August 25 to September 4, 2018.
Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea has always been a dream of mine. Who wouldn’t want to swim in the clear, blue waters? Bask in the hot Italian sun? Eat all of the mouth-watering Italian food possible? A very, very silly person, that’s who.
This August my dream came true. I was given the opportunity to travel to Calabria, Italy, and live a life some only dream of.
Incredibly, I was not only blessed with family abroad, but with friends who have family abroad. This made my time in Calabria much easier since I did not have to worry about accommodations or transportation for most of the days.
My bestie, Elisa (follow her on Instagram at @cuginetta_), and her famiglia hosted me during my stay there. I couldn’t have asked for a better time or better company. I hadn’t seen Elisa since I moved to Germany in May. Being away from my best friend for three months was DIFFICULT, so I was beyond happy to be reunited with her. *cue waterworks*
Ok, so here are the deets of my trip:
Calabria, a region of Southwest Italy, is located on the “toe” part of the Italian boot. We spent the majority of our time in Cropani Marina, at Elisa’s family home, a 10-minute walk from the beach.
I traveled via Ryanair from Frankfurt-Hahn airport to Lamezia Terme, the small airport located in Calabria. The flight was smooth and uneventful, other than the screaming child next to me. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food in the airport. I was able to give the croissants (cornetti) and pizza a try. I didn’t waste any time participating in my favorite part of any trip – eating.
Even though I spent the length of my trip only in the region of Calabria, I was able to still hit up many spots.
As I said, the majority of my time was spent in Cropani. It was there where I was introduced to the incredibly clear blue waters. Much to my surprise, there weren’t any waves in the sea. Growing up on the East Coast of the USA, beach = waves. Once the initial shock wore off, I was content to float around in the Mediterranean Sea.
Some points of interest in this area are:
- Primaopoi – a restaurant with a delicious menu, filled with seafood and fresh pizza options. Also has a great crew of workers that will take care of you well!
- Bar Aiello – technically in the neighboring town of Botricello, this spot has some of the most amazing pastries I’ve ever tasted. We had breakfast our final full day in Italy here and I couldn’t have been happier. The fasçade of the building is almost as breathtaking as the abundance of deliciousness inside. If you get the chance, make sure to give their pistachio cannoli a try. I promise you won’t regret it.
This town sits above Cropani in the mountains. The roads getting there are incredibly windy and may remind you of the Wild Mouse ride you may have ridden as a child. Basically, the roads are windy af and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The views from the top of the mountain are well worth the drive. The area kind of takes you back to Old Italy, with narrow, winding streets and small, adorable homes.
Pizzo is a small town we stopped at on the way to Tropea. The town is located on a cliff, allowing it to have magnificent views of the Sea. This made for some great photo ops. While there, we made a visit to the Chiesetta di Piedgrotta, a 17th-century church built into the side of the cliff. The legend goes that the church was built by shipwrecked sailors as a way to show their appreciation for their survival. The church does not look like one from a traditional sense as it is filled with various hand-carved stone statues. It did have an altar, however. Many of the statues are covered with sediment from the cave, making them look like true pieces of it. Tours of the church are available and cost about 3€ each. Tickets can be purchased at the church, located down a staircase along the cliffside.
Tropea was the most breathtaking location I visited in Calabria. One person we met there said it was the “poor person’s Sardinia,” a very scenic (but pricey) part of Italy. When driving to the beach area of Tropea, you go down more windy roads (no surprise there), where you may eventually be caught in the shadow of the homes on the above cliffside. It sure made for a cool ride. That being said, the cliff was no match for the water!
The clearest water I’ve ever swum in, again lacking waves. The only downside to the beach was the lack of sand – pebbles took its place. Definitely, purchase some water shoes if you’re going to Tropea. Your feet will thank you.
My favorite parts of our night in Tropea were: eating a delicious kebab (thanks to the urging of Elisa); walking at sunset with her to see the light reflecting off the water (serious photo op!); pistachio Tartufo gelato; eating lots of onions (they’re known for them); visiting The Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola (Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea); and most importantly, embracing my mermaid self in the Sea.
Calabria is not just a region filled with beaches, it has mountains (i.e. Andali), and vast national parks. Sila National Park is known as the national park of Calabria. It is a great place to hike, and that’s exactly what we did. A welcome relief to me, who was suffering from an insatiable sun rash/burn/poisoning?, the hike took us some couple miles into the park. Walking through the woods reminded me greatly of my home in Pennsylvania, something I’ll always be happy about.
After our hike, we stopped for lunch at a small shop/restaurant in Aprigliano. I honestly cannot remember the name of the place, but for the size of it, it was PACKED. No wonder, because the food was great. We all had made-to-order sandwiches, which is my favorite kind of sandwich. I loaded on so many things to my sandwich that the ladies making it literally stopped and took pictures of it! I guess they never had an American as hungry as I in their shop.
I ate it all, by the way. 🙂
La Castella is a town named for its main attraction, the castle fort, named Fortezza Aragonese di Le Castella, that sits on its coast. It was amazing to have the chance to see first-hand the ancient fortress. The area is so old it said to have been referred to as the island of Calypso by Homer. The area is mentioned several other times throughout history, enhancing its rich ancestry.
The first night we went to the castle, we were pleasantly surprised to see a live tarantella concert was happening. Elisa loves the tarantella, and was overjoyed to experience it! I love making a fool of myself, so I joined her in dancing to the music on the beach. It actually turned out to be a great, fun moment.
My second time at the castle was when I took a tour. Tours are about 4€ and you can either be self-guided, like me, or listen to an audio tour. I did the tour at night, so the castle was lit up. The fortress is dated to be from between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, making it pretty friggin’ old. A must-see, for sure.
Time to say “Good-bye”
Our final dinner was at Lido Faro Blu, a restaurant located in Sellia Marina’s waterfront. I had an incredible eggplant pizza. It might have been THE BEST pizza I’ve ever had. Thin crust, fresh mozzarella cheese, and thinly-sliced eggplant. *drool* This restaurant was moderately priced. The atmosphere was slightly more formal than your average place, but the prices don’t necessarily reflect that.
And with that, it was time to say goodbye to the extended family and friends I had made while in Calabria. *cue the waterworks, again* Of course, the hardest goodbye was not the scrumptious food or blue waters, but the goodbye to my bestie Elisa. Serious waterworks, basically waterfalls, fell from our eyes as we hugged at the departure gate.
Having such an incredible trip and being able to have a little piece of home with me for 10 days was awesome. An experience I will never forget. The amount of pure bliss I felt while in Calabria is more than evident in many of my photos. The sun was not only glowing – I was, too.
I cannot wait to return to Calabria, with my bestie in tow, to soak up the Mediterranean sun. Maybe next time I’ll bring my husband if he’s a good boy. *hint, hint.* I know you’re reading.
One final tip: If possible, learn some Italian before your Calabrian getaway. It will make your life a lot easier and it will help you communicate with the locals, making for a more well-rounded experience. I added a few vocab words to my repertoire while in Italy. It sure helps a lot when your friend is fluent. If that’s not the case, do yourself a favor and head to Duolingo before you hop on that plane!
Until my next adventure,
THANK YOU TO ALL OF ELISA’S FRIENDS AND FAMILY. TI AMO.