Ceraudo’s Insider Guide to Calabria, Italy
For the ultimate under-the-radar Italian sojourn, we’re heading south with Ceraudo founders and interiors aficionados, Emily and Victoria Ceraudo, to Italy’s toe of Calabria.
30 January, 2020
The London-based sisters, who are half-Italian, founded their eponymously named interiors brand in 2016. The initial aim was to source one-off vintage and antique items from across the continent, offering buyers decorative pieces at affordable prices. Running the gamut from art-deco lemonade sets to Louis XVI-style mahogany bouillotte tables and dinky, floral-print ottomans, its collections are full of "vita".
Venturing to the very tiptoe of Italy (along with the in-the-know Milanese and Roman set renting coastal hideaways), Calabria is a mash-up as beguiling as the antique and contemporary furniture and accessories that Ceraudo sources and curates. Here the pair pen their most treasured spots along the stretch of coastline that straddles both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas.
The best time to visit Calabria is…
June or early September to avoid the summer crush of Italian holidaymakers. It still has a summer buzz but isn't quite so crowded. If any earlier or later, the area will be very sleepy.
What's the best way to explore the region?
Definitely by car; there aren't many options when it comes to public transport, unfortunately. However, this does make the area feel a bit more special. Our first trip to Calabria involved a few train journeys, which was lovely and felt like we'd stepped back in time, though it wasn't particularly fast.
How would you characterise Calabria?
It's off the beaten track compared to the rest of Italy (which is why we love it). There are hardly any tourists and it's abundant with remote hilltop towns, beautiful countryside and coastlines, and simple but amazing food. Everything is also very reasonably priced.
What's your relationship to the region?
Our father's family is from a small hilltop town, Petilia Policastro in the Crotone province.
Must visit cities or towns in Calabria include…
Our top three towns are Tropea, Pizzo and Scilla.
Tropea is the most popular due to its dramatic headland position overlooking the volcanic island of Stromboli on the Costa degli Dei (Coast of the Gods). It also hosts a yearly blues festival when the town really comes alive. The town is a maze of alleyways, faded palazzi, little restaurants and boutiques, all of which lead towards a dramatic cliff face that drops down to the crescent-shaped beach.
Another pretty seaside town is Pizzo. Make sure you order the tartufo di Pizzo, a chocolate-and-hazelnut ice cream ball, filled with warm chocolate - it looks like a black truffle, hence the name. The THIRD must-see town is the beautiful small fishing village of Scilla. It is traditionally the home of Homer's sea monster Scylla who, along with Charybdis (over the sea towards Sicily), guarded the narrow Strait of Messina and menaced Odysseus as he sailed by. Scilla is renowned for its swordfish and it's common to see the fleet of boats arriving back to town with the day's catch.
The best place to wake up is…
Our favourite hotel is Praia Art Resort in Capo Rizzuto. It's in the next village from our family's holiday house, and has a beautiful private beach (which is like gold dust in Italy). It feels both beachy and luxurious at the same time, and also has a Michelin-starred restaurant.
What's Calabria's dress code?
Very casual. However, a Saturday evening in Tropea could warrant a little dressing up.
Food spots we should try…
Ristorante San Domenico in Pizzo and Incipit Restaurant in Tropea.
Must-try local dishes include…
It has to be a dish with 'nduja (Calabrian spicy sausage) as the main ingredient. It's becoming more popular in the UK, but we would strongly recommend trying it in its birthplace. Baccala alla calabrese (one of our Nonna's specialities) is a traditional Calabrian dish of dried and salted cod in a delicious stew of tomatoes, potatoes and olives. Another dish that is normally reserved for special occasions (we used to have it on New Year's Day) is Calabria's version of lasagne. This much more decadent version of the classic anglicised lasagne has meatballs, pecorino and provolone cheese, hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto cotto and no bechamel. It might be hard to find on a menu, but if you do see it, order it!
Where should we go for a low-key lunch?
The Ceraudo estate in Strongoli has a fantastic restaurant called Dattilo by Caterina Ceraudo (they are distant relatives). The restaurant itself is fine dining, but the overall feel of its surrounds is quite low-key. Its charming, family-run organic vineyard is a must if you are in this part of Calabria. Contact Susi (one of the daughters) ahead of your visit to arrange a tasting and make a reservation at the restaurant. The estate would be a beautiful wedding venue; it has a really sweet little on-site chapel and a few guest rooms.
Great day trips include…
You can do a day trip from Reggio Calabria across the Strait of Messina to Sicily. The ferry port is close to Taormina, which is Sicily's most picturesque town.
Local markets you'd recommend…
The antiques markets in Cosenza, Crotone and Reggio Calabria are must-visits at the weekend. There's also a specialist art market held in Soverato once a month.
Best places for interiors inspiration…
Peeking into some of the faded palazzi of Tropea.
For some culture, head to…
Stilo, Calabria's prettiest hamlet and recently voted as one of Italy's most beautiful places. Don't miss the Cattolica di Stilo, a small Byzantine temple dating back to the 9th century and home to 11th-century frescos.
It's also worth visiting the Riace bronzes in Reggio Calabria. These Greek statues of warriors can be traced back to 450 BCE and were only found on the seabed by a holidaying diver in the 70s - they're now amongst Italy's most valued treasures.
And for nature…
Head up into the Aspromonte mountains, where you can go biking, skiing or canyoning. It has incredible 360-degree views that stretch to Mount Etna and the Aeolian Islands. It's also home to wolves - you're unlikely to see any, but you can hear them howling at night. Aspromonte is one of the few areas in the world where the bergamot orange fruit is cultivated. With its distinct fragrance, the fruit gets its name from the Turkish word "bey armudu", which translates as the "prince's pear", inspired by its shape. Danny Boyle's BBC series Trust, about John Paul Getty's kidnapping, is filmed in Calabria's many mountainous regions and national parks.
Scilla's Costa Viola; it's all in the name. The water has violet hues at a certain time of day. Tropea's crescent-shaped beach is also beautiful, though it can get busy.
Where should we head on a Saturday morning?
La Castella, on the southern coast, is a pretty village with what looks like a giant sandcastle perched on the waterfront. The story of the castle is that it used to face the island of Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso was exiled in Homer's Odyssey, as well as the small archipelago (now gone) to which it belonged.
One place only locals know about is…
A very hidden Max Mara Outlet near Lamezia.
One misconception about Calabria is…
The fact that Calabria is a relatively unknown destination outside of Italy is a blessing and a curse. It means that it doesn't really suffer from misconceptions, but nor does it benefit from the tourist dollars it deserves. The region has an untouched beauty that is hard to find and offers a completely different pace to Italy's better-known north. It really is like stepping back in time. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="153116"]
A book to read before we go?
By the Olive Groves: A Calabrian Childhood by Grazia Ietto-Gillies.
What one thing should we bring back as a souvenir?
A jar of 'nduja or a string of Calabria's famous peperoncino. If you want a kitsch souvenir, find a ceramic chilli.