White Beaches and Ancient Treasures
The ‘toe’ of the boot, Calabria is between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. The land from the sea to the mountains is steep. The region’s wine growing has a long (perhaps the longest in Italy) tradition, though grapes are now behind olives and other agricultural products in its economy. This was the first area to be called Enotria (land of wine), before the word was used to describe the whole of Italy. It is possible that Cirò is the oldest wine produced in the world. Calabria has excellent ground, passionate winemakers, investment in the vines and cellars, and recent acknowledgment from the press.
Our journey starts in Clabria’s Tyrrhenian pearl: Tropea. The town is set on a cliff, overhanging the Sea and its historic center is characterized by a maze of narrow roads and small squares. The traditional local ingredient is the famous sweet tasting Tropea red onion. As we travel south arriving in Capo Vaticano and work our way to the depths of Monte Poro to try its famous pecorino chesse.
In Spilinga we tast ‘nduja’, a tender sausage made with lean pork and spiced with dried or pickled chili peppers, usually spread on slices of bread. We pass through Vibo Valnetina and head for the Sicilina Straights and Scilla. This is the outermost tip of the Italian peninsula. We stop in Reggio Calabria, the first Greek polis in Italy. Its National Museum houses the famous Bronzi di Riace, one of just a few examples of Greek bronze sculpture.
On the table we find frittole made from pork rind and its off-cuts. Or, try Sardella, the hottest, tastiest and most aromatic fish paste in the Med. It is an ancient recipe that combines baby sardines, salt, chili peppers and fennel. Desserts are often nzudde, fancy shaped honey and almond biscuits.
We continue south and approach the aptly named Jasmine Coast with the scent of these flowers lingering in the air. We arrive in Capo Spartivento, a limb of land well known to the Greek Phoenician and Roman soldiers. Our journey continues through the narrowest point of the peninsula, Catanzaro Marina and heads up to Rizzuto, one of the most beautiful places in the Mediterranean thanks to its fine sand and crystal clear waters. Not far from here is Crotone, founded in 709 B.C. and one fo the most flourishing cities of Magna Grecia.
Our culinary stop to feast on frigulimiti with bread, a spread made from lard and other cuts of pork, flavored with sage is followed by sardella, a pàté made from sun-dried baby sardines and anchovies with both mild and hot chili peppers then mixed with oil until it becomes a soft paste. The perfect wine to accompany these dishes can be found just a few kilometers away at the Cirò vineyards. We often end the meal with pittanchiusa, made with grape must, almonds, raisins, cinnamon and sugar. We set off again with the Ionian sea on our right until we get to Rossano, the land of top quality liquorice which is also used to prepare a delicious liquor.
We reach another famous Magna Grecia town, Sibari, located at the foot of the Pollino mountains in the Pollino National Park. From east to west we reach the Cedar Coast on the Tyrrhenain Sea. Ninety percent of the entire national cedar production comes from this area between Tortora and sangineto. But this regionis also famous for its chili peppers and in the town of Diamante there is a museum dedicated to the local peperoncino.
Traveling along the coast we reach Paola then then head for Cosenza whose beautiful historic center is enchanting. Here we enjoy the local food starting with juncata, a soft creamy sheep-milk cheese and the butirri, tasty caciottine filled with butter cream. The first course consists of pasta china, lasagna al forno, stuffed with tiny veal meatballs, spicy salami, caciocavallo silano, mild provola and peperoncino. The second course includes ‘ncantarata pork, preserved in salt, roasted and glazed with honey. One last glance at the Sila National Park and we end our journey in this fascinating land.