The Real Italy Awaits
For lovers of Italy seeking more than Rome, Venice, and Florence, consider the under-appreciated region of Calabria, with its more than 400 miles of coastline. At the toe of Italy's boot, you'll experience local life as you stroll the narrow, winding streets of medieval villages, attend centuries-old festivals, and shop in open-air markets for fresh produce, fish, meats, pastas, and cheeses.
On the Tyrrhenian Coast, Tropea's beaches were given a five "sails" out of five by Italian environmental group Legambiente's beach guide. Tropea has a wonderful historical center, too, complete with hidden alleys, traditional trattorias, and medieval remnants. Be sure to catch a glimpse of majestic Santa Maria dell'Isola, a former Benedictine sanctuary set apart from Tropea on a small island hill.
In Tropea and nearby Capo Vaticano, brush up on your Italian with year-round language courses. With outstanding instructors, schools in these coastal towns offer varying levels of language training.
For cultural education, seek out a one-of-a-kind festival in Calabria. On the Tyrrhenian Coast, every September, tiny Diamante celebrates the peperoncino, the hot little peppers central to Calabrian cuisine. If you are traveling through Calabria in mid-August, stop in Tropea to honor its famous red onion and in nearby Pizzo Calabro to judge whether its tartufo (an especially tasty ice cream) is really the best in southern Italy, as reputed.
Along with the wondrous sights, smells, and tastes, be sure to spend time with the people of Calabria. Although conquered and reconquered by Greeks, Romans, Saracens, and others for centuries, the Calabrese have remained kind and generous; don't be surprised if you are invited into a cantina for homemade wine as you wander about a small village.
For More Info
You can fly into Calabria's Lamezia Terme International Airport on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea or take a train from northern or central Italy, enjoying the countryside on your way down. Renting a car is probably the best option for traveling around the region, though local trains and buses are available to transport you from village to village
Recommended travel guides:
Blue Guide Southern Italy, Tenth Edition by Paul Blanchard.
Cadogan Guide Bay of Naples & Southern Italy by Dana Facaros, Michael Paul.
Insight Guide Southern Italy by Roger Williams.
For more of a feel for the people, customs, and history of southern Italy:
By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy by George Gissing.
A Sweet and Glorious Land: Revisiting the Ionian Sea by John Keahey.
Under the Southern Sun: Stories of the Real Italy and the Americans It Created by Paul Paolicelli
For information on cooking courses:
Italian Institute for Advanced Culinary & Pastry Arts, Via T. Campanella 37, 88060 Satriano (CZ) Italy; 011-39 334-3332554; www.italianculinary.it; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Italian language courses in Calabria:
Caffe Italiano Club, Piccola Università Italiana, Largo Antonio Pandullo 5, 89861 Tropea (VV) Italy; 011-39- 0963-603284; www.caffeitalianoclub.net.
Ville Dante School, Via Aragona 3, 89861 Tropea (VV) Italy; 011-39-0963-607248; www.studioitaliano.it.