.
On the strait between the mainland and Sicily is Reggio Calabria, the largest and oldest city in Calabria dating from the 8th century BC, known for botanical gardens, seaside views, Art Nouveau buildings and the 3,000-year-old Aragonese Castle.
Cosenza is renowned for its cultural institutions, beautiful old quarter, a Hohenstaufen Castle and 11th-century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral.
Scilla, on the Tyrrhenian Sea, is the site of Homer’s tales; Gerace is a rustic medieval city with an impressive Norman Castle; and temples of Roman Gods can be found in Catanzaro. Odysseus is said to have been held prisoner in La Castella, once sacked by legendary pirate Barbarossa in the 16th century.
For another inexpensive excursion, visit Tropea Isola Bella, an island with a ferry service off the mainland featuring white-sand beaches and a charming village.
In addition to its historic landmarks, Calabria is a food lover’s dream. The region is an important one in Italy for agriculture, notably grapes (i.e. wine), olive oil, Bergamot oranges and Porcini mushrooms.
The seaport town of Pizzo Calabro is well-known for its ice cream called tartufo, and Mammola is a gastronomy hub, home to several incredible restaurants including La Bottega dei Sapori, A Piazzetta and La Taverna del Borgo. The historic center of Cosenza offers restaurants open for hundreds of years.
Stop in any small café or restaurant, and enjoy regional specialties for little money, like nduja, a local delicacy of spicy sausage, served on crispy bread or over pasta; pepperoncini chilies, one of the region’s staples; Caciocavallo cheese; grilled swordfish; and ciambotta, a spicy eggplant stew.
It can be tricky to get around the Calabria region, as the mountainous terrain limits public transportation options. Car rentals are a good, affordable option, just be weary of underdeveloped roads. There is also a free bus service running from Lamezia Terme Airport to Tropea. Other modes of transportation include the train, which runs along the whole coast, stopping at most main towns.
Once business concludes, a world of wonder awaits in many of Italy’s incredible cities.
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