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Off Season Calabria: Walking My Italian Roots

Is the idea of exploring your family’s heritage inspiring your boomer travel plans? Today, Monica Surfaro Spigelman offers boomer travel tips for visiting Calabria, Italy, from a journey that found her Italian roots.

Colorful boats line the harbor in Italy.

Colorful boats line the harbor.

It was a new universe for us – this province of Italy called Calabria. Driven by a desire to research my grandparents’ hometowns, my husband Leigh and I were ready to explore, despite claims that weather and lack of services would detract from our vacation. Now I’m glad we ignored the tourist books.

Calabria is the most southern province of Italy, just across the Straits of Messina from Sicily. It is the region where Italians go for their summer seaside vacations. Dotted with lovely historic villages set in rolling hills and rocky cliffs, Calabria is a very different Italy. This past April, Leigh and I landed in Reggio di Calabria airport, and in three long days we travelled along the Autostrada coastal road that stretches around “the toe of the boot,” from the tiny fishing village of Scilla to my ancestral home in Melito di Porto Salvo.

If you choose to follow my footsteps, be aware:

  • Very little English is spoken in the region. If you bring along a dictionary of key phrases and a translator app for your mobile when wi-fi is available, you will be fine and you’ll be rewarded with more authentic experiences than if you travelled tourist routes.
  • This won’t be beach weather if you visit in April. Bring a jacket and sweater for layers, plus a hat and umbrella for possible rain.

With caveats out of the way, here are three quick boomer travel tips for visiting Calabria that will fill your hearts and minds with the distinct charm of my ancestral home:

View from Bed and Breakfast La Veduta

Bed and beauty by the sea

Our home base for this trip was the small fishing village of Scilla, in an old seaside district characteristically full of narrow charming lanes and alleys winding down directly to the sea. Pretty Bed and Breakfast La Veduta is situated in the oldest area and directly on the Straits of Messina. Our spotless seaside room had a lovely terrace and was equipped with comforts of wi-fi and television. Hosts Nela and Michael were warm and friendly, offering delicious homemade pastries, cereals and fruits accompanied by coffees and teas for fabulous breakfasts. Although they spoke very little English, we communicated through phrases and smiles.  After rambling through nooks and crannies of Scilla one afternoon, we returned to this romantic inn to sit on our terrace and watch the fishing boats return with their catch. It was a magical place that felt like home to us. If you prefer more tourism comforts, just north of Scilla is a more famous resort town called Tropea.

Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in Calabria

Enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in Calabria

Eat traditional foods

This region pays homage to traditional Italian foods that include fresh local fishes as well as local meats, antipasti, stuffed vegetables and homemade pastas. For lunch we enjoyed spaghetti with freshly caught seafood, chopped chili and tomato sauce at Boccaccio2 in Villa San Giovanni. We also enjoyed agriturismo at MILLE SAPORI in a peaceful farmhouse set within the hills outside Melito di Porto Slavo. Here, with views of the sea and sounds of an organetti accordion at a nearby table, we enjoyed Calabria cuisine including local wine and olive oil, lamb, stuffed peppers, fresh tomatoes, fritters and creamy risotto.


Enjoy history

There are many ancient towns filled with lore, but perhaps my most favorite is Pentedattilo a ghost town of mythological architecture in the hills above Melito. It has a colorful history dating back to Greek and Roman times, with stories of Norman conquests and barons in the bones of its old buildings. The town is now being revived by artists who are restoring the architecture, conducting cultural tours and practicing traditional arts.

So this was a glorious little trip for us. Yes, we visited my grandparents’ birthplace—but that’s another story. In just a few days the bustle of tourism slipped away, replaced by relaxed appreciation of local routines and scenery. We shared smiles with fisherman on the docks and with shepherds on rocky hillsides.  We walked town squares with breathtaking views, particularly in Scila, and enjoyed people-watching and freshly baked “dolci” at the neighborhood panetteria.

We hope you find a reason to appreciate the wonder of Calabria, where all streets welcome you and lead to an endless horizon and crystal-clear sea.

All photos courtesy Leigh Spigelman and Monica Surfaro Spigelman.

Have you visited this off-the-beaten-path in Italy? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email with your comments or questions.

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