In the magnificent territory of the Calabrian Alto Tirreno, which is lapped by the Tyrrhenian Sea, lays the strip of land known as the Riviera dei Cedri (Cedar Coast). Of course, this length of coastline takes its name from the cultivation of cedar, a citrus fruit typically grown in the region. Thanks to the calm, mild and temperate climate which is not subject to extreme temperature changes, the cedar has found its natural habitat in this area and its bright green leaves form a canopy over the valleys.
The Riviera dei Cedri extends for about 80 km and is made up of 22 municipalities, from Tortora (in the north) to Paola (in the south) passing through the commune of Santa Maria del Cedro. There are also several mountainous regions by the coast such as the Orsomarso Mountains in the Pollino National Park. The area’s enchanting beaches are certainly not the only thing it has to offer.
The departure point at the southern end of the Riviera dei Cedri is Paola, a town arranged in terraced steps that descend towards the sea. Paola is particularly well-known for religious reasons: it is here that in 1416 Francesco Martolilla was born. In 1519 Martolilla became Saint Francis of Paola, the patron saint not only of this town but of the whole of Calabria.
The Sanctuary of St. Francis of Paola is dedicated to this saint, who also founded the Order of the Minims. This impressive building rises in the high and hilly part of Saint Francis’ hometown and houses some of his remains. Patronal festivities are held between 1st and 4th May and include numerous processions on land and at sea. The devotion to St. Francis is felt so strongly that over time Paola has become one of the main religious tourism destinations and one of the most important in Southern Italy.
However, if your main aim is to relax and focus on your psychophysical well-being, the ideal spot is slightly further inland at the Luigiane thermal baths. Located between Acquappesa and Guardia Piemontese, the baths are considered the oldest in the region. Their main attraction is the thermal mud, which is renowned for its therapeutic properties thanks to its chemical-physical composition and maturation process. It has a clay-like consistency (humus and mineral salts) enriched with "live algae".
But it is the Dito del Diavolo (devil's finger) that is the true symbol of the area: it is from this rocky spur that the most sulphur-rich thermal waters in Europe flow. A unique landmark of the Luigiane Thermal Baths, known as the Scoglio della Regina (Queen’s Rock), can be seen emerging from the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea. This tall stack is the subject of many legends and marks the beginning of the beautiful beaches of Intavolata and Acquappesa to the north and that of Guardia Piemontese to the south.
Guardia Piemontese also boasts a delightful village that has preserved the remains of its Waldensian origins and still to this day it uses the Occitan language. The village’s commitment to its cultural heritage is perhaps most evident in its alleyways which are named in both Italian and the dialect. Beside the centre is the Porta del Sangue (Gateway of Blood), which is named in remembrance of the massacre of the Waldensian minority in 1561.
Diamante is one of the most famous tourist resorts in the whole of Calabria. Its 8 km of coastline are embellished with a varied combination of sand and colours. The Island of Cirella, a charming islet rich in wild flora, can also be seen rising from the crystal-clear sea. With over 200 artworks displayed throughout its alleyways, Diamante is known as the city of murals. The town is a true hidden gem and is teeming with craft shops. It is also known for two other reasons. Firstly, it is linked to the production of cedar, thus giving its name to the most famous variety of this citrus fruit: cedro liscio di Diamante; secondly, it has close ties with another iconic Calabrian product: the chili pepper, which is celebrated with a festival in September.
Scalea is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Calabria. Its charming old town centre - arranged in terraces on the hill - has preserved the remains of ancient walls and picturesque alleys. Across the coast, the old town overlooks the new one which offers a wide range of hotels.
Heir to the Greek-Lucanian city of Laos and the Roman Lavinium, Scalea is one of the oldest cities in Calabria. It is situated in Cosenza between the hill and the valley of the river Lao, south of Praia a Mare, in the upper section of the Tyrrhenian coastline.
The city seems to be intersected by a single large staircase that goes up and down the whole town. It can be seen passing beneath the low arcades, squeezing into narrow alleys that barely allow a glimpse of the sky before widening in the more spacious streets and squares.
The town of San Nicola Arcella is a true corner of paradise perched on the edge of a steep 110-metre cliff overhanging the sea. The town is dominated by the ancient Saracen tower which is also known as the Crawford Tower after its former inhabitant, American writer Francis Crawford.
At the foot of the village, a small bay is bathed by crystalline waters with wonderful tones. This stretch of coastline is steeped in charm with its cliffs and caves, including the famous Arcomagno Cave which, every year, is visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world. The beach of Arcomagno, moulded by the erosive activity of the sea against the rocks, owes its name to the imposing stone arch that separates the beach from the sea. Awarded a blue flag in 2019, the beach is a true natural paradise surrounded by dense vegetation. It was formed by an opening in the rock that led to the creation of its small sandy bay.
Thanks to its role as a maritime harbour and port of call located along the main trade routes of the western Mediterranean, Praia a Mare has been known since ancient times for its strategic and economic importance. The populous village of Praia, home to farmers and fishermen, was built on the narrow beaches between the river Noce and the rocky buttress of the river Lao’s alluvial rich plain. For centuries Praia has kept the uses, customs, and traditions of the nearby native fortress alive.
In Praia a Mare visitors can explore the region’s other island known as Dino Island, an imposing rock spur famous for its spectacular sea caves. Praia a Mare is also the ideal destination for extreme sports enthusiasts who can try their hand at rafting and dinghy sailing or canoeing in the nearby river Lao.
A culinary symbol of Calabria, chilli pepper is not only widely cultivated in the region but is also used as a characteristic ingredient in countless traditional dishes. We find it as the main, perhaps unexpected, ingredient in foods such as jam, liqueur, ice cream or chocolate, but also as a basic ingredient in some fish preserves and cold cuts, such as the spicy 'nduja, a Calabrian spreadable sausage. There are many traditional dishes of this region where chilli pepper is the undisputed protagonist, for example: morseddu, licurdia, cipuddizze soup, cannaruozzoli (a meat sauce), frittuli, and mazzacorde, to name just a few. In September, the town of Diamante is transformed into the capital of the spice: the Chilli Pepper Festival takes place here every year which is organised and curated by the Accademia Italiana del Peperoncino (Italian Chilli Academy). The event attracts around 100 thousand visitors each year.
The origins of the Cedar of Calabria, of which the cedro liscio di Diamante variety is the most used, are ancient and are the subject of debate among experts. Today the juice derived from the Calabrian cedar is used by the food industry for the preparation of soft drinks and candied fruit. It is also often used in the region’s confectionery products such as creams for cakes and other typical products. In the Riviera dei Cedri (the area where it is produced) cedar liqueur and flavoured extra virgin olive oils are also manufactured. Since this fruit is considered sacred by the Jews, the rabbis of the different communities come to Santa Maria del Cedro at the end of the summer to hand-pick the best cedars. The fruits collected are then eaten during the Feast of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles, which is celebrated during the first half of October to commemorate the Jews’ crossing of the desert to reach Israel.