Demystifying Calabria Italy

May 6, 2016
Demystifying Calabria Italy

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, it became ‘cool’ to be Italian. I remember when my family first moved here from Italy, it certainly didn’t feel that way. I was almost 11 years old when my family and I made the move to a suburb of Boston from a small town in Southern Italy. It happened in the middle of fifth grade, and while I was fortunate to have been placed in a pretty accepting Catholic grade school, I certainly wasn’t the cool new immigrant in town.

Nowadays, when I tell people that I am a native of Italy, the certain reaction is one of genuine interest. People more often than not tell me that they have always wanted to go there, or that they have been there and found it beautiful. But when I give more details and say that I am from Calabria, I usually get nothing in reply: crickets. Most people don’t know where it is, and they’ve certainly never been there. But there’s more to Italy than the Tuscan sun or Sicily, beautiful though these places are, and I love speaking about Calabria and all it’s beauty.

Calabria is the ‘toe’ of Italy, the boot-shaped country. Picture it giving Sicily a kick. The air is pure; the purest in the country, the food is spicy, the beaches are breathtakingly beautiful, the mountains are equally stunning, and the people are characters (to say the least). The winters are relatively warm compared to the North, and snow is rare, unless you are in the mountains. The summers are scorching hot, but a dip in the sea will cool you off. Unfortunately, there is a lot of beauty in Calabria that gets lost within stereotypes, both from within and outside of Italy itself.

A few years ago, I was watching an episode of Law & Order – Criminal Intent. I don’t remember the plot or story line at all; the only line I remember is when the main character says something to the effect of “Calabria, that’s a rough country out there.” That of course struck a cord with me, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard such comments. Similar stereotypes for Calabrians include that they are uneducated, stubborn and show-offs. When it comes to education, there are numerous schools of higher education in Calabria, though not nearly as many as in Northern Italy (and many Southerners now travel to Northern Italy to gain a better education.)

Employment is in fact lower in Calabria than in any other Italian region. Finding work is very difficult, even more so if you are a female. Most men work in family businesses, farming, or own small stores or are in the construction business. Many Calabrians end up traveling outside the country or region for work, just as my parents did.

Surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, Calabria’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country. My family, and many others in Calabria, refer to their region as “Calabrifornia” – a reference to the beautiful waters and climate resembling that of California.

Calabrians are known for their stubbornness, and its best advised not to even bother attempting at winning an argument with them! “Oh, you’re Calabrese” people will say, “Testa Tosta” – literally, “hard head”. Their stubbornness is part of their character though, and is not malicious. They are very warm and welcoming people, and will welcome any traveler to their table for an authentic meal and a glass of their wine. If you’re lucky, they’ll even show you how they prepared it.

Calabria is a must-visit region for anyone who likes to sunbathe, swim or people-watch by the seaside. While Calabria is relatively unknown to the rest of the world, other Italians flock there by the thousands during the summer months. Surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, Calabria’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country. My family, and many others in Calabria, refer to their region as “Calabrifornia” – a reference to the beautiful waters and climate resembling that of California. Some of the most beautiful beaches can be found in the cities of Tropea, Pizzo, Copanello and Soverato. A rental umbrella is a must, or buying one is the best investment you can make for the season. I prefer the beach during the early morning hours, before the crowds flock there like they’ve never tasted seawater before. The sun is light on the skin, the water is already warm, and you can get a whiff of morning espresso, cappuccino and famous cornetti alla crema (a cream-filled croissant-like brioche) baking just steps away at a café on the beach.

The gastronomy in Calabria is as lively and vibrant as its seas. Because of its vicinity to the ocean, seafood is quite popular in Calabria, particularly sardines, swordfish and salted cod, known in Italy as baccala. Produce grows easily under the southern sun, and tomatoes, zucchini and their blossoms, eggplants and sweet red onions, particularly from the town of Tropea, are plentiful. Sheep and cows roam freely in the lush green landscapes, so soft cheese, such as ricotta, is plentiful and incredibly delicious. Rare is a day when Calabrians don’t eat pasta, which in the south is mostly made with just flour and water and is not egg-based, as in Northern Italy.

Meat is usually pork and lamb. And then there’s ‘Nduja. Have you ever heard of spreadable pork? Well, as strange as it sounds, ‘Nduja is just that: spicy hot and not for the faint of heart. At first sight it just looks like a salami stick, but the inside is much softer and is spreadable. It is a perfect accompaniment to sharp cheeses and a tomato salad made with sweet red onions and a slice or two of crusty homemade bread. Washing it all down with a glass or two of homemade wine doesn’t hurt, either.

Calabria has three airports, two national and one international. When traveling to Calabria, one must be as vigilant as when traveling anywhere else. Pickpockets are infamous at outdoor markets, and vendors might be more inclined to overcharge you if they know you’re a tourist. Public transportation is not as efficient as in other regions of Italy, so renting a car is highly recommended.

While still somewhat undiscovered by travelers outside of Italy, I predict that tourism will increase in the years to come, due to Calabria’s incredible island-like beaches, mountains for hiking in, distinguishable cuisine and very welcoming inhabitants.

Demystifying Calabria Italy

Demystifying Calabria Italy

About Francesca Montillo

Francesca Montillo is a native Italian currently living in Boston, MA. She is the proud owner of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures, which offers culinary tours to Italy as well as private cooking classes and events in the Boston area. An avid believer of home-cooking, Francesca enjoys entertaining friends, cooking & baking, traveling back to Italy and discovering new pastry shops in small towns in Italy! She can be found at:

3 thoughts on “Demystifying Calabria Italy

  1. February 9, 2018

    What a small world! Thanks for reading the article!

  2. Rita Andracchio
    February 7, 2018

    Hi, I also came here in Toronto, Ontario when I was 10 years old, and I can relate to all you have said. I come from Sant’Andrea Ionio, which is 5 min drive to Soverato. I love to go there every year.
    Good luck

  3. Roseanna Baack
    May 6, 2016

    Great article cuz! I didn’t know we had TWO writers in the family!

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