Just Back: Calabria, Italy

Calabria, Italy(Getty Images)

Nicole Bono, founder of Bono Events International, is just back from her beloved Calabria and shares her best experiences here.

Having been raised by a Calabrian father, it’s been a tradition to visit Calabria every summer of my life, no matter what part of the world I am living in. Typically, I would spend a week or two, around the famous holiday Ferragosto (August 15) between Soriano Calabro (the small town my father is from) and Pizzo (where we have our beach home). This year, with everything in flux due to COVID-19, I decided to spend a full month in Calabria, and dig deep to see what the region had to offer to my clients at Bono Events International, a boutique luxury travel advisory and destination event planning company. I got to explore Calabria for the first time in 30 years as a tourist, and could not believe what I found. 

To begin, I ventured to nearby Tropea, the crown jewel of Tyrrhenian — a town with byzantine origins, dramatically perched above one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. I enjoyed walking around the medieval whitewashed stone buildings, while exploring the shops along the main promenade. 

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I visited the beautiful Palazzo Mottola, a perfectly refined boutique hotel with only nine rooms, directly in the heart of Tropea’s historic center. Palazzo Mottola was a noble family’s residence from the 13th century, which has been perfectly renovated and given refined touches from local artisans and unique antiques. My favorite part was gazing at the 360-degree view over historic Tropea, the Calabrian coastline and the volcanic island of Stromboli in the distance from their rooftop bar while enjoying an Aperol Spritz — my summer cocktail of choice for aperitivo. 

Another day, I rented a motorboat with friends at the neighboring port of Parghelia and explored what is known as the “Coast of the Gods” from Capo Vaticano to Zambrone. The name derives both from the coastline’s stunning beauty and due to the fact that it was the setting in Greek mythology of the life of Hercules and of Ulysses’ journey in Homer’s Odyssey. You will find Caribbean calm turquoise water with a sandy bottom, interspersed with little private inlets reachable only by sea and remarkable limestone rock formations. In my opinion, this is the best way to enjoy this region — just look at this water! 

Nicole Bono & team making musulupa

Nicole Bono & team making musulupa.

For my next stop, I decided to venture to Ionian coast on the other side of Calabria to the province of Crotone. I chose to stay at the Small Luxury Hotel’s collection Praia Art Resort, a secluded family-owned gem on the peninsula of Isola di Capo Rizzuto. I was greeted by the wonderful Valentina Vrenna, one of the owners, whose enthusiasm for Calabria was contagious. The hotel has an industrial sleek minimalist design and bespoke suites all with touches of local master craftsmen. From my room, I was steps away from the crystal-clear waters of the private beach, which has a personal favorite — water hammocks to pass the time relaxing. At night, I tried the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant — Pietramare Natural Food. It has a relaxed summer vibe, as you sit in an open-air space around a giant olive tree while looking into the open kitchen. The food was impeccable, following the chef’s philosophy of using only organic local ingredients to take you on a journey melding land and sea. 

Finally the next day, I was treated to a boat ride on the hotel’s private boat. From there, I admired the crystal-clear waters of the bordering protected marine park, where fishing is prohibited and diving enthusiasts can explore the coral reefs. We passed by the nearby town of Le Castella, which is a sight to behold, dominated by a 15th-century Aragonese fortress that juts out into the water on a peninsula, built over the original 4th-century B.C. Greek castle. Midway through our excursion, Giovanni our guide, served us a delicious ‘crudo’ of local fish and prawns, accompanied by some refreshing Greco di Bianco local white wine. What a wonderful way to spend a day! 

After having enjoyed these two distinct regions, I decided to venture to the most remote and distant part of Calabria, the province of Reggio Calabria. For this, I got in touch with Giovanna Pizzi from Gusto della Passione, an expert local food journalist and tour guide. Together, we went to Qafiz for dinner. Lost in the hills of Santa Cristina D’Aspromonte, this is a must-visit gem for foodies. In a centuries-old family oil mill, the self-taught chef and owner Nino Rossi has transformed it into an intimate Michelin-starred restaurant where he takes you on a journey through Calabria, reinventing and elevating local ingredients. We finished our night at the Cocktail Bar, where we enjoyed a serene setting in the valley with exquisite cocktails beneath the stars. Nino has also transformed the farmhouse into a luxury bed and breakfast called Casa Calabretto where you can enjoy absolute tranquility and relax by the pool. 

Nicole Bono explores areas she’s never seen before, despite many visits to Calabria.

After this, Giovanna took me to the most southern point of Calabria, known as the Grecanica area because the local inhabitants still speak a dialect most similar to ancient Greek. Here you get stunning views of Etna in the distance as you explore the pristine hilltop towns such as Bova and Galliacianò. There, I visited her family’s bergamot farm. The bergamot is a citrus variety that only grows in this part of Calabria, it has amazing health benefits when eaten, but since the Renaissance and to this day it is the most sought after ingredient for perfumes and lotions. It has an amazing quantity of essential oils that soothe and delight. All the high-end perfume brands source their bergamot directly from this part of Calabria. 

Finally, we did a one-of-a-kind foodie experience, thanks to Giovanna, visiting one of the few remaining farmers, Sacca, who produces a millennia-old cheese, called musulupa, among other traditional products. We were lucky enough to be treated to this piece of history being made live for us. Pressed into the shape of a woman, it was traditionally given from husband to wife as an augur of fertility.

From top to bottom, Calabria has something to offer luxury clients, from amazing beach locations, accommodations, activities, unbeatable views, to incredible history and unmissable food experiences. I cannot wait to start designing travel itineraries and luxury destination events in this beautiful region, rich with many wonderful things! 

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