Visited Campania and Calabria in July 2017

This is another belated blog post on our summer holiday. I need to work much harder and post more frequently to catch up.

During our summer holiday of 2017 we visited Southern Italy again, this time the regions of Calabria and Campania. Calabria because I had only seen Reggio and Maratea there, leaving much more to discover. Campania to show Stephanie what I had seen there before. Below is our travel schedule which shows the places of our overnight stays. The train journey and ticket prices for a single person are included.

  • Wed 28 June train from Rotterdam to Torino (€ 101)
  • Thu 29 June train from Torino to Napoli (€ 70)
  • Fri 30 June Scalea
  • Sat 01 July Scalea
  • Sun 02 July Cosenza
  • Mon 03 July Vibo Valentia
  • Tue 04 July Vibo Valentia
  • Wed 05 July Vibo Valentia
  • Thu 06 July Vibo Valentia
  • Fri 07 July Reggio di Calabria
  • Sat 08 July Napoli
  • Sun 09 July Napoli
  • Mon 10 July Napoli
  • Tue 11 July Napoli
  • Wed 12 July train from Napoli to Milano (€ 50)
  • Thu 13 July train from Milano to Rotterdam (€ 90)

On Friday 30 June we took a train from Napoli to Salerno and got our rental car there. We returned our car there again at Saturday 8 July. From Salerno we drove to Scalea, stopping at Paestum and the Pertosa Caves on the way.

The next morning we drove inland to Laino Borgo to go rafting on the Lao River with Pollino Rafting. Somehow the only English speaking instructor ended up on a boat with Italians and we needed some time to get to understand the Italian spoken by our Italian instructor, but we enjoyed the ride. The natural environment of the Lao river valley is so enchantingly beautiful. In the afternoon we relaxed on the long stretch of beach at Praia a Mare, with its peculiar black sand. Be sure to take a look at the secluded Arco Magno beach in the south, which is hidden behind a natural rock arch.

Beach south of Praia a Mare

We visited Cosenza to see more of the hinterland. On the way to Cosenza you can stop at Diamante for a nice historical center embellished with mural paintings. If you are a devout Catholic, make another stop at the sanctuary of Paola, but skip if you’re not. From Cosenza’s center we made the long climb to the city’s Swabian Castle on foot, to be rewarded with an impressive view over the valley of Cosenza. Except for an archaeology museum there isn’t much else to see in this city. Because I like botanical gardens we went to see the botanical garden of the University of Calabria, but this garden turned out to be purely utilitarian. It didn’t have the aesthetic appeal of other botanical gardens I had seen elsewhere.

Mural painting in Diamante

Cosenza seen from the Swabian Castle

Going further south, we made a short stop at Pizzo. It was in Pizzo’s small castle where Joachim Murat, general of Napoleon Bonaparte and king of Naples, was executed. Nowadays the castle has a small exhibition which documents his final days here. A short walk north out of town you can find the rock-cut Church of Piedigrotta close to the sea. The artistic quality of the sculptures there wasn’t really worth our time. What is certainly worth your time is a taste of tartufo, an ice cream dessert which was invented in Pizzo.

Vibo Valentia came next. It lies in the hinterland and is not frequented by tourists. For three days we would drive from this place to the coastal towns which were more popular with tourists. Tropea is the premier resort town in the area here. It has a charming old center, situated on cliff with a steep drop towards its beautiful beach with crystal clear water.

Further to the south, the beaches near Capo Vaticano were no less endowed by nature with stunning beauty. It is not surprising that the beach of Grotticelle is quite busy with tourists, but not in the extreme in early July. It’s certainly worth it, but there are also many beaches which are relatively quiet, remote and unspoiled by beach bars. I can recommend the beaches of Michelino near Parghelia and Marinella near Zambrone, both a short distance north of Tropea. I have a lot more beaches to visit in Southern Italy, but these around Tropea and Capo Vaticano rank among my best.

Grotticelle beach

A Ficara beach

Beach of Tropea

Besides hitting beaches, we had a cooking class and a diving trip. We went for a one day cooking class in the vicinity of Tropea, organized by In Italy Tours. This course at Agriturismo Manitta emphasized food tasting over teaching, but I greatly enjoyed it nevertheless. Our host Tania was very friendly, it was fun to chat with the other Canadian participants and the food was awesome.

We went diving with Dannam Diving Tropea. They are actually located in Marina di Zambrone and drive you to the harbor of Tropea to board a rigid-inflatable boat there. In our case, they took us to the rocks in front of the beach of Riaci. Because we had never done diving before, this was a discovery dive for people who don’t have a diving license, the dive doesn’t go deep, maybe five meters. We didn’t see anything the people from the beach, who were swimming above us with snorkels, would have missed. We certainly didn’t see the more exciting and exotic marine life shown on their website, just sea urchins and the common small fish. Even so, it was interesting to go through this experience. I’ll settle for free diving in the future though, because it doesn’t require so much preparation and equipment.

After all this, we continued south towards Reggio. We stopped at Rosarno and Gioia Tauro, which both have small museums on the excavations of Medma and Metauros respectively. Unless you are highly interested in archaeology and history like me, they’re not worth stopping for. The last stop before Reggio was Scilla, which was totally sublime. Like Tropea it’s located on the shore, but it’s sited on a taller cliff with a more dramatic drop towards it’s lovely beach. The Castello Rufo, built where the cliff projects into the sea, offers a magnificent view over the surroundings. Before leaving, we went to Ristorante Glauco east of the castle to enjoy very good food and more scenic views from their rooftop terrace.

Boats east of Castello Rufo

Beach of Scilla

Castello Rufo seen from east

In Reggio di Calabria I could finally visit the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia. The last time I visited it was under renovation. I love the result, anyone who is even remotely interested in archaeology and history should visit this museum. Especially the Riace bronzes are astonishing works of art. Since Reggio was leveled by earthquakes several times in history, there isn’t much else to see in this city.

We spent the following day driving back from Reggio to Salerno. I was in for a stop at water park, Odissea 2000 at Rosarno. Because we departed late there wasn’t enough time, so we skipped it. We spent three more days in Napoli, visited Herculaneum and Pompeii again south of the city. I wanted to see several places which I had not visited before.

Herculaneum, looking northeast

Of these, the Parco Archeologico delle Terme di Baia was very worthwhile. I like to fantasize about how decadent this huge thermal baths complex would have been in its prime. It’s a short walk from the Fusaro station on the Cumana railway. Determined to visited the Aragonese castle of Baia and the museum inside, we walked all the way uphill (no public transport there!) to see that the castle was closed on Sunday afternoon. The Portici Palace and it’s botanical garden were closed as well. There is so much to see in Napoli and its vicinity that another visit is warranted in the future.

I think the rafting, the cooking course and the diving added some more diversity to the travel plan. What also helped is that we stayed in the same place for longer and drove shorter distances. This holiday was a success. For the coming summer, my question is if Sardinia’s fine beaches can eclipse those of Calabria?

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