La Dolce Vita Part 2 - from Calabria back to North Italy
This Blog post is the continuation of my roadtrip through Italy. So all the basic facts and figures you can read in the previous post. The following second part of our journey includes my favorite part of the whole trip – Calabria (the tip of the Italian boot how it is called) and also one unknown hidden treasure – a secret waterfall up north. So come back with me and we hit the road again!
Stop 1 Rossano and surroundings
So coming from Apulia/Matera our first stop in the very northern part of Calabria was Rossano, which is a picturesque medieval town famous for its marble and alabaster quarries.
Although it was the most basic accommodation of our whole trip, it has been my personal highlight as it was the most authentic one – Il Gardino di Iti (www.giardinoiti.it). Located in an old farmhouse surrounded by a vast land of olive trees and other agricultural landscape.
You will be welcomed here by the owner Bebe Cherubini, who is a real Baronesse and her lovely son.
Some parts of the historic farmhouse are already falling apart as it is a huge property, but in other parts like for example the former stable area, within the Spanish looking courtyard, you will find some charming, however a bit dark guest rooms.
It is a real Agriturismo place where you can take part into the countryside life. After extensive walks through the nice nature around the hotel, you can take a dip into the pool and relax in the huge garden area.
However best thing in this accommodation is the FOOD – all home cooked traditional dishes of the region served either in the main mansion house, on the terrace or under the shady garden veranda on hot days.
Super yummy food that you won´t get in any common restaurant. Prepared with lots of dedication from the Baronesse herself and her team.
And as in any countryside place – you will be also surrounded but lots of animals like the numerous dogs of the house. Some will bark at night when cars are approaching on the street outside – so even the dogs are concerned here about their guests safety 😊
Rossano and also the beach side area are only a short drive away from this accommodation.
Back on the road…..
Unfortunately we only stayed one night at this lovely place, as we wanted to continue our journey to South Calabria. We chose a very picturesque road through the mountains – with which we basically crossed the Calabrian peninsula and got from one coast to the other.
The road was in general in a good condition, however sometimes very narrow and with lots of curves. So you should allow more time for this part of the trip. As we had a thunderstorm the previous night we also had some parts of the road completely covered in pine cones, which made it hard to drive and I was worried about our tyres. So as these are very remote areas, expect the unexpected while driving.
We did a few stops en route like in the small mountain village Langobucco….
….or in the vast pine forest and at the mountain lake Lago Cecita.
The mountain road basically ended then in the bigger town of Cosenza, where we had lunch in the Old Town at the Calabria Bella Ristorante (www.ristorantecalabriabella.it). Like a lot of South Italian cities Cosenza also has this certain charming, but morbid atmosphere.
Stop 2 Tropea
So finally we reached the most southern part of our trip and chose to stay a couple of days around here to explore the area and also to take some further relaxed beach days.
Another hotel with a “soul” – actually the soul is named Anna here, the super friendly owner. Anna is really trying hard to please her guests with whatever she can and she has built up this lovely small Boutique Hotel – Centurio Luxury Rooms (www.centurioluxuryrooms.it).
Located in a residential area it is just a short drive away from Tropea centre or the surrounding beaches. If you don´t want to drive yourself you have a shuttle bus stop close to the hotel.
Room was very clean and with a bright Mediterranean ambiance.
Outside you will find a small swimming pool with sunbeds around and for a nice sundowner you can make your way up to the rooftop terrace with a fantastic sea view (there is no bar at the hotel, as it is basically a B&B place, but you can bring your own drinks with you).
Breakfast is prepared by Anna herself, sometimes with the helping hand of her husband. She will do eggs for you upon request and all other breakfast items and pastry you can find on the small buffet area – prepared with love. You can feel that here.
Relax on a picturesque beach
Of course one of the main pleasures of this area are the fantastic beaches with its crystal clear waters – almost looking like in the Caribbean. While driving around you can find some less frequented coves and free beaches or if you wish to have more infrastructure you can go for one of the many beach clubs like for example the Blanca Beach in Tropea (www.blancabeachtropea.com), where you can rent sunbeds and use the toilet and shower facilities.
They also have a very good restaurant plus if you want to take your beach experience into the night you can stay for the bar and their various DJ nights.
Tropea is a charming and well-known Calabrian city covered in many tourism magazines – as it stands for a typical South Italian beach town. However that popularity doesn´t always do good as during summer it is over-runned by hordes of local and international tourists. That´s also the reason why basically every single house of the Old Town is hosting either a restaurant, ice cream parlour or souvenir shop. It is really hard to avoid the touristic crowds here.
Nevertheless you shouldn´t miss a walk around the clifftop historic centre until the end of the main pedestrian street, where you can have a beautiful view over the sea and the rock which is holding the century-old church Santa Maria de´ll Isola on top.
I would also highly recommend to visit this rock church during sunset hours. Beside the picturesque church you have a small Botanical Garden for a walk and great picture opportunities onto the Old Town of Tropea.
And with some luck you will also spot the four- legged rock residents.
Drive along the spectacular Costa degli Dei
Another nice thing to do is just to do a coastal drive around and explore the little villages and beaches. One stop that shouldn´t be missed is at Capo Vaticano – on top of this white-grey granite rock (follow the “Faro” signboards) you will have spectacular views over the coastline.
There is also a restaurant at the viewing point for a quick snack or coffee.
At the bottom of Capo Vaticano you will find some further popular beach spots – Petraia, Salamite and Grotticelle – all with sunbed/umbrella rentals and restaurants.
Take a boat trip to Stromboli
That´s really a must-do activity while in Tropea, although of course a very touristic one. In Tropea centre you will find a couple of travel agencies that are organizing these boat trips. In the end it doesn´t matter with whome you are booking as prices are more or less the same and all these agents are “feeding” the same boat operators. There are also various trips on various days – some are only to Stromboli, also a “Stromboli at night” trip is available and other trips include Stromboli plus some others of the so-called Aeolian Islands. I would highly recommend to take a combined trip as the other islands (Volcano, Lipari, Salina and Panarea) are very pretty as well.
I must say that in general I liked the trip and Stromboli really has some magical ambiance. However what I didn’t like is that they filled the boat until the ultimate last place – so you will sit like sardines in a can. And the cruise to reach the islands is 2-3 hours. There was also no sun roof, so you will be exposed fully to the strong sun. I had a look on the other touristic boats and it was the same story with the other operators as well. So if you want to avoid this experience the only option is to cash out much more money and look for a private boat operator.
With all the other hundred or so fellow boat travellers we started the trip in the morning at the harbour of Tropea. Once everybody got their tiny seating spots, the boat departed and you got some good views onto Tropea from the seaside.
After a 2 ½ hours quite smooth cruise we reached the small volcanic island of Panarea. Most parts of the island are uninhabited and only 280 people live year-round in the main town, San Pietro. However during summer month this tiny island gets a huge influx of tourists and gained over the past years a reputation as a celebrity destination. So in summer you can expect to spot some millionaire yachts on Panarea´s shores.
We then circled around the island to get a view on the spectacular rock formations. In some parts the island reminded me of a Fjord somewhere in Norway.
Ice cream comes here on a boat as well – gelati a la mare.
Stromboli is one of three active Volcanos in Italy and the whole area around is still very active as you can see here. Sulfur springs are bubbling underneath.
The approach to Stromboli is really stunning – a majestic cone that is raising high out of the deep blue sea. Occasionally during day time you can see smoke coming out on top of the volcano and once you are setting your foot on the island – every 20 minutes or so you can hear the rowing rumble. It is fascinating, but somehow scary at the same time. The volcano has erupted already many times and minor small eruptions are happening daily, which gave the island the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. So on a visit to this magical island you need to trust nature and to believe that the volcano stays gentle. However that won´t be always the case – just a week after our visit, Stromboli island saw a major sudden eruption of the volcano that killed unfortunately one tourist and left several injured. It is a natural spectacle – however as nature is – totally unpredictable.
With a boat cruise you will just have few hours on the island, but if you like to get into the real spirit of Stromboli you should use one of the regular ferry boats and stay overnight for one or two nights. There are few hotels like for example the Hotel Ossidiana right at the small harbour (www.hotelossidiana.com) and some real charming B&B´s like for example the Casa Frank (www.guidamilazzo.com).
The main town San Vicenzo is a lovely village on foot of the volcano with many restaurants and shops. From here you can also book the hiking tour up to the volcano crater. San Vicenzo is the epicentre of the tourism industry of the region, so you can imagine the stream of tourists swamping the streets.
If you like to stay overnight and like a more quiet place, you can take a boat to the other side of the island to Ginostra, which is more authentic and less touristic.
After our free time on the island our boat left just before sunset time. We saw some local fishermen coming back with some big catch and circled around the lighthouse rock close to the island before we cruised to the northern side of Stromboli in order to observe the eruption.
This side of the volcano is called the Sciara del Fuoco (=stream of fire), a horseshoe-shaped depression created by several collapses of the crater. It is really stunning and you will be torn between taking the best shot or just observing this fire spectacle.
The boat returned in the dark then to Tropea.
Learn how to speak Italian
Also in my to-do list in Tropea would be to take some Italian lessons, so that you can connect better to your beautiful host country. The charming Professore Pasquale Negro is offering this service with lots of ambition to tourists staying in Tropea. He won´t charge you anything for this, but of course some small donation for his efforts would be appreciated. You can connect with him on firstname.lastname@example.org (www.sprichmitpasquale.org).
For the sportive ones among you
There are various kind of sportive activities with some adventurous touch as well on offer. Like for example:
Admire the stunning coastline of Calabria from a birds eye view with a tandem paraglide www.paraglidingtropea.com or www.adrenaline-hunter.com (on this website you can book worldwide your adrenaline filled adventures).
Explore off-road tracks with a Quad www.capoquad.it
Push the pedals and go mountain biking www.bike-calabria.com
Go under water with the Tropea Diving Center (www.tropeasub.it)
There are so many restaurants in Tropea, but a lot of them I would rather consider as tourist traps with overpriced food and low quality. Some places that we had tried, you can see below. They were all ok I would say, but nothing really outstanding. In the main season I would recommend to do a reservation in advance.
In general best to eat in this area are all fish based dishes as well as some delicious Calabrian starters like the pecorino des poro (special cheese) or the Nduja (a spicy, spreadable pork salume). In most of the dishes in Tropea and around you will also find the famous red onions.
La Lamia / Largo Vulcano 6 (check them on FB, as their website is obviously not working) – good Italian food and nice ambiance, however long waiting time and unfriendly service.
L´Arca / Largo S. Giuseppe – was the recommendation of our host Anna. You can expect good Pizzas there.
Osteria del Pescatore / Via del Monte 7 – my personal favorite in Tropea, very cute family owned restaurant in a quiet side street. Delicious fish dishes and very friendly service.
July/August – Red Onion Festival, which is one of the most popular festivals of the region. It celebrates the favourite ingredient of the local cuisine, the famous red onion. So expect an extensive culinary explosion on this festival (www.italybyevents.com/en/events/calabria/tropea-red-onion)
September – Tropea Blues Festival, this music extravaganza is well known even outside of the region and attracts visitors from all over Italy (www.tropeablues.com).
Stop 3 Amalfi Coast
Tropea was the turning point of our Italian Roadtrip. So after some awesome days in Calabria we made up our way north again. Next stop is one of Italy´s most famous region – the celebrity coast of Amalfi.
En-route we just did a small stop in the picturesque north Calabrian village of Castro-Villari.
Highways on this side of Italy are very good, so we reached Salerno quickly. This unspectacular port city is the entry gate to the unique landscapes of the Amalfi coast. From there the stunning coastal road starts. If you are the driver, well you will have some scary time ahead as this road is really super narrow and in the main season cars will be parked all along the way and huge tourist busses will try to make their way through this chaos as well. We had more than one time situations, where there were just millimetres between my car and the others. And well, if you are in the lucky position not to be the driver – just sit back and enjoy that real amazing panorama.
Another big issue in the summer season is – PARKING. Mission impossible. Between Salerno and Amalfi I tried to find some place to stop for lunch – unbelievable, but it was really impossible as there was not one single parking stop left. Therefore choose your accommodation wisely when you travel by car – only choose hotels which offer private parking (it will come with a high price tag, but believe me this investment is worth it). Once reached leave your car there for your whole stay and then use public busses and even better the shuttle boat services (amazing views from the sea side!) – it will save you a lot of stress!
We chose a small B&B five minutes’ drive away from Amalfi – l´Antico Borgo dei Limone (www.anticoborgodeilimoni.com). The location and view are spectacular, high above the sea level. Parking was available, but honestly I am not sure if it is sufficient if all rooms are occupied.
The B&B is set within a lemon tree garden and our room was small, but very clean. It is worth to spend the extra money here for rooms with a sea view, ours was a bit dark and towards the mountain side.
The place is really lovely, however unfortunately it is not very well managed. Somehow we felt a bit neglected over there and the breakfast was the poorest from the whole trip. No problem that only few items were available, but at least they should be fresh then and well presented, which was not the case here. It´s a shame as the breakfast room would be such a lovely place with views over the Mediterranean sea. I hope they will be able to manage this better in the future.
Another option if you like your accommodation directly in the centre of Amalfi would be the small and cosy Hotel Amalfi (www.hamalfi.it).
From our hotel we had a shuttle bus close by to descend into the charming town of Amalfi. Well, charming as long as you erase all the hordes of tourists around.
In the heart of the centre stands the Sant Andrea cathedral with its amazing byzantine facade.
Also famous in Amalfi and the whole area are products made from lemon – of course foremost the Limoncello liquor, which is also a very nice souvenir to bring home as it is often filled into very decorative bottles. Then you have all other products made out of or with lemon like soaps, cremes, chocolates and so on. A nice place for some “lemon shopping” would be for example the Antichi Sapori d´Amalfi (www.antichisaporidamalfi.it)
A boat cruise is the best option to experience the dramatic natural setting of this coastline. Steep cliffs, green mountains and picturesque villages, which are clinging to the rocks. Spectacular, overwhelming and unique. No wonder that the worldwide jetset has choosen this little stretch of Italy for their annual summer hotspot.
For the boat trips you can choose from many options. There are kind of shuttle boats along the coast, which are connecting all main villages, so you can hop on and off wherever you want. Other operators are offering day tours with swimming stops and lunch or the popular sunset cruises. Another must-do if you are staying for longer in this area is a cruise to the famous Capri Island that sits just opposite.
Is the second real famous village after Amalfi on this coast and in my opinion the most picturesque.
The restaurants along the beach promenade are perfect for a relaxed lunch or dinner and in between you can wander around the narrow streets filled with many shops and street artists.
Positano would be also a very nice spot for an overnight and like in Amalfi you have a great choices of B&B´s and hotels. Of course due to its popularity the prices are skyrocketing here in summer. If you like to sleep with style you can book yourself for example into the Palazzo Murat (www.palazzomurat.it).
For a dip in the sea you can use the public beach right in front of the centre or for another option you can take the small coastal walk beside the harbour to reach another nice swimming bay.
Of course all the restaurants around this coast are touristic and therefore expansive.
However if you like to be a bit away from the main tourist street you can have a dinner at the La Perla Ristorante e Pizzeria (Salita Truglio 5), which is nestled in a small side street in Amalfi.
In Positano it is all about to see and be seen – nice place for some celebrity spotting along with some culinary delights would be the Ristorante Chez Black (www.chezblack.it). A bit more hidden away and with super nice views of the Mediterranean sea is the Lo Guarracino (www.loguarracinopositano.it).
Ravello Festival – this music extravaganza is the best known event of the area and tickets should be purchased long time in advance www.ravellofestival.com
As in all Italian cities the 15th of August is the most famous public holiday – however at the Amalfi coast the fireworks are some of the most spectacular ones in this unique coastal setting.
A nice festival to visit is also the Gusta Minori in the same named town. This festival is a charming blend of art, culture, theatre and cuisine and you will get to taste many of the delicious traditional food of Minori and the whole Amalfi coast www.travelamalfi.com
Stop 4 Terni
After two days we left this beautiful coast and travelled further north, passing some of the major Italian tourist hubs like Napoli with the Vesuv volcano or Rome, the capital of Italy. All very interesting places as well, however not on our travel map this time.
Our destination for today was a more unknow little town – Terni, in the heart of the Umbrian region. The town itself is nothing special – located in the plain of the Nera river it has an industrial history and is still nicknamed the “Steel City”. So why did I chose this city then for a stop on our tour? Because some time ago in my beloved Atlas Obscura calendar (www.atlasobscura.com) I read that close to Terni you can visit the tallest man-made waterfalls in the world!!! Never heard about them?? Same like me …..so let´s find out.
But first to our accommodation, which I found again on www.booking.com and which was a real nice choice. Same as our accommodation in Rossano it was an Agriturismo place – means in a farmhouse. However this time it was much more modern. The Domus Umbra (www.domusumbra.com) is a bit difficult to find as it is hidden away in vast fields of olive trees.
But once your navigation has guided you there – you will have fantastic views over the Terni plain – which are best enjoyed from the Infinity Pool. Yes, it´s Agriturismo but with all comfort.
The friendly owner Gianmaria welcomed us warmly upon arrival and guided us to our spacious apartment room inclusive of a kitchenette. Best was the view from the balcony. We also got some juice and muffins as a welcome snack. Breakfast the next day was nice as well.
So despite its remoteness the Domus Umbra is really a place to recommend for some nice countryside holidays.
The main thing to do here as previously mentioned is to visit the tallest man-made waterfalls – the Cascata delle Marmore or Marmora Falls, which were originally created by the Romans. Its source is a portion of the waters of the river Velino, the other portion flows into a hydroelectric powerplant.
The funny fact is that this waterfall is switched on and off to satisfy the needs of the visiting tourists as well as those of the powerplant. So check the public schedule before visiting. Also at night the waterfall will be switched on for some hours, which is a spectacle as well as the waterfall will be enlightened in different colours then (www.cascatadellemarmore.info).
Once you purchase your entry ticket at the main parking lot, you follow the signs to the entry gate. At the bottom of the waterfall you will find a small snack restaurant and souvenir shop. Along on side of the fall you have different trekking route options – one will bring you up until the top of the waterfall. Be careful there as the ground is slippery and be aware that you will get wet as well.
Ok they are not the Niagara Falls, but worth a visit if you are in the area!
I Ribelli di Campagna (www.iribellidicampagna.it) is a nice countryside restaurant close to the waterfalls. It was recommended by our host especially for grilled meat of all kinds and we were definitely not disappointed.
Stop 5 Arezzo
If you stay longer at the Domus Umbra also the whole area around is worth to explore. We however only did a quick drive-through, continuing our way up north.
We did two stops en route.
First one was in Spoleto, which is one of Umbria´s most fascinating art towns. Located at the foot of the Apennine hills it has a wealth of history, varied cultural heritage and important art events to offer.
The restored Roman Theatre hosts many different stage performances during the summer month. The Cattedrale di S. Maria Assunta has a porticoed facade embellished by a mosaic. On a walk through the city you will find many further historical buildings and monuments. It feels like a walk back in time.
One of the main sights of the city is also the massive fortress, Rocca Albornoziana – which can be partly visited (www.umbriatourism.it).
Second stop on our today´s drive was Perugia – the capital of Umbria. Perugia is well-known for its massive medieval defensive walls around the Old Centre plus its many historical buildings like the Priori Palace and the marble Fontana Maggiore fountain on the main square.
Today the city is also a very lively university city filled with students coming from all over the country. Therefore you find a huge variety of bars and restaurants around town. As the Old Town is located up on a hill you can use electrical stairs to reach from the lower to the upper city. The sportive ones among you will take the normal steps of course 😊
Lunch we had in a nice restaurant close to the main square, La Pasteria di Perugia (Via Baldo 5) – good for some delicious pasta lunch – hello carbs!
Further culinary suggestion in Perugia would be the Antica Porchetteria (Piazza Matteotti Chiosco) for the famous savory and fatty pork roast. A must-try speciality for all the non-vegetarians among you.
Then we reached our stop for today Arezzo.
This medieval looking town is located in Tuscany and is often overseen by tourists for its more popular neighbours. However a visit of Arezzo is a walk back in time and the city has some excellent restaurants and nice small shops on offer.
We booked ourselves into the Minerva Hotel (www.hotel-minerva.it), outside of the ancient city walls, but easy to reach and with free parking. The hotel is a quite ugly block building and has an old fashioned ambiance inside. Nevertheless the room and especially the bath room were spacious and saw some recent renovations. We were accommodated on a higher floor, which felt quite lofty and breakfast was up to common Italian standards as well. For a short stay it is a good option as it is also in walking distance to the historic town centre.
Would be mainly a walk through the ancient street of the Old Town. Don`t miss the Piazza Grande in the heart of Arezzo, which is one of the most picturesque piazzas in Italy due to the surrounding buildings from different periods. On one side you have the splendid Palazzo delle Logge, whereas opposite you can see some medieval stone buildings. Together they appear like the back drop of a historical theatre stage.
In Arezzo you can find some real authentic Osterias (typical Italian restaurants where mainly wine and some local specialty dishes are served).
Antica Osteria l´Agania (www.agania.it), Porca Vacca (www.porcavacca.net) or Chiantineria Arezzo (www.anticabottegatoscana.it).
Giostra del Saracino – this historic event is held twice a year in June and September on the Piazza Grande and recreates the chivalrous competitions which are dating back to the Middle Ages. In this historical setting you will feel like part of a Knight movie (www.giostradelsaracinoarezzo.it).
Every first weekend of the month on Saturday and Sunday the Piazza Grande hosts also a major Antiques Fair, which is one of the most important of its kind in Italy (www.fieraantiquaria.org).
Another not-to-be missed event in the annual calendar is the Cena Bianca. Popular in many cities worldwide nowadays the White Dinner in Arezzo has a real special ambiance due to its historical settings (check FB event site for the actual date).
Stop 6 Verona
For our next stop we crossed through Tuscany and left again major tourist hubs like for example Florence aside.
The only stop we did was at the Fattoria La Vialla. It has been already some time ago since the retro-designed brochure of the products of this family runned business fell into our hands back in Germany by coincidence. Since then we are ordering delicious hand-made pasta, sauces and other Italian delights online through their website www.lavialla.it
Now as we were in the area we thought to pass by to follow the origins of the products ourselves and we were quite astonished as we were expecting some laid back Italian family farm business. Instead we found a well-organized countryside food product imperium. Visitors have to leave their car in the huge car park area and are then picked-up by golf cars for a short drive to the main building. There you can walk around the factory building, have a lunch (only with previous reservation) and of course buy their various local products including wine in the two shops beside. They even ventured out in the hospitality business and have opened some countryside chalets that can be rented for holidays on a weekly basis. I still like all their products very much and of course took a lot of them home with me, nevertheless I was a bit disappointed as the farm is too touristic and lost therefore a lot of its authenticity.