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Traveling through Southern Italy

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Traveling through Southern Italy
Reggio Calabria, Italy

By Elinor Garely, eTN | Jun 28, 2011

Town-to-Town
The National Institute for Statistics (ISTAT) identifies five official statistical regions in South Italy that is divided into administrative regions of Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, and Molise

Each and every part of the region presents unique dining options along with interesting wines. The food and wine experiences are heightened when the backdrops include ancient ruins, endless green pastures complete with meandering cows, or mountains that beg to be scaled by rock climbers. A wise visitor will bring walking/hiking boots, casual clothing that layers well, plus an empty stomach and a palate eager to experience new tantalizing recipes. Factor in weight gain as the price to pay for a culinary adventure.

Where: Basilicata
Matera, the second largest city in Basilicata, has been declared a UNESCO site as a center for the “heritage of humanity.”

What to Taste
Visitors do not have to be the worlds’ best chef to appreciate the strong flavored cheeses from this area: cacioncotta and pecorino (from sheep’s milk), casiddi (from goats milk), and caciocavell (from Padolica cows milk). Sausage fans select salsicce lucane from pork, fennel seeds and peperocino while vegetarians enjoy Fagiolo di Sarconi (beans) and red peppers (Peperone di Senise). A popular item on the menu includes lamb with chicory or carrots, sausage, breadcrumbs and cheese cooked in an earthenware pot.

Wines of the area are not usually found outside of Italy, but the wine produced from grapes grown on the slopes of extinct Monte Vulture volcano, Aglianico de Vulture DOC (“Barolo of the south”) is a robust red that combines well with local recipes. Respected white wines include Asprinio, Malvasia di Basilicata and Moscato.

Where to Sleep
Contemporary travelers seeking the “cave” experience brought to 21st century standards will find accommodations available. Overnight guests should be prepared for damp, dim interiors with floors of uneven rock; however, they offer a glimpse into the lifestyle of residents from earlier periods. The Saxtanio Algergo Diffuso Le Grotte della Vivita ( http://www.legrottedellacivita.com ) presents an upscale but realistic cave-living experience.

What to See
Sassi. Best viewed from the upper town near Piazza Vittorio Veneto and Piazza Sedile. Visitors can walk through the cave dwellings to view the church of San Pietro Caveoso at the bottom of the sassi district.

Rupestrian Churches: Settled in the 7th century Monks lived in the caves and visits to the existing structures are enlightening as to the domestic and religious quality of the life during the period

Palazzo Lanfranchi: Museum of Modern Art. Wonderful exhibits of contemporary artists plus numerous 17th and 18th century Neapolitan School oil paintings and wooden sculptures and paintings from other towns in the Province of Matera set into cave architecture.

Where: Maratea
Maratea is only town of Basilicata on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Known as the town of “44 churches” and the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian because of its beautiful scenery and coastline, the region dates back to the Paleolithic era (15th-14th century BC).

What to Taste
The area is noted for pork, mutton, lamb, kid and rabbit as well as salt and fresh water fish. Many dishes feature tomatoes and spicy peperoncino – a pepper that gives spice to dishes throughout the world.

Where to Sleep
Hotel Il Gabbiano. Remotely located, this sea-side resort features a rocky beach and a swimming pool with drop-dead vistas complete with sea, sky and Apenninine mountains. A period-dated lobby, utilitarian dining room, and backyard furniture steal the “wow” from the glorious sea views.
The property is popular for Italians on holiday who are accustomed to low-energy quiet days. Dining experiences are positive for the ravenous since the cuisine is based on an abundance of food that integrates local produce into its many courses. Guests with special culinary needs will not be happy campers and vegetarians are not easily accommodated.

What to See
Statue of Christ the Redeemer, built of Carrara marble (1965) by Bruno Innocenti and is located at Monte San Biagio. The area has developed a reputation for diving, boating and fishing.

Where: Apulia
Foggia is a city in Apulia and in an area known as the “granary of Italy.”

What to Taste
Noted for its watermelons, tomatoes and Buffalo Mozzarella. Visitors should carve out a few hours to wander through the farmer’’ market located east of Centro.

Where to Sleep (or Not)
Muro Torto is a bed and breakfast operation located on a small side-street in the downtown area of Foggia. While the rooms are sized for comfort, the step-up bathrooms, limited hot water for showers, steep staircases, and less than professional service are likely to dissuade return guests.

Where: Calabria
Calabria is found in the toe of the Italian boot. A magnet for the locale is the 5th century Riace Bronzes on display in Reggio Calabria Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia.

What to Taste
The area is noted for its cuisine and large portions of food are consumed surrounded by sea, sun and ancient ruins making for memorable experiences. Visitors will find hefty soups and pastas, lots of vegetables (i.e., eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, potatoes, beans and peas), as well as red onions from Tropea, and porcini mushrooms from Cosenza and Catanzaro.

The region produces 25 percent of the nation’s olive oil and the extra virgin olive oils have received DOP status.

Diners should be prepared for multiple courses of a variety of pastas accompanied by seafood so fresh that it wiggles as it reaches the plate. The abundance of food is enhanced by bottle after bottle of local wines (vintage 2010) plus fresh and sparkling regional waters.

Calabrian wines are rarely available outside the region and therefore should be tasted when the opportunity is presented. Recommendations include the robust red of Gravelloor Magno Megonio for meat and game based dining along with and mature cheeses (i.e., pecorino and goat cheese). A glass of chilled Efesoas is an interesting an aperitif. Bottoms up! The Librandi vineyards are also noted for producing Tore Brezia Grappa di Ciro. Another must taste is the liquorice produced by the Amarelli family since the 15th century.

Where to Sleep
Branded hotels are not available in this locale. As the star system appears not to be determined by an independent organization, it is not prudent to recommend accommodations for this locale.

What to See
Visitors tempted to enter the sea should be aware of trash (floating on the water surface and liberally decorating rocky black beaches). Since garbage collection is an “iffy” business the rubbish is part of the landscape. Be wary of litter in alleys, throughout residential neighborhoods, near restaurants and shops.

Where: Crotone
Crotone is located in commune of Calabria on the Ionian Sea.
Pythagoras (530 BC) lived here, and the town has produced generations of successful Olympic and Panhellenic athletes.

What to Taste
Popular recipes include sardella salata made from small blue fish salted and seasoned with powdered chilli pepper and olive oil and eaten used as a spread on bread.

Where to Sleep (or Not)
There is a segment of the family holiday market that finds all-inclusive properties absolutely perfect for their needs and wants. For folks with this mindset Baia Degli Dei is an option. Buffet – style dining is available for three meals each day, and the property offers tennis, pools and beach swimming, and a wellness center.

While the online brochure makes the property look fresh and new, the reality is that it is need of a renovation and upgrade. Do not expect wake-up calls or in-room WiFi. There are many steps leading to/from dining rooms/bars/pools, etc. making the transit from one place to another a challenge for physically challenged guests.

If an all inclusive holiday is on the agenda, consider the IGV Club Le Castella (in the same locale).

What to See
There is an interesting castle that was built between the 9th and 11th century and has been restored. It reflects both the neoclassical and Baroque styles. Castle collectors will find the one built by Charles V in the 16th century continues to attract visitors.

Where: Cosenza
An interesting base to explore the Sila Mountains (35 km) and the Tyrenian Sea (20 km) as well as Camigliatello, a classical alpine village The Sila is considered one of Europe’s most densely wooded areas and trees that are over 500 years old and six feet across, 130 feet tall can be found. Summer fun includes hiking while in winter; cross country skiing is an option. Gray wolves and golden eagles can be spotted.

What to Taste
Freshwater fish, wild mushrooms and grilled Italian sausage with warm pepper and onion salad.

Where to Sleep (A Must Do)
For travelers seeking a city hotel, the Link is a lovely, modern, stylish property with an attentive staff.

Visitors seeking upscale, unusual and with dreams of living like a princess (in the castle) in the countryside, the Palazzo del Capo is a destination property. Currently a hotel with large meeting/dining rooms, this go-to hotel was originally a fortress and the remains form an enclosed court with a backdrop of deep blue sea.

The gardens, swimming pool and dining options are elegant and the white gloved serving staff is professionally trained to put on a wonderful performance. From the moment the guest arrives, to the last farewell, this go-to hotel requires a few days to enjoy. The staff is delighted to plan a list of things to see and do within an hour of the property.

What to See
Teatro Morelli (Tango Club) and Duomo de Cosenza (built in the middle of the 11th century).

Where: Reggio Calabria
Located in the toe of the Italian boot and separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina, it is situated on the slopes of Aspromonte mountain range. Subject to earthquakes and tsunamis, Reggio Calabria is the second oldest city in Italy.

What to Taste
Whatever is eaten, a main ingredient will be olive oil together with home made tomato sauce, aubergines and salami. Popular recipes include Capra alla bovese (Vutana), goat meat boiled with herbs and char grilled kid. Sword fish grilled in an herb, olive oil and vinegar sauce or served all marinara with tomato sauce and parsley are popular choices. Popular cheeses include Sila and Pollino, particularly caciocavallo, a soft, fairly strong provola, and "butirro", provolone with a butter centre.

Where to Sleep
Hotels in southern Italy ratings are based on a national star system that is not global in scope. At this time it is not prudent to recommend a particular property

What to See
This area is said to be the only place in the world where bergamot orange grows in abundance and provides 80 percent of the worlds supply. The size of an orange and a yellow color similar to a lemon, the citrus fruit is used in Earl Grey tea and provides its distinctive aroma while the oil is used in perfume and cosmetics, candies and pharmaceutical products.

Definitely Go - BUT
There are so many reasons to visit southern Italy that they can not be written or described, they must be experienced. However, no one should start the journey without realizing that southern Italy is not northern Italy and an attitude adjustment is a prerequisite to enjoying the experience (perhaps adventure would be more appropriate).

Heads Up: Know Before You Go
1. Dining is an Olympic sport in the region. Plan on hours and hours devoted to lunch and dinner.

2. Afternoons are spent eating and sleeping; shopping takes place after the sun sets and precedes drinks and dinner.

3. Plan on picnics; pick up bread, sausage, salami, cheese and wine at local shops. Bring a bottle opener for wines and soft drinks.

4. Shoes. Walking shoes/heavy duty sneakers. Many sites require walking up mountains, steep staircases, hillside towns, and caves. Leave the stilettos at home.

5. Beach shoes. Beaches are rocky and debris floats in the water. Keep feet happy with enclosed beach foot wear.

6. Flip flops/sandals. Useful for wandering around the hotel room, in the shower and evening dining.

7. Socks. Hours of walking in the heat make for sweaty feet. Socks that wick away the perspiration will be appreciated. Bring a few pairs for daily changes.

8. Light-weight pants/many t-shirts. Visiting castles, museums, forts – can work up lots of sweat. Fresh t-shirts enhance the comfort of daily excursions.

9. Pocket dictionary. Many people in the region do not speak any language other than Italian. To communicate, travelers need to find the correct Italian word – otherwise frustration will add stress to the experience.

10. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Many tourist venues do not have “state of the art” toilets. Be prepared with personal necessities.

11. Squatting skills. Many public toilets do not have seats, requiring “squatting.” Active gym goers will not be challenged; however, couch potatoes should be gym-prepped in advance of travel.

12. Sweaters/scarfs/sun hat/rain gear. Weather changes happen “without notice”.

13. Light day pack. Pack necessities in the AM for a full-day outing. Include Pepto Bismal and Imodium, packets of tissues, water bottle, aspirin, snacks, map.

14. Travel clothes line for overnight drying. Hotels do not provide washers/dryers or clothes lines.

15. Bug repellant. Mosquitoes love foreign guests and dine frequently. An antihistamine will take away the itch and ice cubes will reduce the inflammation.

16. Travel alarm clock. Hotels rarely provide wake-up calls.

17. Do not buy “fake” anything. Italian police can confiscate the purchase and add fines for the offense that can be as high as 3,333 Euros in two months or 10,000 Euros if a moratorium is requested
.
18. The environment has not been protected and bottled water is necessary for drinking.

19. Starting a new business in southern Italy is not a simple process. While some information is available online, and other guidelines can be obtained by meeting with the President of the Chamber of Commerce in the area of specific interest; however, even after the meeting, the path for approval to begin operations may be confusing. It may be prudent to retain local attorneys and accountants to provide guidance.

For additional information on travel to southern Italy contact: www.italiantourism.com .



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