16 things you should know before travelling to Calabria (and how to deal with them)
I have spent 6 months in Calabria and I can only recommend to everyone who loves the original Italy to visit this beautiful colorful place. In my opinion Calabria is the most beautiful corner of Italy with the most delicious Italian cuisine.
At first a bit insecure about mafia and crime, I fell in love with Italy even more than before during my time in Calabria. In order to prepare you for a wonderful holiday without any unpleasant surprises, I have summarized the most important things to know about this country.
Those who book a package tour will be welcomed at the „Lamezia Terme airport“ by a representative of the tour operator and assigned to the correct transfer bus to the hotel.
The transfer time from Lamezia Terme airport to your hotel takes between 50 and 90 minutes, depending on the location of the accommodation and number of stopovers. Those who like it a little more comfortable and quicker can book a rental car, which will be picked up and returned right at the airport. I recommend an insurance with no deductibles! The trip from Lamezia Terme to Tropea by taxi costs between €70,- and €90,- one way.
Therefore: Those who do not want to stop at other hotels during the bus transfer and reach the holiday accommodation as soon as possible, book a rental car or a private transfer. Private transfers can be booked in advance, but here you have to dig a little deeper into your pocket (approx. €160,-/trip/car)
Calabria is one of the sunniest regions in Europe with 320 days of sunshine in a year. In the coastal areas there you find a subtropical climate, which means that in the summer months from June – September it can get quite warm. In midsummer the thermometer sometimes climbs over the 35-degree mark! In the mountains the climate is cooler. If you want to discover the interior of Calabria in May and October, I recommend taking warm clothes and good shoes with you.
Therefore: be aware that it can get very hot in summer. Whoever flies to Calabria in May or October risks the one or the other rainy day.
Most of the hotels in Calabria are located at the „Capo Vaticano“. This rugged and beautiful coastal area lies at the western end of the Tropea peninsula. (about 10 km distance)
Why is this important to know? A very narrow, winding serpentine road leads to most of the hotels. The big transfer buses cannot drive on these roads without running the risk of getting stuck. For this reason, the transfer bus will drop you off at the top of the road and the hotel shuttle will take you down to the hotel. As almost all hotels are in bays, unfortunately, you cannot walk to Tropea by foot, respectively you have to walk up to the coastal road and then walk the hilly roads (partly without pavement) into the city. Which other possibilities there are to discover Calabria, you will find under point 16 “How to get around”.
Therefore: for those who think it is very important to be able to walk to the city in the evenings, it is best to book a hotel in or very close to Tropea.
The currency in Italy is the Euro. The price level can be compared with the one in Central Europe. Here are a few guidelines for your orientation: petrol €1.30 per liter, scoop of ice cream €1.50, espresso €0,60 – 0,80, entrance fees to museums: €3,- to €6,-. A plate of pasta costs about €8,-, a Pizza Margherita €7,-. You can find more tips on restaurants under “Tiping” and “The cuisine“.
Therefore: in most of the hotels and many restaurants it is possible to pay by credit card; but I still recommend taking enough cash with you as the next ATM might not be just around the corner. The withdrawal of cash from the credit card is not possible everywhere.
5. Beaches and sea
From romantic bays to long sandy beaches. In Calabria every beach lover will find just the right thing. The beaches at the Capo Vaticano are mostly coarse-grained sandy, sometimes a little pebbly. The water is turquoise blue and clear. Some hotels have put big rocks into the water as breakwaters. These are optically not very beautiful, but they prevent the beach from erosion and give children more safety when splashing.
Therefore: those who do not want any breakwaters at the hotel beach should inform themselves in advance and have a look at the current pictures of the hotel online before booking.
6. Mafia and crime
For many the first thing that comes to mind when you hear Calabria – the Mafia. You can’t beat around the bush when it comes to this company. The “Ndrangheta” is active and there have been one or two incidents for me in which I suspected mafia involvement.
But! 6 months not a single theft, assault or other criminal events at my guests or me. Fear concerning the mafia is completely unfounded.
So, don’t worry about it. The uncomfortable truth is that the Mafia profits from tourism and it would not be wise to jeopardize this source of income in any way. Of course, as in any other countries, it is advisable to take care of your valuables, especially in the cities and tourist centers.
There are no prescribed vaccinations for Calabria, a small first-aid kit with mosquito repellent and painkillers is usually sufficient. If something bigger should happen, I advise not to visit a national hospital which, for various reasons, are mostly disastrous. The costs for the treatment usually have to be paid on the spot and can be submitted to the health insurance company back at home. The invoice should be in German or English and the diagnosis should be noted on it.
Therefore: I would recommend a good private international health insurance, which also covers the costs of a visit at a private hospital.
8. High season
High season is from July to mid-September. The absolute highlight of the summer season is August 15th when the Italians celebrate “Ferragosto”. Loud animation from early to late, full hotels, restaurants and beaches.
Therefore: if you want a quiet and relaxing holiday – avoid this time. June and September are considered to be the ideal holiday time for rest seeking tourists, as the temperatures are not so high and the sea has a nice bathing temperature.
10. The Cuisine
For me the best cuisine in Italy! Crispy thin pizza, homemade pasta with mussels and light sauces, refined with some pepperoncino. Delicious ice cream, ice-cold limoncello or amaro – simply delicious!
In a restaurant, you usually order “Antipasti” first – different kinds of cheese, pickled or grilled vegetables, tomato with mozzarella, melon with raw ham. This is followed by a pasta dish and then a meat or fish dish. Of course, the “Dolce” – the dessert afterwards is not to be missed! If you ask yourself who can eat that much – I don’t know either. Usually you are already full after the antipasti and pasta dishes.
Therefore: It’s best to order one or two plates of “Antipasti” which are placed in the middle of the table and from which everyone can help themselves. The original Calabrian cuisine is relatively spicy due to the addition of pepperoncino and the spicy N’duja sausage. If you don’t like it that hot, you are well advised to let the restaurant know. Those who order a cappuccino after dinner risk strange looks from the locals. An espresso is the only accepted coffee drink after a rich meal.
10. Bathing cap obligation
Believe it or not. In some hotels in Calabria bathing caps are still mandatory if you want to swim in the pool. Please inform yourself before booking if this is the case in your chosen hotel. If so, it is best to bring a cap from home or buy one at the hotel for a few euros.
Therefore: If you don’t want to wear a bathing cap – the most beautiful pool is still the sea!
Siesta is between 12:00 and 16:00 in Calabria. This means that at this time many shops are closed.
Therefore: especially those who rent an apartment without meals should keep this in mind.
12. Lying on the beach
The sun beds on the beach are not included in every hotel. Usually two sunbeds and an umbrella cost €10,- to €20,- per day depending on the beach.
Therefore: check before booking if the sunbeds are included. If not, of course ther is the possibility to lie down in the sand with a towel free of charge.
13. How to get around
Those who decide to take a rental car should best book it already at home; on the spot, the cars are mostly more expensive. An international driving license is not necessary. I recommend booking a fully comprehensive insurance without deductible. In the narrow streets of Tropea, a wall of a house is quickly striped and on the serpentine roads to the heartland, a pothole is overlooked in a second.
Basically, the following applies: parking places with white stripes are free of charge, the blue ones need to be payed for, the yellow ones mean parking is prohibited. Parking tickets are available in bars, kiosks or directly at the parking lot attendant.
The speed limits are like ours: 130 km/h on motorways, 50 km/h in towns. The drink-drive limit is 0.5.
City and country busses drive alongside the coastal road, this means that at the Capo Vaticano, you first must walk up the narrow serpentine road or asks in the hotel if the hotel shuttle can take you up there. Not every bus stop is recognizable as such! Bus schedules are available in the hotel, in the kiosk in the city or at the tour guide.
Therefore: ask at the reception about the next bus stop and/or where it is best to get off the bus. Bus schedules exist but are mostly guidelines. You should be there approximately 10 minutes before the departure and don’t worry in case it takes a little longer. To show to the bus driver that you want to get on the bus – it is best to briefly raise your arm.
The Calabrian railway network is pretty well developed along the coast. For trips into the interior I recommend booking a rental car or an excursion at the hotel or with the tour guide.
For example: those who want to drive from Lamezia Terme to the south to Reggio di Calabria can book their ticket at www.trenitalia.com and check the times there.
Between Zambrone and Ricardi at the Capo Vaticano or from Capo Vaticano to Tropea there is a regional train. The journey takes about 10 minutes, the price is about €2, -/person.
Taxis can be called at the reception or are usually waiting for customers at each entrance of the city. Taxis are not very cheap. For 10 km you have to pay around €15,- – €20,-. The price should always be negotiated before the trip.
Unfortunately, there are hardly any walking paths or pavements. The path usually leads either along the coastal road or along the beach. However, most hotels are in bays, which often cut off the path. Those who are on holiday at the Capo Vaticano or in Zambrone should best take the hotel’s own shuttle bus or public transport in order to get to Tropea.
A lot of hotels offer shuttle buses for a fee, which drive 2-5 times a day to Tropea and back. (depending on the season) Just ask at the reception for the departure times.
Everywhere you go on holidays – the same problem. What kind of gifts and souvenirs shall I buy?
Here are my recommendations:
Products of bergamot, the “yellow gold”: soaps, perfume, oil, teas etc. (90% of the world production of bergamot oil comes from Calabria!)
Ceramics: with these colorful works of arts you can take home a little holiday feeling.
Culinary: Nduja sausage, dried porcini mushrooms, pesto, a bottle of Amaro del Capo, a glass of onion jam, dried pepperoncino, a bottle of Cirò – the Calabrian house wine.
The national language is Italian (of course), many Calabrians speak German or English as a foreign language. In addition, many locals speak a special dialect, which is not easy to understand even for Italian native speakers. I think that Calabrian sounds great and with a little bit of concentration and listening carefully, you can usually understand at least what the conversation is about.
In Calabria, as in the rest of Italy, it is cheaper to eat and drink at the bar than to sit down at the table. Whoever sits down must pay the “coperto” – the place setting. This is usually between €2,- to €4,- /person and serves as a service charge. Nevertheless, additional tips are welcome of course, usually 5-10% of the total bill should be left on the table. It is not usual to split the bill, but the waiter issues an invoice for the whole table. By the way, the barista is also happy about a little “mancia” if you drink the espresso at the bar.