Calabria is a land of contrasts: sea and mountains border landscapes of unspoilt beauty amidst a background of different civilizations and varied expressions of craftsmanship, folklore, and traditions. The region has undergone a number of changes: it has suffered assaults and dominations and has also been an important destination for migrants. But perhaps the most significant mark on the territory is the one left by the Albanian community, known locally as the arbëreshë. Arriving from Albania and Albanian-speaking areas of Greece, the arbëreshë settled in Italy between the 15th and 18th centuries. Many of them took advantage of the advancing Ottomans to emigrate to the safety of Calabria. In fact, still to this day, several municipalities in the provinces of Catanzaro, Cosenza and Crotone are home to many of these Albanian communities.
Tourists in Calabria are strongly encouraged to visit the completely unique Pollino National Park, which, spanning over 196,000 hectares, is considered the largest national park in Italy. This green area is located in the southern Apennine ridge between Basilicata and Calabria. It extends from the Tyrrhenian to the Ionian Sea across rock formations of various origins among which the peak of Dolcedorme (2267 m) is particularly prominent.
The park benefits from an incredible variety of geographical features and fauna, including wolves, roe deer, otter, and black woodpeckers, to name just the main species. The vegetation is equally diverse and ranges from Mediterranean scrubland to high altitude plateaus. Rivers and streams, such as the Lao, the Peschiera, and the Argentino criss-cross the valleys as they carve picturesque waterways of great natural value into the landscape. Among these is the illustrious Raganello river, which flows between two rock walls which reach a height of up to 700 meters in some places and can be accessed by a long staircase of 615 steps. Every year, hundreds of hikers, and fans of extreme sports such as canyoning and rafting flock to Raganello Gorge. They are attracted by its layout which allows them to experience moments of pure adrenaline.
Papasidero is an ancient Basilian settlement. Perched on a rocky spur of Mount Ciagola on the left bank of the river Lao, it lies right in the heart of Pollino National Park in the province of Cosenza.
The surrounding territory has preserved evidence of a human presence dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic age, as demonstrated by the discoveries made in the famous Romito Cave. Visitors to the cave can admire the Bos primigenius, a rock engraving depicting a bovine animal which dates back to 12,000 years ago. Romito Cave is undoubtedly the main attraction for tourists visiting this small medieval village and is one of the most interesting expressions of the rock art of the Upper Palaeolithic period.
Papasidero is also the departure point for many exceptional nature excursions in the Massif del Pellegrino and Pollino National Park. The entire municipality of Papasidero is, in fact, part of the beautiful Lao Valley Nature Reserve, which spans more than 5,000 hectares along the river of the same name.
Stretched across a hilltop like a crib is the small historic village of Morano Calabro. Visitors can feast their eyes on the bursts of colour that characterise the village or can soak up the views of the Pollino massif, which can be spotted in the distance. By night, with its unique panoramic view of houses sloping down to the valley, the village resembles an illuminated crib. The Normans built a castle here whose ruins still embellish the old town. Numerous churches, town squares, passes, underpasses, arches, towers, and buttresses also adorn the town which recreate the bewitching atmosphere of an ancient but never forgotten era.
Since 2003, Morano Calabro has been named one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is also one of the main attractions of the Pollino National Park with which it shares majestic, natural treasures and unforgettable landscapes.
Located in a natural hollow known as Conca del Re, Castrovillari is surrounded by the Calabrian Apennines and is the largest town in the Pollino National Park. This charming medieval town steeped in art and culture is clearly divided into two areas: the modern part, nestled in a flat area, and the old part located at the end of a rocky spur, which is made up of the historic centre as well as numerous elegant monuments. From the old town visitors can take in the breath-taking view over the Plain of Sybaris.
Castrovillari owes much of its fame to the magnificent carnival that has been held in the city since 1959. In fact, the event is now included in the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism’s list of historical Italian carnivals.
The idea behind the Castrovillari Carnival was to combine masks and folklore which is clearly a winning combination as proved by the large number of participants that still take part today.
Civita, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, lies in the heart of the Pollino National Park and the Raganello Gorge Nature Reserve. The valley in which it nestles is surrounded by wooded mountains where the blue tones of the Ionian Sea can be glimpsed on the horizon.
Immersed in a unique and varied natural landscape, Civita is one of the oldest Arbëreshë communities in Italy and is renowned for its architecture and natural beauty. Walking through the narrow streets of the village you will notice the charming, whimsically shaped chimneys and the so-called talking houses, which are so named because of the human-like features of their facades. The old neighbourhoods, with their small houses, cracks in the walls and elderly residents who sit at their front doors evoke images of the past.
Arbëreshë cuisine is intrinsically connected to religious rites and is an integral part of the Calabrian culinary tradition. The dishes are heavily influenced by Mediterranean cuisine, especially in terms of the ingredients: dried fruit and honey, for example, characterise the desserts.
Simplicity and minimalism are the distinguishing features of this type of cuisine: in addition to classic dishes such as meat, herb soups and vegetable omelettes, arbëreshë cuisine offers recipes that are completely unique, which must be protected.
One such dish is Dromësat, which consists of pearls of flour cooked directly in tomato sauce. To prepare the pasta pearls, first the flour is baptised, then the pasta is blessed. Finally, a sort of marriage is celebrated between the tomato sauce and spices such as laurel and oregano.
Another well-known dish is the delicious Shëtridhlat, which is traditionally prepared by women. The dough has to be worked without it breaking to create a long thin thread that is rolled up like a loosely coiled length of yarn. Once ready, it is usually served with legumes or vegetables.