A Week in Calabria: From the Beach to the Mountains of Southern Italy - The GPG

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Article by: Mike Dunkerley mike.dunkerley@thegpg.com Published: 27/06/2009

Read about life in Calabria Italy from the sandy beaches to the towering mountains, perfect for skiing, to the relaxed lifestyle. Discover why southern Italian property from The GPG is selling quickly."

A Week in Calabria

Getting to Calabria

You can read all the travel books but there is no substitute for going to a place and seeing for yourself. This is just what I did during the first week in June 2006.

You can fly direct to Calabria?s Lamezia Therme airport with Ryanair from London Stansted several times a week. Other budget airlines are also flying to Lamezia. Thompson have just started services from Gatwick and Manchester.

The other major airport in Calabria is at Reggio Calabria, right on the coast within view of Sicily. At the moment this airport only has a licence for domestic flights so passengers would have to fly into Milan or Rome first. However, from 2008 the airport is planned to be upgraded to international status.

These transport developments, coupled with the building of new motorways (construction is underway now) will transform the accessibility of Calabria and with it the prospects of the economy.

Upon clearing customs at Lamezia airport, I walked the short distance across the car park to the car hire ?supermarket?. This is a small building housing at least eight competing car hire companies from international names to local providers. All I had to do was walk to each booth and ask ?how much?. Quotes for a mid size car ranged from euro 288 to over euro 450 for the week. I chose the lowest and got a brand new car with only 5 km on the clock.

Upon leaving the airport follow the signs for the motorway (about 3 km) and then join the motorway heading south for Reggio Calabria. After about 30 minutes leave the motorway at Rosano, turn left following the signs for Gioiosa Ionica. Ionica is the more important word because you are heading for the Ionian Sea coast. This road takes you up and over the mountainous spine of the country by way of bridges and tunnels and in another 30 minutes you will be right on the coast at the town of Gioiosa Marina. Total journey of 100 km.

The Ionian Coast.

There is a narrow coastal plain running the whole length of the Ionian coastline. This allows for tens, if not hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches. All along the coast are small towns that are a mix of mostly old but increasingly new buildings. Each is large enough to support a complete mix of shops and facilities much as was common in Britain forty years ago before supermarkets and out of town shopping changed the nature of our small towns. Shopping centres are being built but it will be a while before they impact on the traditional ways of shopping along this coast.

I stayed in a modern four star hotel just outside Rocccella. This is a busy little town with a tumbled down castle now being restored. Roccella is typical of all the coastal towns. A mix of new and old, some parts in need of fixing up, some parts full of charm. Just to the south in the town of Gioiosa Marina is a square with a café. Everything shuts down for siesta except the cafes. At lunchtime you can sit under the trees and have lunch whilst watching the world go by. My favourite was their Bruchetta. For just 4 euros you get a large plate of Bruchetta toast loaded with local cheese, tomatoes and tuna ? a meal in itself. There is home made ice cream if you have room for it. After that it can be a struggle to stay awake.

The purpose of my visit was to inspect the new property developments that we are offering and to get to know the local area and also Calabria. The first four new property developments I saw back in January have been so popular they have virtually sold out. The next phase of Calabria property developments is for one and two bedroom apartments and these are selling off plan just as fast as the first phase. The second San Rocco development in Bianco is beach front: absolutely on the beach ? you can only access the site by walking over the sand (a new access road will change this!). It is a 15 minute walk into the town so the setting is also rural. In contrast the Vista Montagna property development in Caulonia is located on the smart new promenade with just a short walk back into the town and its facilities. Caulonia, like many of these coastal towns has a marina where annual fees for berthing a yacht must be some of the lowest in the Mediterranean and the Greek islands are just across the Ionian sea.

A new coastal motorway being constructed about a kilometre inland will help preserve the character, atmosphere, simplicity and slow pace of life by keeping away the tourist traffic.

Exploring Calabria

The first lesson I learned is not to trust Italian maps, at least the type that are handed out to tourists. The coast roads are marked clearly but those going inland to the little hilltop villages are different. They suggest that you can follow them and that they will link up with other roads. However, don?t be fooled. The truth is that they may not exist at all or, if they do, they are little more than dirt tracks occasionally used by farmers. This is a rural region of Italy and some of the villages are quite remote and it can be quite an adventure trying to find them!

A case in point is the hill top village of Stilo reached by turning inland at Monasterace Marina. The road to Stilo is fine as it winds up to the hill top town with its old buildings and panoramic views. The old town is in need of a lot of restoration but it is picturesque. June is the time of the cherry season and, by the road side, local farmers were selling their harvest of large juicy red cherries. After stopping to admire the views and sample the cherries I consulted the map which showed that I could continue inland via the village of Bivongi and on to Serrra St Bruno thence returning by a different road to the coast.

I followed the signs. The road became narrower. Eventually the tarmac ended and a dirt track took over. What kept me going was that round each bend was another surprise. Sometimes it was wild flowers and butterflies. Other times it was a ?secret? field where olive trees or vines had been planted falsely suggesting a village was nearby. I decided to turn back when the dirt track began to follow a dried up river bed. OK for a four wheel drive but not for a saloon car that had to be returned in good working order!

The Calabrian road from no-where to no-where

I was caught out a second time a couple of days later. Determined to get up into the mountains I drove inland from Gioiosa Ionica to Grotteria and took the road out of the back of the village upwards towards Paradiso. The single track tarmac road was good for most of the way but gave out to a dirt road about two kilometres from where the map suggested Paradiso was. I pushed on into the pine forest. Suddenly they was a beautifully laid out, deserted, camping and picknic area. Shortly after that, the dirt road suddenly became a brand new two lane tarmac highway with road signs.

With a sigh of relief I followed the road through the beautiful cool pine forest. After two kilometres the tarmac road stopped and became a single track dirt road again. Thinking that this was a temporary interruption I pushed on. The dirt road became rougher and more like a track. At one point I had to stop and fill in a pot hole with stones before being able to proceed. It was getting a bit scary but, in the soft earth there were tyre tracks, so someone had been this way recently.

After fifteen kilometres, numerous hair pin bends and some very dodgy moments I finally emerged from my forest trail onto a two lane tarmac highway. I had crossed the mountains through a high pass and was now heading down to the west coast. However, why and how would someone build two kilometres of road from ?no where? to ?no where? and how did they get the truck loads of tarmac up there in the first place?

Holiday makers be cautious before you set of for a day in the hills in your car ? probably better to turn back when the road runs out! However, there is a fantastic business opportunity for someone to set up Pony Trekking or Mountain Biking. The pine forests are beautiful and cool and under used.

Calabria (Italian) Sophistication

The beaches and coastal towns can offer the traditional Mediterranean holiday and inexpensive fun that suits most families. When a day out is called for the city of Reggio Di Calabria is just 30 minutes drive from Bianco or 1 hour from Caulonia and offers big city sophistication. It has the usual downtown areas and a port but it also has, in its heart, a beautiful promenade. This is wide and sweeping and lined with trees and smart cafes. In front of the promenade is a well kept beach with beach cafes and sun loungers and in the warm sea, swimming. I sat in one of the café areas, under the trees, eating ice cream and watching big yellow painted sea planes landing and taking off at five minute intervals like a taxi service.

Afterwards, I walked back into the city, past smart shops and hotels, past the ancient castle and into the university area. There I picked up another tourist map. Clearly marked on the map was the Parco Nazionale della Calabria and Mount Cocuzza with a summit of 1955 metres. Beside Mount Cocuzza the town of Gambarie had the international symbol of a little figure skiing. This had to be investigated.

Skiing in Calabria

What most people don?t realise is that the mountainous spine of Calabria is between 1,000 metres and 2,000 metres high. That is between 3,300 feet and 6,600 feet which is higher than all the mountains in the UK ? and all this happens in the space of 60 kilometres from the west to the east coasts.

The road out of Reggio Di Calabria climbed steeply and increasingly through hairpin bends. The dry coastal vegetation gave way to trees and scrubs. Eventually there were whole fields of broom in full yellow flower. The air cooled and the pine forest started and once again the tarmac road ran out. Sensing I was near the top I pushed on and within a kilometre met up with a two lane tarmac road complete with road signs. A quick left turn and within 2 kilometres I arrived at the mountain village of Gambarie. It had the look of an Alpine village. The buildings had sloping roofs to dislodge the snow and the windows of the ski chalets were shuttered up waiting for the winter season to start. In the central square was the start of the chair lift and a map showing the ski runs. A large sports shop has a sale on featuring skiing equipment. The summer hiking clothes and other kit were at normal price.

I was not alone this time. There were tourist coaches in the square and their passengers were enjoying the bright sun, cool air and sweet smells from the pine forests. Obviously there had to be a good road up but after enquiring I discovered that it came from the west side and I needed the east side. A quick look at my tourist map showed that I should retrace my footsteps and follow the signs down to Melito on the coast cutting 20 kilometres off my journey home. The tarmac road took me past where I had originally joined it and on to a new, large sign announcing Melito ?turn right?. After about half a kilometre and two hairpin bends the tarmac ran out. By this time I was past caring and reasoned it would start again soon. It did after another kilometre. Why can?t the authorities make these roads join up or do they just do a bit when they have some money eventually hoping to finish the job?

Another thing I learnt about tourist maps is that the few squiggles shown on a mountain road are not the actual number of hairpin bends but just a warning of what is to come. Rounding one corner I was confronted with a magnificent view. Some 6,000 feet below me was my destination Melito. Between me and Melito a little mountain road wound round and round the hillsides like a corkscrew. The decent took over an hour but at times the views were breathtaking.


In Calabria you get two climates and two holidays in one. On the coast is the hot, sunny Mediterranean climate with sandy beaches beloved of British holidaymakers. Local agriculture produces excellent local wine and food. The sea produces fresh catches every day. Inland, high up in the mountains are virgin pine forests with alpine cool air and clear mountain streams. The amazing thing is that these two climates exist within 15 kilometres of each other.

If you want to know more about The Global Property Group?s holiday homes and new property developments please contact us on 0044 1457 833083 or through the web site http://www.thegpg.com

Author: Mike Dunkerley, Regional Partner, The Global Property Group Ltd.

Republished 2009


External Article Link: http://www.thegpg.com/overseas-property-news/property-news.cfm?id=8

Article Link: http://www.thegpg.com/overseas-property-news/property-news.cfm?id=8

Please contact the author at mike.dunkerley@thegpg.com for more information.



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