Cosenza is the largest province in Calabria and its capital city, also called Cosenza, is quickly becoming known as the “Athens of Calabria” for its architecture, art and culture. One of the great things about this city is its location – you are not more than 30 minutes from a beach or the mountains, which makes it a great place for a “home base” while travelling.
If you’re planning a trip Calabria, we definitely think you should stop into Cosenza, and here’s what we think you should do:
Wander the Historic Center
As you make your way down its main street, Corso Telesio, the historic center doesn’t appear to be very big. But, along the way you’ll notice small alleyways and steps that lead up the different layers of the historic center which in actuality is quite large. In the middle of the old town is the Cathedral, built in a Gothic style in the 7th century. It’s presence seemingly dwarfs the tall buildings of the square it sits in.
Further along the picturesque Corso Telesio, you’ll come to another large square known as Piazza XV Marzo. This square is home to one of the most important theaters of the region – The Rendano Theater. It is also home to many important historical, political, and cultural buildings. Next to the square, you’ll find the Villa Vecchia, a public garden with secular trees, fountains and statues, which allows a peaceful place to stroll, read or escape the city.
Sitting at the top of the historic center, is the Castello Svevo (Norman-Swabian Castle). which dates back to 1132; although it is believed that the original structure goes back even further. After numerous earthquakes and the bombings during the Second World War, the castle was in shambles but thankfully a restoration project was set up which has brought the castle new life and has made it accessible to visitors. For a small fee of 4 euros, you can walk through the castle and get the most incredible view of Cosenza and its surrounding hills from the terrace.
Experience Life as a Local
Just over the river from the historic center, lies the newer and more modern city of Cosenza. It’s here you’ll find the pedestrian area, Corso Mazzini, flowing with locals as they do some shopping, meet friends for an aperitivo, take a stroll or just make sure to “see and be seen”. During the day you can enjoy window-shopping, gelato and just the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life in the city – making you feel just like a local.
And, as you make you way along Corso Mazzini towards Piazza Bilotti, you can admire a wide range of art sculptures that make up the “Museo all’Aperto Bilotti” (MAB) or the open-air museum. The statues from local, national and international artists were donated to the city of Cosenza by an art collector named Carlo Bilotti before he passed away in 2006.
Take the whole experience another step further by indulging in the “evening passeggiata” when everyone unwinds with a walk and chat with friends and family they meet along the strip.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine
Whether you are in the historic center or along Corso Mazzini, you absolutely must stop in to one of its many trattorias, cafes and restaurants to sample the city’s traditional foods. Looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth? We recommend going to the historic Gran Caffé Renzelli, located in the historic center on Corso Telesio just before Piazza XV Marzo, and asking for the café’s signature sweet, “Varchiglia alla Monacale” which was originally invented by nuns and dates back to the 1300s. The café takes great pride in this tradition, and they love sharing the story of this sweets origins with tourists.
If you happen to be stopping for lunch or dinner, than you can’t go wrong with a plate of “Lagane e Ceci”. This traditional pasta made with homemade noodles and chick peas is simple but oh so yummy! You’ll also find “patate mpacchiuse” on many menus in Cosenza. The word “mpacchhiuse” is dialect for the Italian word appiccicoso which means sticky. The name of this dish comes from the fact that the potatoes are sliced thinly and cooked in a way that causes them to stick together. The end result is flavorful cooked potatoes with a bit of crunch around the edges.
Cosenza is quickly becoming one of the must-see places to visit when in Calabria – it has something for everyone and allows you to get a taste of the old along with a taste of the new.
We will be visiting Cosenza on both our June and September Small Group Heritage Tour next year. You can find out more about these upcoming tours here!
If you are interested in travelling to Calabria and including Cosenza in your vacation, contact us for more information!