Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Calabria?
I was born and raised in Oppido Mamertina, a little village on Calabria’s Southern tip, set between the Aspromonte National Park and the Tyrrhenian sea (you can basically go sunbathe at the beach and hike in the mountains on the same day). Although quite unknown, it has an important archaeological site, Oppido Vecchia, which, in the past, attracted a lot of archaeologists from all over the world. I would say my ties with Calabria are quite strong – I go and visit quite frequently, not only because my family lives there, but because I still consider this place my actual home. It’s where I recharge my batteries and enjoy life at a slow pace, I binge on genuine food and, most importantly, I get to see blue sky (the most powerful remedy to stress, in my opinion).
How would you explain that this part of Italy hasn’t been overrun by tourists yet?
It’s quite simple: unlike any other regions (take Puglia, Sicily, Campania, just to name a few in Southern Italy) Calabria doesn’t have a good marketing strategy: its natural treasures and tourist attractions aren’t valued enough and local admins have quite a sluggish attitude when it comes to providing an adequate experience to travellers and tourists.
If you had to point out one or 2 characteristics of this region, what would those be? What is different here?
Calabria can be rough and wild, sometimes – a place of primordial beauty and deep contradictions. Life here is still very slow, especially in the little decadent villages that still retain a kind of charm and authenticity that no longer exist elsewhere. All in all I would say, beautiful and contradictory.
What would a perfect day here look like for you, from morning til night?
It’d begin with my favourite ritual: breakfast with cappuccino and croissant at one of the quaint bars scattered throughout my little town, Oppido, or the surrounding area. Then, off to the mountain for a refreshing walk in nature before enjoying a traditional lunch involving pasta and green beans (a typical dish we call ‘fagiolini’) deep-fried courgette flowers, fresh bread with nduja and a taste of deliesi – a super delicious dessert with vanilla sponge and cream. After this super ‘light’ meal, it’s time for another stroll – at the beach, perhaps. Where to? Tropea? Scilla? Chianalea? Bagnara? Ah, decisions decisions! At night, dinner alfresco by the sea (rigorously fish) and then a catch-up with friends over a good gelato. It’s basically just about enjoying those simple things you’ll never find in a place like London.
And let’s not forget food! The is Italy after all. Any regional specialities people should try when going there?
Where to begin? Calabria is such a huge region and each province has its own specialties. The common thing, however, is that Calabrian dishes are quite simple and ‘poor’, as they all come from a peasant cookery tradition. Anyway, I would recommend: nduja, a very spicy spread you can enjoy with bread, pasta, pizza, eggs, almost anything basically (well, not desserts, for example); pasta and green beans (fagiolini), a very poor yet extremely tasty dish; pitta, a two layered pizza filled with tomato, mozzarella, red pepper, anchovy, endive and black olives; tartufo di pizzo, a chocolate and hazelnut-flavoured gelato filled with melted chocolate, deliesi, a dessert made of two layers of vanilla sponge filled with white custard cream; and then, pignolata, torrone, soppressata, caciocavallo, dried cod, figs, licorice, olive oil and red wine galore (Cirò rosso, for example).