Choosing to spend your vacation in Calabria is just the first step in planning the perfect southern Italy vacation, but between beaches and mountains, ruins and architecture, your options are downright daunting.
Here is my idea of a how to spend a perfect Spring day in my adopted hometown-Catanzaro.
Calabria’s capital seat is home to 100,000 people and spreads across three hills between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas. It was originally settled in the 9th century by the Byzantines, but was soon conquered by the Normans and later fell under Angevin, Argonese and French control. Often referred to as the “City of Three Vs,” Catanzaro is famous for its impressive Byzantine Velvet, San Vitaliano-Catanzaro’s patron saint-and for the seemingly non-stop Vento, or wind, that blows through the city.
Catanzaro’s centro is often overlooked by travelers who use the city as a base for their Calabrian vacations, however, it is chock-full of southern Italian culture, charm and traditions and is the perfect place to spend a quiet morning in Calabria.
La Chiesa di San Giovanni sits on top of the tallest of Catanzaro’s three hills and overlooks the downtown area. The Norman church, originally built in 1070 was a convent, the barracks for the Amy Corp of Engineers and a prison before being converted into its modern-day glory. There is a museum attached that houses special exhibitions and an extensive balcony that leads to the castle’s old tower and offers panoramic views of the valley below.
Walking down Corso Mazzini, the town’s main street, from la Chiesa di San Giovanni, you’ll pass a plethora of boutique shops and bars, but some of the city’s real treasures are found on the winding side streets. The Baroque Monte dei Morti church, the Church of Omobono and the Chiesa d’Osservanza, that features 16th Century frescoes and paintings, as well as one of Gagini’s Madonnas, are all worth a stop.
For a mid-morning cappuccino or apertivi, stop by Caffé Letterario or Catanzaro’s own Lanzo Bar on the main corso.
Also on the main street, you’ll pass the Basilica dell’ Immacolata the Baroque church that features 6th Century frescos, paintings and wax sculptures and is considered by many to be the most beautiful church in Catanzaro.
In the early afternoon hours-when all of the stores’ shopkeepers have gone home for their daily reposo-and you have finished your typical Calabrese lunch at one of Catanzaro’s finest, you should head to the city’s seafront neighborhood-Catanzaro Lido.
Although you’ll find closed shops there until around 4:00, the bars along the lungomare will be open, and my personal favorite-Marrons Glacès, will be there waiting to serve their award-winning gelato.
Stroll along the lungomare, window-shop on Lido’s main street or sit and watch as the Catanzaresi people sit and watch you.
Before dusk, head the few kilometers to the Parco Archeologico di Scolacium, the Greek-Roman ruins that are buried among olive trees near Roccelletta. The most impressive monument is the Norman-Byzantine Basilica of Santa Maria della Roccella, a brick-red castle that beckons visitors to the park.
This was just a sampling, there are obviously many more things to do in Catanzaro. In fact, here is a list of 15 of them … just to keep you busy!
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