Calabria is the southern most region of Italy, the ankle and toe of the Italian "boot" – a rugged peninsula where grapevines, fig and olive trees cling to arid mountainsides, and where the immemorial sea crashes against the cliffs and beaches of its long, and intricate coastline, which faces east, south and west all at once.
Of the 10 million or so English-speaking travellers who visit Italy every year, not many make it this far south. But, Calabria is in the process of being "discovered" by the "inglese", so this will change, as more and more people from the UK and North America learn about this astonishingly beautiful part of the world.
To Homer, the Greek author of The Odyssey and The Illiad, Calabria was a far-off, magical and dangerous place, where heroes rose to spectacular challenges and overcame olympian odds. Ulysses and his crew, for instance, sailed through the monstrous pass of Scilla and Charybis, in reality the narrow, turbulent strait between the Calabrian mainland and the Island of Sicily.
But the Greeks were not the first here. They encountered settlements of pre-historic tribes, such as the Sabines, whom they called the Enotrians, or "lovers of wine". In this word, etymologists find the root for the country's name, "Italia", and we find the root of the Italian people's well known love of life.
Over the centuries, successive empires have invaded Calabria and asserted their domination. The Byzantines, the Romans, and even
the Normans on their way to and from The Crusades in far-off Jerusalem. Hannibal and his army came through, on the backs of elephants after sacking Rome.
The Nazis, supposed allies of the Italian fascists, hunkered down in Calabria in World War II, only to be driven out by the massed forces of the Allies, who pushed them north, and eventually back into Germany itself.
Thousands of years ago, the local people, no fools, removed themselves from the vulnerable coastal areas to the mountain tops, where they built improbable towns and villages in mountain canyons and on mountain peaks, making conquest difficult, and sometimes impossible. There they scratched out a living on small farms, growing figs, olive and lemon trees, tending to small herds of goat and sheep. They mined the streams and rivers for gold. They carved roads and trails, which are in use even now.
For millenia, the people here have made pottery, spun wool, knitted plain garments. They've milked their goats, made bread, rolled pasta, fermented wine and distilled limoncello, a sweet lemon aperitif. They have gone about their business, shop-keeping, worshipping in their numerous churches and duomos, and observing holy days and feast days around the year with pious gusto.
And they do all of this today, a self-sufficient, self-reliant, practical, stubborn, no nonsense people whom other Italians say are "testa dura" - hard headed.
In ancient times, there were periods when Calabria could boast wealth and importance, but by the end of the 16th century, Calabria fell into decline, its people some of the poorest in all Italy. Their poverty propelled the mass emigration of the late 19th and early 20th century, when millions of Calabrese came down from their mountain redoubts and clamoured onto ships that took them to "new worlds", particularly in the USA and Canada.
But now...Calabria is reclaiming its past glory and pride, tired of being the forgotten and neglected part of Italy it grew accustomed to being during the last 500 years or so and ready to transform itself into a premier destination. It's got everything going for it.
When you come to the "new" Calabria, this place which has been inhabited for over 3,000 years, you will be dumbfounded by its scenery - whether you stay up in the mountains, or find your way along the winding coastal highways, to Calabria's seaside towns and beaches. You will find resorts, hotels, inns, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, lidos and tourist parks, of every quality and degree, catering to people with small, medium or large budgets.
And once you've arrived, and settled in, you will have the opportunity to savour the hearty, tasty, Calabrese cuisine, all made from local produce, meats, fish and fruit.
It's true that the Calabrese are not quite ready for masses of English-speaking tourists. Indeed, you won't find too many people who converse confidently in English. Nor will you find many signs printed in English, or be able to buy English books, newspapers or magazines. But, so what?
Visit Calabria now - before the crowds arrive. You will get by with very few problems if you are patient and respectful, and all your needs will be met and you will have the vacation of your life!