From the minute you leave the airport, open countryside and rustic villages come into the viewfinder. It almost feels like you’re encroaching on local life, as the ratio of tourists to Calabrians is so one-sided. Most of the action – if laidback seaside towns qualify for that title – can be found along the coastline.
Equipped with a checklist of places to see, I wasted no time in getting my teeth into some local food. The clifftop town of Pizzo is known for its tartufo dessert – a syrup-centred ice-cream wrapped in a chocolate shell. Whilst polishing off this traditional treat on the main piazza, the lack of recognisable lingo became more and more apparent. This is no Brit-ready resort – although the locals speak English, there’s rarely any need because of the slim portion of overseas visitors.
And it’s that rustic, untapped feel that quickly became a theme. This is Italy untrodden. You won’t have to battle crowds for a glimpse of the stunning seaside monastery in Tropea. And a tour of the inside barely makes a dent in your travel kitty. Climb the zig-zagging steps to the old town, and you’ll spy restaurant menus that don’t pander to non-Calabrian tastes. Fileja – a Tropean trademark – is the pasta of choice, and sauces revolve around the town’s signature sweet red onions and picante peppers. Order a pizza, and blobs of tasty nduja sausage add a spicy kick.
The food and culture were enough to keep me happy, but the beach game really adds an extra dimension. The turquoise waters in Tropea look like they’d been slapped with an Instagram filter, and the strips of accompanying sand are whiter than the Caribbean’s. I couldn’t figure out why the shores weren’t swarming, until an in-the-know sun-seeker told me that’s just how things are around here.
Last on my to-do list was the region’s headline act – Reggio Calabria. It’s the closest thing to busy in the region, but still doesn’t seem to break a sweat. A stroll along the seafront promenade delivers views of neighbouring Sicily. Boats constantly drift in and out of Reggio Calabria’s harbour, taking daytrippers across the channel to Messina or for a glimpse of Stromboli’s simmering volcano. After a few hours mooching around, it struck me that even this urban side to Calabria was different to the norm. It’s city living without the stress.
The thing that best sums up the theme of my visit, perhaps, is that I can’t recall queuing for anything. Because everyone’s a local, and they’re all super laidback, it’s easy just to follow suit. Calabria’s got a tourist-free charm which ticks the Dolce Vita box more than anywhere else in Italy. But one thing’s for sure – it won’t stay secret forever.
To put it simply, Calabria makes up the toe of Italy’s boot. It’s ‘kicking’ the island of Sicily, at the end of the toe, and Puglia forms a heel behind it.
The TUI MAGIC LIFE Calabria lines up a packed-to-the-rafters activity programme, lots of restaurants and a private beach.
You get something for everyone at this family-friendly hotel – it has a top pool scene, and a great activities line-up on offer.
This hotel's set on a sloping green hillside in the heart of historic Tuscany.
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