If a Vespa-riding, siesta-loving, chaotically unadorned version of Italy still exists, you’ll probably find it in Calabria, the ‘toe’ that kicks Sicily into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Scarred by recurrent earthquakes and lacking a Matera or Lecce to give it high-flying tourist status, this is a land of throwbacks and traditions, sheltered by craggy mountains and burdened with a long history of poverty, Mafia activity and emigration (the few travellers you do meet are often Americans retracing family roots). If you’re only going to visit Italy once in your life, it’s unlikely that Calabria will be top of your list. But if you’re intent on seeing a candid and uncensored version of la dolce vita that hasn’t been dressed up for tourist consumption, look no further ragazzi.
Calabria’s gritty cities are of patchy interest. More alluring is its attractive Tyrrhenian coastline dotted with some surprisingly picturesque towns and villages (Tropea and Scilla stand out). The mountainous centre is dominated by three national parks, none of them particularly well-explored. Easily the region’s biggest snare are its Greek artefacts collected from ruins, archaeological sites and ancient shipwrecks and catalogued in some truly impressive museums.