Forming the toe of the boot of Italy is Calabria. Essentially a peninsula almost 250km long, Calabria is cut off from the rest of Italy by the Pollino mountains, a rugged and wooded range forming part of the appennines. In fact, over half of the region is mountainous, and the appennines rise to almost 2,000 metres before making a dramatic leap into the sea at Aspromonte in the extreme south. This area played a part in the Risorgimento with the famous Battle of Aspromonte, a ten-minute skirmish in which Garibaldi himself was wounded, almost putting an end to the dreams of a united Italy.
A bit of history
In ancient times, Calabria was the location of many Greek colonies and there is still a lot of archaeology from this period in evidence today. In 1972, two perfectly preserved bronze statues dating to the 5th century B.C. were found in the sea at Riace by a snorkelling Roman tourist. The statues, each two metres tall, can now be seen in the archaeological museum in Reggio di Calabria, and are counted amongst the finest artistic works of the ancient world. One of them can be seen in the icon used to represent Calabria on this blog.
A more suprising relic from the Greek past are the 22, 600 Griko people living in the province of Reggio di Calabria. Speaking griko a variant of Greek, these people are thought to be descendants of the ancient Greek colonists.
Calabria is very close to Sicily from which it is separated by a narrow stretch of water called the Straits of Messina. At its most narrow, the passage is just over three kilometres wide and on a clear day stunning views of Mount Etna are afforded. These can be particularly impressive from the airport at Reggio di Calabria, where the runway is right next to the sea.
Food and wine
Most of Calabrian agriculture is devoted to oranges, bergamot, and olives. Calabrian bergamot oil is of the highest quality, as is the olive oil, which is traditionally used as a preservative in the local cuisine. In fact, it’s common to find vegetables, salamis, and fish preserved in olive oil in the region. Another notable local product is the Cipolla Rossa di Tropea, a red onion so prized that it now has protected status within the European Union. It even has its own website with thirty-three delicious sounding recipes featuring the vegetable.
As you would expect, Calabrian cuisine contains meat and a lot of fish, the region being bordered by the Mediterranean on three sides. Notable local specialities include purpetti alla mammolese, spicy pork meatballs and pignolata. These are pastries covered half and half in chocolate and lemon icing. A sweet and sour treat.
As far as wine is concerned, the most famous Calabrian variety is Cirò a red wine made predominantly from gaglioppo grapes. There are eleven other DOCs however, mostly red but with some white wines made from greco bianco.