Holiday guide to Calabria, Italy: the best beaches, bars, restaurants and hotels

Italy’s heel has hogged Brits’ attention recently, but that leaves the coast, hills and pretty towns of Italy’s toe of Calabria just waiting to be discovered
Mary Novakovich

The village of Scilla, with Castello Ruffo, Calabria
 The village of Scilla, with Castello Ruffo, Calabria. Photograph: Alamy

“You’re the first British person I’ve spoken to on this beach in the 40 years I’ve been coming here. How did you find it?” It was a good question, given the huge number of beaches along Calabria’s 500-mile coastline. I was in tiny Caminia on the Ionian coast talking to Nuccio, a Briton whose Calabrian mother lives in nearby Catanzaro Lido. He confirmed what I had already discovered: that the elongated toe of southern Italy is one of the country’s least-known regions among British people.

Italians, on the other hand, spend August swarming around Calabria’s Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts. Come September, even though schools wouldn’t be opening until the middle of the month, many sunloungers are packed away in defiance of the 28C heat and clear blue sea almost as warm as a bath. But despite the out-of-season atmosphere, late September and October is an excellent time to explore this underrated and often misunderstood region – and savour some of the spiciest cuisine in Italy, thanks to the ubiquitous red peperoncino (chilli).

History hasn’t been particularly kind to Calabria, which the ancient Greeks colonised in eighth century BC. Others followed – Romans, Saracens, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish and French among them – who were rather less benign than the Greeks. Feudalism was officially abolished in 1806, but a form of it lasted until well into the 20th century. Mass emigration has been a problem for generations, and the region is still among the very poorest in Italy.

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