20 April 2021.
Sandwiched between Sicily and the increasingly popular Puglia and Basilicata, Calabria, the delicate toe of Italy’s boot, is a region that is often overlooked.
In search of somewhere to spend the Christmas holidays, somewhere with a healthy dose of winter sun, pretty towns and wild nature, our sights soon landed on the far tip of southern Italy.
What we found was a place that remains wonderfully authentic and a little rough around the edges, not yet gentrified like so many cities to the north. A place of spectacular coastal drives, charming seaside villages, rugged landscapes, humming piazzas and fantastic local food.
For many, an Italian escape is synonymous with endless sunshine, long languid afternoons spent sipping aperitifs and a daily dose of gelato.
Yet, for this Calabria itinerary, it is perhaps important to note that we were visiting in the heart of winter when temperatures were on the chillier side and certainly didn’t beg for lazy beach days, many shops and restaurants were closed for the holidays and fewer hours of daylight meant we weren’t always able to explore as far afield as we would have liked.
While this Calabria itinerary will give you an excellent introduction to the region and take you to many of the area’s highlights, for those visiting during summer when you’ll have plenty more daylight hours at your disposal, you’ll find my recommendations for some additional activities to squeeze into your itinerary as well.
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How To Get To Calabria
The easiest way to arrive in Calabria is via the region’s two main airports located at Reggio Calabria and Lamezia Terme which are served by many of Europe’s major airlines and low-cost carriers.
Alternatively, Naples to the north or the cities of Catania and Palermo on Sicily to the south also make convenient and occassionally more affordable connections. Daily car ferries ply the route between Sicily and Reggio Calabria in just 30 minutes. Search ferry times here.
The Best Ways To Get Around Calabria
By Rental Car
With so many pretty country roads and charming villages to explore, the best way to visit Calabria is with a rental car which will afford you the freedom to travel slowly and stop as often as you please.
Thankfully, you’ll find rental car companies available at all major airports and cities in the region but rates do vary quite drastically so be sure to check this before booking your flights to ensure you get the best deal. Search car rental options here.
Personally, we found significantly better deals and options for both flights and car rental from Naples so this was where we chose to kick off our Calabria visit. From the Naples airport, it was a 3-hour drive along the stunning coastal highway towards Castrovillari, and after our week-long trip through the region, we continued on through Basilicata and Puglia and dropped the car in Bari.
Most nationalities will require an International Drivers Permit for Italy so be sure to arrange this a few weeks ahead of your visit. For Aussies, this can be done through the NRMA.
If you’re keen to avoid getting behind the wheel – the roads can be a little hectic here, after all – there’s also a train line that hugs the coast of the Calabrian peninsula and will allow you to reach many of the destinations mentioned in this itinerary.
Travelling Calabria by train however does have its limitations and will prevent you from venturing into the mountains or anywhere in the region’s interior. If you’re planning on sticking to the coast, you should be able to make it work and will be able to complete the final 4-days of this Calabria itinerary with ease.
Where To Stay In Calabria
On any good road trip, it’s always a great idea to choose a base or two from which to explore rather than having to pack up and move every single day.
For this Calabria itinerary, we chose Castrovillari in the north for its proximity to the mountains of Pollino National Park, and Tropea in the south which provided a wonderful space to enjoy Christmas and visit the neighbouring towns without the need to spend all day stuck behind the wheel.
These are the two places we stayed during our trip, but you’ll find more suggestions in each day-to-day section of this post for those looking to move around a little more.
Agriturismo Petrosa | After several hours of driving through some seriously wild weather, we arrived to this lovely farmstead and were welcomed with a roaring fire and homemade tiramisu, followed by pizza and a bottle of local wine for dinner.
The hosts were wonderfully friendly and we managed to get by in a mix of Spanglish to their Italian. The property has a beautiful setting beneath the mountains and is well situated to visit Pollino National Park and the many historic towns nearby. A great affordable option in Castrovillari. Check rates and availability here.
Terrazzino a Picco sul Mare | We stayed at this Airbnb over the Christmas period and honestly couldn’t have chosen a better spot. The apartment was cosy, comfortable and clean and had a fully equipped kitchen with everything we needed to whip up a complete Christmas feast.
The best part, however, was the large balcony that gazes directly onto Tropea’s turquoise cove and the Sanctuary of Saint Mary Church standing proud on its rocky perch. A perfect spot to enjoy the sunset with an aperitivo in hand. The host Francesca was also incredibly helpful, made a number of excellent restaurant recommendations and provided a secure parking space for guests a short walk from the property. It appears the host has now changed since my visit, however the new owners are still receiving excellent reviews and have maintained Superhost staus.
The Best Time To Visit Calabria
While we knew a winter trip to Italy would be quite a different experience to the quintessential Italian holidays we’d had before, it did present a few challenges.
The undeniable bonus was that the normally humming historic towns were wonderfully free of tourists, but on the downside, we did find that many restaurants, cafes and attractions were unfortunately closed or had unpredictable opening hours, the chilly temperatures meant that we weren’t able to enjoy the gorgeous beaches and a number of the mountain passes we’d earmarked became inaccessible due to snow.
By comparison, Calabria is a popular summer holiday destination for Italians seeking a reprieve from the hoards of foreign tourists that flock further north so it does become relatively crowded here, particularly in July and August, though nothing like you’ll find elsewhere in the country. Ever-present sunshine and blissful warmth make summer in Calabria perfect for lazy beach days, while you’ll find cooler temperatures across the mountain peaks.
As is so often the case, I’d recommend the best time of year to visit Calabria is during the shoulder spring and autumn seasons when crowds are few, the weather is comfortably mild at any altitude and when most tourist businesses are still open and running.
As always, this Calabria itinerary can be travelled in either direction, whether you’re arriving from the north or south. Either way, it can also be easily added to an extended trip through southern Italy if you decide to continue on towards Sicily, Basilicata or Puglia.
Before diving in, it’s well worth noting that a winter visit meant our days were kept relatively short, whereas if you’re visiting around the middle of the year, you’ll be granted many more hours of daylight (and glorious summer sunshine!) with which to explore, spend lounging on the beach or squeeze in an extra hilltop town.
You’ll find my personal recommendations for each day of the itinerary of where I would have added on with this extra time.
Day 1 | Travel to Castrovillari
Spend the first day of your Calabria Itinerary making your way to your starting destination of Castrovillari (or Tropea if you’re travelling in reverse).
After arriving to Naples in a wild flurry of torrential rain, wind and fog, we hit the road, snaking around the ominous silhouette of Vesuvius shrowded in cloud, towards Castrovillari which lies just 3 hours away. If you’re flying into Lamezia Terme, it’s just under a 2-hour drive north along the E45 Highway.
While there’s not a great deal to see in town, Castrovillari is perfectly situated in the foothills of Pollino National Park to explore the high alpine trails and stunning historic villages that lay speckled across the mountains.
If you have a free afternoon to explore, head to the southeast corner of town where you’ll find Castrovillari’s most significant historic sights. Dating back to 1090, the hilltop fortress turned church of Santuario della Madonna del Castello is surrounded by terraces that offer up fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. Nearby, the well-preserved Castello Aragonese has an impressive cylindrical tower and is worth a visit along with the neighbouring Archeological Museum.
Plan Your Visit To Castrovillari
Stay // For wonderful hospitality and great food at a mountain farmstead, we thoroughly enjoyed Agriturismo Petrosa. Alternatively, Agriturismo Fonte di Maroglio is set in a charming farmhouse a short distance from town and receives rave reviews.
Eat // We ate both our meals at our Agriturismo, but for those dining out, there are many top-rated restaurants in town. Try La Taverna Degli Ammirati or Origini Ristorante for classic Italian flavours with a modern twist.
Drive + Park // Castrovillari lies a short way from the Highway, via the SP241 from either Campotenese or Le Vigne. Considering the tight grid of narrow one-way streets in the town centre, parking can be somewhat challenging. You’ll find metered parking here and here but if these are full, you’re best to park on the outskirts of town and walk in.
Day 2 | Civita
For our first day in Calabria, we had initially planned to hit the mountain trails, but after waking to howlings winds, torrential rain, hail and thick fog, those plans were quickly put on hold in favour of a cosy morning curled up beside the fire and an afternoon exploring the area’s pretty mountain towns instead.
Tucked away in the rugged foothills of Pollino National Park, Civita is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Calabria. It boasts a long history, being settled in the late 1400s by Albanian refugees fleeing the Ottoman advance, and holds a striking hilltop location gazing straight into the ochre heart of Raganello Gorge.
Spend some time wandering the maze of narrow streets (seriously, you’d be pushed to fit even a Fiat 500 down some of these laneways!) and keep an eye out for the unique chimneys which decorate many of the rooftops in town.
Follow the incredibly steep path downhill towards the canyon for a closer look at perhaps the area’s most iconic sight, the delicate arch of Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil’s Bridge.
Don’t miss the Belvedere Punto Panoramico for spectacular views of Civita cascading down the mountainside, the glistening thread of Torrente Raganello forging its path towards the Ionian Sea and the impressive rust-stained walls of Raganello Gorge.
In years gone by, this canyon was a well-known playground for adventure enthusiasts, popular for canyoning and hiking, however, following a tragic flash-flooding accident in 2018, these activities remain closed until further notice.
That said, if you’re keen to explore more of the area on foot, follow the dirt road south alongside the river past fruit orchards and rustic farmhouses. Don’t forget to look back for vistas of the town on its hilltop perch against a dramatic mountain backdrop.
Though we only walked a short way, the road continues for about 3km before petering out, or you can take the zig-zag track up the hill towards Via Campo Sportivo to create a circular route.
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The wild weather meant we only had a few hours in the afternoon to explore pretty little Civita, but with a full day I’d highly recommend squeezing in a few more mountain towns to your Calabria itinerary.
From Civita, continue into the mountains for about an hour towards San Lorenzo Bellizzi, another charming stone-work town with a spectacular mountain setting. Fromhere, head back towards Castrovillari and continue on to Morano Calabro which climbs steeply into a pyamid-shaped hill. It’s like something out of a fairytale and one of the best towns to visit in Calabria.
Plan Your Visit To Civita
Eat // As many restaurants in Civita were closed during our visit we packed a picnic lunch instead, but for those arriving at a busier time of the year, Civita has some great trattorias on offer.
Kamastra is a great option for lunch and features classic Calabrian fare, while L’Oasi del Raganello offers up simple farm to table antipasti plates and wine on an open-air terrace with views overlooking the gorge. L’Oste d’Arberia also comes highly recommended but is only open for dinner.
Drive + Park // From Castrovillari, make your way towards Frascineto, then take the SP263 and turn onto Via S Leonardo. Civita’s centre is a zona traffico limitato ‘ztl’ so you’ll need to park before reaching the historic centre. Along Via S Leonardo, just before you reach town is a good option, though in the summer months this can get busy.
Stay // Though we visited as a day trip from Castrovillari, for those preferring to stay in Civita, B&B La Sentinella is a charming guesthouse in the heart of the old town and is a highlight for many visitors to the area.
Day 3 | Pollino National Park
Straddling the border between Calabria and Basilicata, Pollino National Park is Italy’s largest, boasting alpine forests, rugged peaks and charming mountain towns.
While in the warmer months Pollino is a veritable hiker’s paradise with countless trails to explore, the wild wintery weather we experienced during the beginning of our Calabria trip brought a thick layer of snow to the upper peaks making access to the mountains somewhat tricky in our tiny little rental car. That said, it was certainly no less beautiful under a fresh dusting of white.
I’d recommend paying a visit to the Pollino Visitors Centre in Rotonda first to pick up a hiking map of the area. They’re also a wealth of information and can advise you on which areas and trails are open during your visit, particularly if you’re arriving out of peak season.
The small towns of Viggianello and San Severino Luciano on the Basilicata side make decent starting points with short trails fanning out from both towns. A better option though is the remote Colle dell’Impiso sitting at 1,560m where you’ll find numerous hiking trails on offer, including those to Piano di Pollino and Serra Dolcedorme, the highest peak in the park, which offer up spectacular views across the surrounding landscapes.
Due to the snow, these locations were inaccessible, but we did manage to navigate the winding pass towards Rifugio Fascinella instead and were lucky enough to see the thick fog clear at the last moment to reveal the tiny villages below surrounded by a sea of auburn forests, still clinging to the last of autumn. Rifugio Fascinella is another key hiking hub in the area and makes an excellent starting point year-round.
We spent the entire morning here hiking through the snowy forests before beginning the journey south, but if you happen to be visiting on a warm summer day, I would recommend spending all day here tackling one of the longer trails and then returning to Castrovillari for the night.
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If you’re a keen hiker and welcomed with decent weather, Pollino National Park is well-deserving of an extra day on your Calabria itinerary. As one of the best established and easiest to access national parks in the region, it presents a great opportunity to explore some of southern Italy on foot and you’ll find numerous scenic trails that criss-cross the upper peaks.
As well as those hikes mentioned above, the Pollino Visitors Centre is a great resource for anyone planning a longer hiking trip through this pocket of wilderness.
Plan Your Visit To Pollino National Park
Eat // For your visit Pollino National Park, I’d recommend picking up supplies for a packed lunch to enjoy while on your hike. There are a number of grocery stores in Castrovillari, including Conad and Lidl, and a couple of small corner stores in Rotonda (like this one).
Drive + Park // From Castrovillari, the SP241 is the slower but far more scenic route through the mountains, or you can zip along the E45 Highway. After Campotenese, turn onto the SP137 for Rotonda, Viggianello or Rifugio Fasanelli.
Stay // Although we stayed in Castrovillari and would recommend using that as a base, if you’d prefer to be closer to the mountains, Rotonda makes an excellent alternative.
Dimora Del Corso is a brand new guest house located in the heart of Rotonda that receives excellent reviews, or for a more rural setting Agriturismo Terra Verde offers simple rooms and exceptional food created with produce from the farmstead.
You’ll also find a handful of mountain huts open during the hiking season, like the beautifully situated Rifugio Fasanelli, with the trails leaving right from your door step.
Day 4 | Tropea + Capo Vaticano
After a few of days of crisp mountain air, it’s time to head south and be dazzled by the impossibly turquoise coastline that surrounds Tropea and the southern tip of Calabria.
The drive takes around 3 hours so I’d recommend getting an early start so you’ll have plenty of time to explore in the afternoon. The easiest route is to stick to the E45 until Stazione di Francavilla where you’ll need to exit onto the SS18 until just before Vibo Marina, then join the SS522 and follow this route along the coast until you reach Tropea.
After a delicious lunch (we really enjoyed the menu at Le Volpi e l’Uva which was recommended by our Airbnb host), spend the afternoon soaking up the pretty streets of Tropea.
Clinging precariously to a rugged cliff line, Tropea’s centro storico is a compact labyrinth of twisting laneways wrapped in the mesmerizing blue bays of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s not called the Pearl of Calabria for nothing!
Curious visitors will easily lose a couple of hours exploring its delightfully timeworn laneways, checkered with green and blue window shutters and drying laundry that dances in the breeze.
On your city stroll, be sure to stop by the colourful stairs of Largo Rota, the enormous Duomo di Tropea and the three scenic balconies that lie scattered around the clifftop and offer up spectacular ocean views.
Finally, make your way to Belvedere Piazza del Cannone and take the staircase down to Via Lungomare for a closer look at the iconic Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola, a beautiful sandstone church standing proudly on a rocky outcrop that juts into the bay. From here, the views looking back at Tropea are also impressive and illustrate just how desperately it hugs the clifftop.
When you’ve had your fill of charming village streets, pack a small picnic and continue south along the coast to the dusty, cactus-laden Capo Vaticano in time for sunset.
Surrounded by calm, iridescent bays, this was a real highlight and one of our favourite things to do in Calabria where we were lucky enough to get a welcome glimpse of Italian sunshine, something of a rarity on this wintery trip.
Either enjoy the sunset from the viewpoint or, far better, is to follow the steep trail towards the sandy shores of Spiaggia Capo Vaticano or Spiaggia di Grotticelle and sprawl out on your own patch of sand for some nibbles and a gorgeous evening at the beach.
In winter we shared the place with just a handful of other visitors and lively dogs, but come summer this is a prime beach destination so don’t expect to have the place all to yourself.
Plan Your Visit To Tropea
Eat // For authentic and reasonably priced Calabrian fare, you won’t be disappointed at Le Volpi e l’Uva.
Drive + Park // From the north, you’ll arrive to Tropea along the SS522. From the south, make your way to the change from the E45 to the SS18 near Rosarno and then take the SP17 into Tropea. Parking is tricky in town so I’d highly recommend finding accommodation that has parking included.
Read More // The Best Things to Do in Tropea
Day 5 | Tropea’s Beaches + Aeolian Islands
After a few days with several hours spent behind the wheel, you’ve earned a day of relaxation away from the car.
With an impressive coastline, shimmering aqua seas and countless secluded bays, this striking pocket of Italy has certainly earned its title as the ‘Coast of the Gods’ and today is all about discovering why.
If you’re here in the peak summer months when the glorious beaches and sunshine are just crying out to be enjoyed, choose between a sailing trip to the nearby Aeolian Islands or exploring Tropea’s best beaches.
From virtually anywhere along the southern part of Calabria, you can gaze out to sea and catch a glimpse of the distant smoking peaks of the Aeolian Islands.
Start the day with this highly-rated Aeolian Island Day Tour which includes stops at Vulkano, Lipari and Stromboli where you’ll be given the chance to experience the colourful villages and climb to some fantastic viewpoints that overlook the islands. Check rates and availability here.
Alternatively, spend the day hopping between Tropea’s many splendid beaches.
Nestled beneath the cliffs that carry Tropea’s old town, Spiaggia Mare Piccolo and Spiaggia della Rotonda are both convenient options and are easily accessible, while for a more rugged backdrop, head to the beaches of Capo Vaticano instead.
If you’re keen to experience a little of both, spend the morning beach hopping and then join an evening tour of the islands instead.
The Stromboli Night Tour departs in the early afternoon and brings you directly to the charming fishing village of Vincenzo where you can enjoy the black sand beach and dinner while watching the sunset, before travelling to the quieter side of the island to witness the ‘Sciara del Fuoco‘, the frequent firey eruptions that billow from Stromboli. Check rates and availability here.
Day 6 | Scilla
Perhaps the most beautiful village in Calabria, Scilla is not to be missed!
From the spectacular coastal road that swings out over the sea and offers up a phenomenal first glimpse of Scilla up ahead, you will be hooked.
From Tropea, it’s a relatively easy 90-minute drive down the E45 highway, or for the more scenic option, stick to the smaller country roads and take the SS18 along the coast.
One of the most beautiful parts of Scilla and a definite highlight is Chianalea, which is where I’d recommend starting your visit.
This historic fishing district sits right on the waterfront and is filled with pastel buildings, powder blue boats and pretty little nooks around every bend, while the salty spray and melodious drum of nearby waves only adds to the atmosphere.
Continue through the sea of sandstone and terracotta toward the top of the promontory where you’ll find Castello Ruffo standing proudly on the cliff’s edge. After learning about the Castle’s history and taking in the magnificent views along the coast, continue down through Maria Grande and its labyrinth of cobbled stairwells towards the waterfront.
On a moody winter’s day, we thoroughly enjoyed a walk along the vast cocoa-tinted shores of Spiaggia di Scilla and the brightly-coloured view of town cradled beneath the mountains from afar, but in the heat of summer, you may be more inclined to pick up a well-deserved gelato and sprawl out on your very own patch of sand for the rest of the afternoon.
One of the most remarkable things about Scilla is its dramatic location perched above the ocean beneath a wall of verdant hills. So for those eager to keep exploring, don’t miss some of the best views overlooking Scilla from Belvedere di Punta Paci, or head back into town for the impressive outlook that awaits on Via Nocarella.
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Sprawling across the tip of Italy’s toe, the region’s vibrant capital, Reggio Calabria, had long held a place on our Calabria itinerary. But after a wonderful afternoon spent wandering the streets of Scilla, we decided we just didn’t have the time to do another town justice.
If you’re visiting in summer however and have a few more hours of daylight to play with, Reggio Calabria is just a 30-minute drive from Scilla and would make an excellent addition to your day.
Plan Your Visit To Scilla
Eat // For tasty meals, sharing plates, local artisanal products and delicious local wines, Casa Vela Wine Bar is a lovely choice, or for a budget-friendly lunch on the go, try the famous swordfish sandwich from Civico 5 Paninoteca.
Drive + Park // Take the SS18 if you’re sticking to the coast, or the E45 if you prefer travelling along the highway. You’ll find parking around here.
Stay // I’d recommend visiting Scilla as a day trip from Tropea, but if you’d rather stay in Scilla itself, try BB Il Generale for simple, homely rooms right on the water.
Read More // Wonderful Things to Do in Scilla
Day 7 | Pizzo
Famed for a particularly indulgent dessert, charming streets and pretty beaches, Pizzo makes a wonderfully laidback final stop on your itinerary before you bid arrivederci to this rugged corner of the Calabrian coast.
Located just 30 minutes from Tropea, this bright seaside town makes an easy day trip that will leave plenty of time for a relaxing afternoon at the beach back in Tropea, or as a stopover on your way to a late flight out of Lamezia Terme.
Start with a walk around town, stopping at the gleaming white churches, before making your way to Piazza della Repubblica in the heart of town. Pay a visit to Castello Murat, best known for its imprisonment of the former King of Naples, before making your way down to Pizzo’s lower level to explore the marina.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head back into town for lunch (we thoroughly enjoyed Ristorante Hedo), followed by the ridiculously indulgent Tartufo at one of the cafes on the piazza. One serve is definitely best shared between two, and you’ll need some time to recover from your food coma so be sure to choose a good seat and settle in for some people watching as well.
When the afternoon session begins, make your way over to Chiesa di Piedigrotta, a seaside chapel hewn into the rock filled with intricate statues. Even though it’s just a short way from Pizzo, there’s ample parking here so I’d recommend driving rather than walking along the road.
Spend your final hours soaking up some more sun by the sea before returning to Tropea or continuing onwards to the airport.
Plan Your Visit To Pizzo
Eat // Enjoy a delicious lunch at Ristorante Hedo (we loved the pumpkin ravioli and seafood pasta accompanied by a crisp white wine). For dessert, don’t miss the delectably indulgent Tartufo from Bar Gelateria Ercole.
Drive + Park // From Tropea, take the SS18 and find free parking on the far side of Pizzo here, or near Chiesa di Piedegrotta.
Stay // At just 30-minutes from Tropea, Pizzo makes an easy day trip, but if you’re keen to stay in town, B&B Casa Angelieri is a top-rated option and boasts bright airy rooms and specular ocean views.
Read More // A Beautiful Day Trip To Pizzo
Other Places To Visit In Calabria
In just a few days, we were never going to come close to seeing all of what Calabria had to offer, but our short visit certainly gave an excellent introduction to the region.
If you have more time with which to explore, the following list will take you deeper into the wilderness to some spectacular natural sights and remote medieval villages which Calabria has in spades.
Sila National Park
Located at the northern part of the Calabrian peninsula, in what would be considered the ball of the foot in the Italian boot, Sila National Park boasts a trio of high alpine lakes surrounded by rolling hills dressed in verdant coniferous forests.
The park is well known as an excellent summer hiking destination with numerous hiking trails waiting to be explored. Foraging for chestnuts and mushrooms is also a popular pastime in the region, while autumn brings a fantastic display of rich auburn colours perfect for leaf peepers. Aside from the three lakes: Lago Arvo, Cecita and Ampollino which are a must-visit in Sila, the towns of San Giovanni in Fiore and Acri are also worth a stop.
Sila National Park can only be reached by car (there’s no public transport up here) with the best access points being via the E846 from Cosenza on the Tyrrhenian side or Crotone on the Ionian side. Lorica on Lago Arvo is the main hub for tourism activities.
Founded in the 9th century, Pendedatillo was named for the five rocky pillars that rise high above the village. A spectacular setting for this ‘ghost town’ with a curious past.
Holding a strategic position in the mountains, Pendedatillo was once a thriving commercial centre, but a devastating earthquake in the already declining village saw the entire population abandon the area for more than a century. Since the 1980s, the town has been revitalised with life beginning to return to this intriguing and beautiful place in the foothills of Aspromonte National Park.
Apromonte National Park
Making up the southern tip of Calabria’s mountainous centre is the rugged wilderness of Aspromonte National Park.
Scattered around the fringes of the national park, you’ll find a number of beautifully situated medieval towns including Bova, Stilo, Canolo and Gerace, while to the south, the magnificent canyon carved by the Amendolea River is not to be missed. Hiking here is also thoroughly rewarding but the spectacular mountain drives ensure you won’t miss out on the views even if you choose to stick behind the wheel.
To get here from either coast, the best access is via SP 1 and 2, or SP 3 and 6 when arriving from the south. Santo Stefano d’Aspromonte or nearby Gambarie have a handful of decent accommodation options making a good base from with to explore.
Crotone and Santa Severina
Over on the Ionian side, Santa Severina is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Calabria. Sprawling across a hilltop in a tight knot of sandstone and terracotta surrounded by mountains and overlooking the Neto Valley, this pretty medieval village is definitely one to add to your Calabria itinerary if you’ll be exploring the west coast of the peninsula.
Just 30-minutes away, coastal Crotone makes a great base for exploring the region. Be sure to stop at the famous Aragonese Castle which is also nearby and lies isolated on a small island separated from the mainland by a thin isthmus.
Cascading down a sharp spur overlooking the Ionian Sea, Badolato is another medieval gem. Fanning out from the central cathedral which stands proudly overhead, the village is filled with rambling cobbled laneways, twisting stairwells and picturesque archways.
It’s also just 15-minutes from the coast so makes an easy day trip if you can tear yourself away from the beach.
Wedged between some of Italy’s most spectacular regions, Calabria is perfectly situated to be added to an extended trip through the south of Italy.
Take the ferry west to Sicily for a week of beaches, volcanoes and stunning baroque architecture, head north to the extraordinary cave city of Matera for a journey back in time, or continue east towards the curious towns and stunning coastline of the Puglian peninsula.
With a second week at our disposal, we chose the latter and made a beeline for Matera. After the long drive, we stayed at the fantastic Agriturismo Tempa Bianca, a gorgeous farmhouse set amongst lush countryside that sources all produce from the surrounding farm and forests. Our rustic 4-course meal here was one of the best we had in Italy.
After a jam-packed and surprisingly snowy day exploring the fascinating Sassi di Matera, we continued onto Puglia for the remainder of the trip.
Top Tips For Your Calabria Itinerary
Calabria is best explored by car | While there’s an excellent train line running right the way down the Calabrian coast, the best way to see Calabria is with your own wheels. Tiny hilltop towns, rugged alpine drives and remote beaches will require you to have your own transport so I would highly recommend renting a car for your trip to make the most of your time.
You can’t always trust Google Maps | Google Maps is pretty much a godsend on any road trip these days, but in Calabria, it may very well lead you down roads where no car has any business being, including through abandoned farmlands and where the entire width of the road has become an impassable pothole.
Try sticking to the Highway (E45) or wonderfully scenic Strada Statale (SS) roads where possible for long distances and only use the smaller Strada Provincial (SP) roads for reaching smaller destinations in between.
Driving can be chaotic | Drivers and driving in Italy have something of a reputation, and Calabria is no exception. Roads scattered with potholes, a wild disregard for road rules, free for all roundabouts and narrow cobbled laneways that will have you wondering whether the GPS is leading you astray are all part of the experience. But don’t let that deter you!
Generally, it’s a good idea to avoid driving in Calabria at night, particularly on small country roads where street lights are few and potholes are plenty. During the day however, being cautious and confident will go a long way, particularly when driving through large towns where the rules you may be used to, like patiently merging lanes or giving way at roundabouts, all but go out the window and slightly more aggressive tactics will need to be employed. Be attentive and alert (as always), and you (and your rental car) shouldn’t have any issues.
The beaches are beautiful | While a winter trip didn’t exactly invite us to strip down and splash about in the Tyrrhenian Sea, if you’re visiting in the warmer months, this should absolutely be a key part of your trip (even if it isn’t as well represented on this itinerary as it probably should be!). The rugged Calabrian coastline is marked by craggy sandstone cliffs and sublime blue bays that beg to be explored and should be an essential part of your Calabria itinerary.
Mind the ztl | Calabria was the first place I’d encountered the ‘zona traffico limitato’ but you’ll find them operating in almost every tiny historic town centre in Italy. Essentially, they are limited traffic zones where no cars are allowed in the narrow cobbled laneways of these historic centres (unless you’re an authorised resident) and are marked by large signs where the zone begins.
This is a blessing for pedestrians and saves the locals from having their tiny towns clogged with tourist traffic, however, it does mean you’ll need to plan ahead when it comes to parking.
Have an early lunch | Many restaurants and shops begin closing their doors from about 2pm onwards and reopen for the evening crowd at around 5pm so be sure to sit down to lunch in time to avoid the hangry-ness setting in.
Sample the regional specialities | As with every region in Italy, Calabria has proud culinary traditions and some key regional specialities that should not be missed include swordfish, Cipolla di Tropea (sweet red onions) and ‘Nduja. You’ll find these ingredients served in various forms across the region.