Rich in both culture and natural beauty, Calabria is an unspoilt corner of Italy offering something for everyone. Nature lovers will appreciate hiking among the mountains, valley and lakes, while history buffs will be fascinated by the numerous museums and archaeological sites. The beaches and picture-postcard villages also offer plenty of opportunities to relax and unwind.
Calabria has three national parks, all of which offer awe-inspiring scenery and hiking opportunities.
Pollino National Park is a wilderness area of grassy mountains and steep valleys, carpeted with the rare Bosnian pine. It supports a huge variety of bird life including golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Visit the park's headquarters in the town of Rotunda for information on hiking trails.
Aspromonte National Park is a mountainous area with sheer mountains and steep gorges, offering excellent hiking opportunities. Adrenaline junkies can climb to the highest point in Calabria, Montalto, located at an altitude of 1,955m, with a spectacular view from the summit. On clear days you can see all the way to the snow-capped peak of Mount Etna in Sicily.
La Sila, however, offers the most picturesque scenery in Calabria. Clear-blue mountain lakes, lofty peaks, enchanting forests and verdant meadows make this a fabulous hiking destination. At several of the larger lakes, such as Lago Ampollino, you can also hire paddle boats and canoes.
Calabria has been colonised by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines to name but a few, and vestiges of these ancient civilisations are scattered around the region. Perched on a hilltop near Diamante is Old Cirella, a city destroyed by three separate invasions. The atmospheric, crumbling ruins of houses and fortresses are surrounded by grasses and cacti. The site offers a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
Museum and National Archaeological Park of Capo Colonna is another fascinating destination for culture lovers. Located on a promontory jutting out over the ocean, this was once the site of a sanctuary dedicated to the Greek goddess Hera. Fragments of Doric columns can be uncovered in the area, while an onsite museum explains more about the region's fascinating history.
From the purple-tinged waters of the region's Violet Coast to the soft white stretches of sand lapped by the Ionian Sea, Calabria has no shortage of beaches. But once you've visited the region's most popular beaches, it's worth seeking out more secluded coves and grottos.
Take an inexpensive boat trip from Praia del Mare to the island of Dino, where you can swim in the bright blue waters of the Grotta Azzurra. Head to the picturesque Spiaggia di Caminia on the east coast – the perfect spot for some quiet beach time.
Italy is renowned for its delicious food and Calabria is no exception – it's a foodie's paradise. Many local shops stock regional delicacies like spreadable 'nduja sausage or the teardrop-shaped caciocavallo ('cheese on horseback'), so named because it is strung across sticks as it dries. You'll find these delicacies – and many more – for sale in local food markets, a daily occurrence in different towns throughout the region.
Local produce is so highly valued here that it's also celebrated in festivals. In the small town of Diamante, a chilli festival is held every September, celebrating all things spicy with carnivalesque dancing, food demonstrations and a large food market. Tropea holds the bluefish and red onion festival every July, where these two ingredients can be tried in local dishes.