I love a great vampire story. There is something terrifyingly romantic about the undead roaming around seducing unsuspecting innocents into having their life blood sucked out.
It doesn’t hurt to have sexy vampires like Frank Langella, Christopher Lee, the amazingly talented and compelling Gary Oldman (my favorite) and even George Hamilton. These guys turning up at my bedside at night might make me start thinking that the afterlife could be an acceptable lifestyle change for a gal like me!
I also love our area in the Riviera Dei Cedri. So imagine my delight when I found out that there was a vampire in San Nicola Arcella!
Well this vampire doesn’t really live (or not live) there but she has been immortalized by American writer Francis Marion Crawford who lived in San Nicola in the 1800’s and rented the lookout tower that is now named for him, as a quiet place to write.
Crawford Tower is one of a network of lookout towers dotting the coastline of Southern Italy from which warnings were raised at the first sight of Saracen and Ottoman pirates and brigands back in the day when these things were a serious threat to anyone living along the coast.
When sighting invaders, the lookouts in the tower lit fires to send a signal to the other towers along the coast and to the towns, that invaders were coming and advising them to retire to their protected places until the threat was gone.
These towers were used for centuries up until the 1800’s when they were demilitarized and no longer used. Each town that has one now features it as an attraction like the Talao Tower in Scalea.
And one of these towers remains on a rocky promontory in San Nicola Arcella.
It was there that Francis Marion Crawford fell in love with it one day, left for a time and returned to his beach party with the keys to the tower in his hands, having rented it for his own use.
And it is in this tower that the story “For the Blood is the Life” was written in which the glorious vampire appears and just happens to be named Cristina.
Yes, this vampiress and I share a name but I swear that my teeth are ridiculously inadequate for blood sucking making it inefficient and extremely messy unless I am grappling with an underdone steak and the proper cutlery.
I am not “that” Cristina.
Cristina was a peasant girl who fell afoul of robbers. She subsequently haunted the area just outside of Crawford Tower sipping the life energy from anyone who happened to go near her.
The story is creepy but in his descriptions of the scenery and the people, Crawford gives an amazingly vivid account of life in Calabria in the 1800’s.
While “For the Blood is the Life” is a fascinating read, Crawford also wrote the story for the movie I saw as a teen that caused me to endure many sleepless nights. The story and the movie were called “The Screaming Skull”.
In this story Crawford details actual, real gaslighting at its most extreme but (spoiler alert) justice prevails. I won’t tell you how. This is still one of the scariest/creepiest movies I have ever seen.
Creepy stories aside, Crawford wrote many stories and novels based in Italy and gave readers glimpse after glimpse of life in Italy in the 1800’s as he was uniquely familiar with the social, political and cultural aspects of life all over Italy.
If you want to read some of Crawford’s amazingly vivid stories, you can fined them on the Gutenberg Project website, They are now in the public domain so you can download them for free. What better way to while away the time lounging on the beach in San Nicola Arcella this Summer?
Who doesn’t love Instagram? If you are dreaming of travel or just adding to your bucket list, Instagram is a great place to go to escape even for a short while.
It is lovely to take out your computer on a cold and rainy Sunday, and look at photos of bright sunshine, blue skies and fabulous crystal blue seas.
And for all of the above, there is no place better than Southern Italy for snap after snap of impossibly beautiful images whether in your mind or in your camera.
Diamante means “diamond” in Italian and a diamond it is.
Diamante rides atop a point that juts out into the Mediterranean and curves inland creating white sand beaches and gorgeous seascapes.
The historic center of Diamante (Centro Storico) is a beautiful blend of ancient Italian houses and tiny cobbled vias interspersed with spectacular views of the sea.
Diamante is also known for its murals which present themselves around corners and tucked into alleyways. A morning spent on a hunt for each mural is so fun as you wind your way through the town taking picture after picture to put on Instagram.
Praia a Mare, Calabria
Pete and I just love Praia a Mare. On a Summer afternoon, Praia’s shady, tree lined promenade down the center of town is a treasure chest of Instagrammable snapshots.
Praia a Mare is so spectacular that Pete and I recently purchased a property that we are now renting out on Air BNB
Calabria is studded with gorgeous little hill towns that take your breath away. each one has its own personality and charm however Tortora is one of our all time favorites for billions of Instagrammable views and sights.
Another reason to love Tortora is that our great friend Giacomo and his family live there and they have introduced us to their friends and family.
Any trip to Tortora must include lunch at Al Caminetto, a restaurant in the Centro Storico that is run by the extremely talented Roseangela and her family.
Roseangela is royalty in terms of Calabrian cooking. A meal with her is a feast of traditional Calabrian appetizers, freshly made pasta dishes featuring Chinguale or local wild boar, and freshly made ravioli with ricotta from the local farms.
While we were there, Roseangela gave us a pasta making demo which you can see here. Enjoy watching me mangle a fusilli. It is quite entertaining how she whips them out perfectly while I struggle trying to make something that might pass for a fusilli noodle if it is buried at the bottom of the dish.
I recommend visiting Al Caminetto with a big group and ordering a selection of traditional Calabrian dishes. You wil be amazed at the variety and how delicious it all is.
Tortora also has a beautiful museum where you can see artifacts that have been dug up in recent local excavations, including Etruscan and Ancient Greek artifacts that date back to the era of the Magna Grecia which encompassed Southern Italy.
Tortora is also one of those villages packed to the brim with Instagrammable images. Everywhere you look is something beautiful.
There is portion of Italy where you can see three different regions, Calabria, Compania and Basilicata. You can see them all from our Air BNB apartment on the terrace. In fact the sunsets from our balcony are all Instagrammable and they are different every night.
Maratea is just north of Calabria along the coast. Maratea is known for the giant white marble statue of Christ the Redeemer similar to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
This statue is perched high atop the hill in Maratea. A drive up there affords you the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean found anywhere.
The beaches in Maratea are also stunning as are most beaches in Southern Italy. The Mediterranean turns crystal blue as you journey down South.
Matera used to be called the Shame of Italy. Back in the 1950’s starvation was rampant as was malaria. Many of the people in Matera lived in caves in the rock walls bringing their animals inside with them in Winter for warmth. Carlo Levy, in his book, “Christ Stopped at Eboli” was the first to shine the light on the deplorable conditions in Matera and this caused the Italian government to come in, repatriate the people in better housing and to care for them.
In recent years however, Matera has become an artist’s Mecca with art and music schools popping up, and festivals in Summer. When we visited, we heard music around every corner from opera to jazz to pop. It was quite extraordinary.
Aside from the art aspect however, Matera is, itself a work of art. Made from the local white stone, Matera gleams in the sunlight and glows in the evening as the golden town lights come up.
Of all of the Instagrammable places I have presented here, my heart belongs to Santa Domenica Talao which is my home.
When Pete and I first looked for property in Calabria, we saw Santa Domenica Talao and that was it. We knew this was where we belonged.
Every day that I walk around the village I see new and beautiful instagrammable views, from the sweeping views of the sea and the mountains to the fruit laid out at my friend Nunzia’s store and the kids playing soccer in the parking lot. There is so much to take in.
We love Santa Domenica Talao so much that Pete and I have purchased a ruin just up from the piazza and a few steps from Nunzia’s store. It is a ruin and we are renovating it and turning it into a BNB so that others can come and enjoy our beautiful village. Check out our renovation project and follow us as we complete it. Then make sure you are there for the grand opening!
Santa Domenica is infinitely Instagrammable but beyond that, when you come you will fall in love with the people. We have so many warm friends there and have been welcomed from the beginning.
As you can see, Southern Italy is a photographer’s paradise. Start planning your trip down. Pete and I are experts in the region and can help you plan the perfect visit. Contact us and we can get you started.
There is something uniquely magic about Autumn in Calabria.
Gone is the white hot afternoon where La Pausa, our afternoon siesta, rescues us from the brutal sun of the Mezzogiorno creating a womb of dark, relative cool where no one expects you until evening.
In its place is the honey colored light that slants in sideways and bathes everything in a golden glow which gives our hilltop village an air of peace and magic around every corner.
Our village, Santa Domenica Talao goes from the quasi frenetic July/August tourist/service pace to instantly more relaxed as though life moved from Allegro to Andante the minute the calendar page turned over.
The village is turned back over to its residents while the evenings remain warm and long, and the magic light turns its houses gold.
After a long flight from San Francisco then a direct jump onto the train and a stop in Praia Mare to pick up my rental car, I finally alighted in Santa Domenica Talao.
Normally I stop off in Rome for a night to catch my breath but just prior to booking I had received an email from our architect, Antonello advising me that there was a grand festa happening which included several days of discussion about how to spread the beauty and flavors of Calabrian cooking far and wide. This news propelled me to Santa Domenica in record time as I am never one to miss a spectacular meal.
Calabria has really been moving forward in its quest to become an actual destination rather than a foot note in a guidebook which skips Southern Italy with barely a mention and takes up again in Sicily as though almost half of Italy, with all its culture, cuisine, wine and Produtti Tipici don’t even exist.
And one of the speakers last night brought up the fact that the fault of this has been lack of PR and marketing. He was right, How could you have all this wealth of amazing products including the freshest and most amazing seafood, the cedro, that misshapen citrus fruit which only grows here, and the Calabrian black truffles, and still go unnoticed.
In any case, the region has made a decision that the world needs to know about Calabria and her treasures and they have set out with a vengeance to ensure that the world is brought to our door.
Calabria has 380 unique products typical to the region. And its cuisine is second to none in terms of creativity and sheer deliciousness. Cucina Povera (Poor cuisine) originated here and celebrates the creativity needed to create the nourishing and delicious dishes with only a handful of the ingredients that they had available at the time.
You see, Calabria, despite her wealth of typical products, has not been considered a wealthy region for a very long time. Long ago Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia or Great Greece. It was a region of learning and culture before the days of the Roman Empire.
Somewhere between then and now, her grand Greek heritage had become somewhat lost and poverty took over.
Many Americans don’t realize it but the majority of Italian dishes that we consider “Italian food” originated here in Calabria. It was the Southern Italians who fled their homelands back in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s to find a life where survival was easier and where one did not have to battle the environmental extremes in order to eke out a living. And they brought their recipes with them.
The first night before I arrived in Santa Domenica Talao, there was a cooking competition. The judge was a local chef, Vincenzo Grisolia who has made a name for himself with his restaurant, Vigri, down in Scalea.
Scalea is right on the coast and perfectly perched to pull the freshest of fish from the sea and serve it to you immediately. Vncenzo’s restaurant, Vigri. is well known for local seafood and it is the place that I first tasted the most perfectly prepared, fat, sweet shrimp that I have ever experienced.
Chef Vincenzo Grisolia has spent his career presenting Calabrian cuisine to the world and had come to our beautiful village to work with others to spread the word.
During the forum held last night on our communal terrace that overlooks the Lao plain and the Mediterranean, we were treated to discussion about all the cuisine of Calabria and exhortations to not only preserve these amazing dishes, many of which are unique to each tiny hill town that grace the mountain crest of the region, but to disseminate them.
Calabria is a rich cornucopia of natural resources. Wild fennel grows everywhere, Cedros are plentiful and ONLY grow here, and the aforementioned black truffles fetch a fierce price in the markets all across Europe.
There was much discussion among the panel about the famous Pepperoncini festival in Diamante where you can buy peppers that are said to cure anxiety, cancer and even impotence.
The pepperoncino festival is one of the most widely attended in Europe and is a local success story that could be duplicated with other products and in other areas.
When Pete and I first started looking at property here in 2010, things were very different. There were relatively few public works that ever got started much less completed. Some of the areas around our village had an air of seediness to it that try as they might, the locals could not overcome.
Most recently the Italian government has seen the potential of this and other Southern Italian regions as a tourist destinations and has decided to handle the barriers that stood in the way. As a result, our mayor has been able to secure funding for projects that will create a demand for everything Calabria has to offer and it is all starting.
And Pete and I are so lucky to be in on the ground floor and see it all roll out before our eyes.
Last Winter we purchased a grand old building in our village just up from the piazza. We are working with the architect and builder here to turn it into a spectacular and luxurious BNB. From the moment we arrived here the first time we looked at Calabria and our village and decided it was a no-brainer to invest time and treasure to help push this vision forward.
This afternoon, I met my friend Bonnie for lunch at the Bella Vista restaurant. I ordered my favorite, Antipasti di Stagione (Antipasti of the season) which means you never know what treats will show up on your table.
Plate after plate arrived with fresh vegetable dishes, Patate e Pippi (potatoes and peppers), Fritatta, and lots of little stuffed and baked or fried things that I cannot name but are delicious little surprises that explode in your mouth with a flood of flavors.
For 12 Euros, we ate our fill and we both took the rest home for dinner.
It was a tiny microcosm, an analogy of our beautiful region and all that it has to offer.
Watch this site for culinary, wine and photography tours of the Riviera Dei Cedri, our beautiful area of Calabria. Pete and I can’t wait to take you round to all the best restaurants and wineries and for you to sit out on the roof terrace with your glass of Ciro watching while the village goes from gold to the pink of sunset and back to gold as the lights come up illuminating this amazing little place that is somehow stopped in time.
It is a place whose time has come.
And you will want to be the first to experience it.
You have been to Rome and seen the ruins and remnants of ancient Roman civilizations piled bit by bit on top of each other until they sometimes seem to blur into a vague category in your consciousness entitled “Ancient Roman History”.
As you whiz through Rome amongst the crazy traffic and high speed buzzing scooters, you can get lost in a world dating back to before Christ when gladiators were rock stars and Roman emperors and their courts were living, breathing reality shows.
You love history but it gets a bit crazed and overwhelming at times doesn’t it?
This is why you need to visit Paestum.
Nestled along the coast among farmlands sprouting olives, artichokes and the famous buffalo (mothers of the creamy delightful mozzarella da bufala that gracefully crowns the best pizzas on the planet) you will find an ancient archeological treasure containing the best preserved Greek ruins in the world.
Paestum not only features miraculously preserved Greek temples (The temples of Hera, Athena and Neptune) but is an entire ancient Greek city laid out exactly as it was 500 years before Christ.
As you wander this ancient city looking at the temples, the marketplace, the gymnasium with its grand pool, and the houses still containing the mosaic tiled floors, you can blink and suddenly find yourself back in that time period.
You can see the columns and loggia (columned walkways) bordering the government buildings and marketplace. You can hear the voices of the vendors in the market selling wine, fruits and vegetables cultivated nearby, and fish just pulled from the sea. You can smell the food being cooked to purchase and take away and the bread baked in the early morning hours in time to be sold fresh at the market later in the day.
It is a perfect snapshot of history still fresh although it existed almost 2,500 years ago.
Paestum was founded at the mouth of the Sele River by the Achaeans (from Achaea in the area of the Peloponnese in Greece) who had originally landed in Sybaris (across the Italian boot on the coast of the Ionian Sea) but fled from there in about 600 B.C and found their way here. *
Before the Roman Empire took over the vast majority of Europe and ultimately parts of Africa and Egypt, the Magna Grecia was in full flower.
The Magna Grecia started in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and covered much of the southern areas of Italy’s famous boot including areas in Campania, Baslilcata, Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.
Settlers from Greece began arriving on these coasts bringing with them the Hellenic culture, philosophies, agriculture and the basics of Greek civilization.
And Paestum was one of the beautiful Magna Grecian cities that was born at that time nestled within its defensive stone walls running along the banks of the Sele River and the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
A visit to Paestum today is a short and beautiful train ride south from Naples or north from Reggio Calabria.
From our village of Santa Domenica Talao, it is an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery as you wind your way along the glorious coast to the shady avenue that leads you directly from the Paestum train station into the archeological park.
As soon as you arrive within the walls that protected this ancient Greek city, you can see outlines of walkways and buildings and in one glorious sweep you take in the magnificent temple of Neptune (or Poseidon if you are an ancient Roman) rising up and glowing pinkish gold in the Tyrrhenian sunshine.
How to Best Explore Paestum
Most visitors see Paestum in Spring, Summer or Fall. At any of these times the weather can be quite hot and humid making it challenging to see all of the park and the museum.
The best way to see Paestum is to arrive as early in the morning as you can and explore the city before the heat of the afternoon sun chases you inside.
Take a break at lunch and have a fantastic meal at the Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose which is on the corner of the tree lined street filled with gift shops that runs the length of the park.
Normally I do not recommend eating anywhere near monuments and attractions but Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose seems to be an exception to that rule. We had an amazing meal with fresh pasta and fish dishes at a great price. The service despite the busy lunch crowd, was warm and efficient.
After your refreshing lunch, head over to the air conditioned museum to see the myriad of artifacts that have been unearthed and put on display.
It is amazing that these every day items are so perfectly preserved giving us a glimpse of a long ago civilization as though we were looking in the shop windows alongside the people who lived there at that time.
Beyond the miraculously preserved Greek temples and the historical snapshot of a bustling city, Paestum is a place that has a very special feel. It is a place of unrivaled aesthetic and spiritual expansion that mortal words cannot really describe.
In short, Paestum has to be experienced to fully understand the inherent beauty, not only of the remnants of a magnificent civilization but of the very civilization that sired it.
Southern Italy, the home of the Magna Grecia is a treasure chest of Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations and artifacts. It is also home to some of the most magnificent beaches and glorious stretches of coastline on the planet.
Super Savvy Travelers are Southern Italy experts. We have a home here and spend our waking hours exploring and learning about all aspects of this spectacular region that has been completely ignored by travel guidebooks and is only now being discovered by Savvy Travelers and culinary experts.
Call us if you want to visit this dazzling region. We will set up a trip that you will never forget.
* Historical data gleaned from Guide Arte”m Paestum The archaeological park, the museum/temple of Hera Argiva” and Wikipedia
Ok so you have arrived in Italy and by some great good fortune you have found your way south.
You wake up hungry and decide that nothing would be quite so perfect as light, crispy, sweet Italian pastry and a perfect cappuccino as you soak in the bright Calabrian sun just as the day is warming up around you.
Down the Mediterranean coast, halfway to Reggio from Naples you come to where we live.
Just south of the Gulf of Policastro and a short hop from the border from Basilicata you enter Calabria and her gorgeous stretches of azure coastline, magnificent beaches, dramatic jutting mountains and a culture deep and rich as the Magne Grecia from which it was born.
Little train stops dot the coastline, Maratea, Praia a Mare/Aieta, Scalea/Santa Domenica Talao, And Santa Maria Del Cedro. And here is where you will get off.
Pasticceria Arrone is located in Santa Maria del Cedro just along the train line heading down to Reggio Calabria. It is perfectly located to provide you with the perfect coffee and treat before or after your journey. But we have found that Pasticceria Arrone is a destination unto itself.
One early morning, my husband and I gathered our friends around us and made a pilgrimage.
Happily our friends Bonnie and Carolyn Oliver had their other sister, Barbara visiting for Summer so we all headed down licking our lips along the way.
Pasticceria Arrone is the labor of love of two master confectioners, Adolfo Arrone and Luigi Barone. Together with a team which they consider more of a family, they are dedicated to creating master confections mostly with the local citrus, the cedro (which is like a Bergamo or a very delicately flavored lime.)
Their dedication to quality transcends any wish to save money by using inferior ingredients and when you see, smell and taste the magnificent creations, you can tell that they have found their calling.
The best way to enjoy the creations is to go in the morning with friends, order a perfect cafe and a selection of cakes. Share them all so you get a variety of different flavors, fragrances and textures.
Although everything you try there is amazing, my favorite was the light crunchy phyllo type pastry filled with pistachio cream. It is knee weakeningly delicious and you have to close your eyes and “have a moment” with every bite.
Pasticceria Arrone makes cakes to order and every dinner that ends with a Pasticceria Arrone package coming out, suddenly becomes epic.
Pasticceria Arrone can be found at Via Orso Marso 3, Santa Maria Del Cedro. +39 0985 42577
On the Tyrrhenian coast and overlooking the Gulf of Policastro in Southern Italy, Maratea is known as “The Pearl of the Mediterranean” in some of the guidebooks I’ve read. It’s somewhat of a hidden gem; well-covered in many tourist guidebooks as a holiday spot, it’s much less visited compared to the popular mass-tourist destinations along the Amalfi Coast just a couple of hours north. Chris and I were both intrigued to learn more about Maratea and decided to check it out.
On a beautiful warm September morning, we left our apartment in Santa Domenica Talao to take the short 40-minute drive up the SS18 to Maratea.
Close to Maratea, we noticed an exit sign to a beach area, so we proceeded down to a small parking lot and took a short walk to a beautiful secluded beach.
We virtually had the entire beach to ourselves, and loved the crystal-clear waters and the surrounding vista of the Gulf of Policastro.
The SS18 then took us right to the Porto Turistico Maratea, or Maratea tourist port. We enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch on an uncrowded outdoor deck overlooking the tranquil marina.
We couldn’t help noticing a large white statue, with outstretched robed arms, high on a hilltop overlooking the marina. This is the Statue del Cristo Redentore, or statue of Christ the Redeemer. It’s 21 meters high, and was created by the Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenti out of Carrera marble in 1965. It’s the fifth-tallest Christ statue in the world.
Gazing at the statue over lunch, we decided we needed to get a closer look. From the marina, we followed the signs that eventually took us to the top of Mt. St. Biagio along an elevated serpentine road high above the coastline.
As we approached the statue from the front, it seemed to welcome us with outstretched arms.
Once we got close to the statue, we could see what a majestic work of art it is.
Walking along the path leading up to and around the statue, we treated ourselves to some breathtaking views of Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro far below us.
Level with the clouds, we felt as if we were soaring above the Tyrrhenian coast below us. Indeed, far below us we noticed a paraglider truly flying over that coast!
Directly in front of the statue is the Basilica di San Biagio, named after Maratea’s patron saint that it’s dedicated to. This church is thought to stand on the site of an ancient Greek or Roman pagan temple.
There was one more part of Maratea that we needed to see and that was the borgo, or old village. It’s a beautiful, colorful village, nestled up in the hills just above the marina. It felt very peaceful and quiet there in the late afternoon.
Driving back to Santa Domenica Talao along the SS18, we stopped to take one more look at the Gulf of Policastro in the setting sun.
With its beautiful beaches, marina, old town, and a giant marble Christ statue towering over it all, Maratea is an impressive village that truly deserves its title of Pearl of the Mediterranean!
Big Italian cities in Summer are lovely however if you go in August, you will notice that things are a little different. Shops are shuttered, restaurants would be empty if not for the tourists and the traffic dies down to a dull roar leaving you wondering where the heck is everyone?
Most Europeans have all of August off. As soon as vacay time rolls around, they are off and heading to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
Where do Europeans go on Vacation?
Since August is pretty warm most everywhere in Europe, they naturally head to the beaches and the best beaches are along the Calabrian coast in Italy.
As you take the train south from Naples, you wind down along the shore past Salerno, through the Gulf of Policastro and if you are a European tourist, you very likely end up in Scalea.
Scalea lies about halfway between Napoli to the North and Reggio Calabria to the South. As you drive or taxi from the train station to your destination, you look up and see the picturesque Centro Storico (Historic Center) with its tiny houses clustered together on the hilltop like shy children, rising above while the more modern area pedonale (pedestrian area)with its shops and cafes, stretches out before it like Mama’s apron.
The large street, the Corso Mediterraneo winds up and down the coast to neighboring resort towns with hotels lining the shore and shops and apartments rising up on both sides. Beyond the Corso Mediterraneo lies the crystal blue Mediterranean reaching open armed out to embrace the horizon.
Here and there rocky outcroppings drop into water so clear and blue that swimmers look like they are flying and boats appear suspended in midair over the sea floor.
And those are only a few of the myriad of reasons Scalea is Europe’s favorite holiday spot.
Calabria is the epitome of Southern Italian culture and charm but it was not always a well known tourist destination. In fact much of Calabria was very poor until recently.
If you chat awhile with the elderly people in the hill towns, you will still hear stories about days of hunger when the harvests were scarce or the hunting was unsuccessful.
Those days have happily passed and Calabria is starting to boom as a tourist destination not only for Europeans but also Americans as we discover the unspoiled beauty of the region, the unrivaled Calabrian cuisine and the warmth of the people.
The Old Town
Back in 2010, my husband and I decided to go to Calabria and look for a house. We wanted to retire in a little house overlooking the Mediterranean where we could immerse ourselves into a village and become a part of it.
We contacted a real estate agent who recommended that we stay at Casa Cielo BnB. I remember his words clearly “Clive is a great cook”, and that sealed the deal.
Casa Cielo is not currently taking new clients as Clive and his wife Kathryn have retired and are traveling and blogging. However our agent was absolutely correct, Clive is a great cook.
Casa Cielo is situated right in the middle of the Centro Storico Scalea just off the famous main stair case that everyone photographs when they go.
The little medieval houses huddle together and spill down the hill to the sea creating a gorgeous village filled with vias and alleyways that duck under houses and turn off into tiny stairs that wind through dark tunnels only to end with a splash of sunlight in a completely different part of the village.
Walking down any staircase leads to the foot of the village and, across the Corso Medterraneo, the beautiful deep blue sea.
Restaurants and shops peek out from corners in the Centro Storico inviting you in.
And when you get to the beach, the lidos lined up dotting the beach with different colored umbrellas, beckon you to grab a resting place and perhaps bob in the sea for awhile.
The Monday Market
One of my favorite things to do in Scalea is to go to the Monday Market. Scalea generally has a fruit and vegetable market daily and there are any number of produce trucks lining the streets at any given time selling fresh produce. From Tropea onions, potatoes to fruits and chili peppers, all the produce is freshly picked and brightly colored.
These you can purchase for pennies and create a magnificent dish with just a few of these fresh ingredients.
However the Monday Market is something else. It takes up a couple of blocks and is stall after stall featuring everything you would ever need for life in Calabria.
I love the One Euro tables where you can find great T shirts and even dresses for almost nothing. The jewelry stands are likewise filled with treasures that you can purchase for a few cents.
Bright shawls from Africa billow in the breeze and bathing suit and underwear stalls are set up next to hunting goods. It is a free for all and way too much fun.
Every time I go to the Monday market, I meet several of my friends there. We stop and catch up promising to meet for coffee or lunch soon.
The Surrounding Towns and Villages
Scalea is a large resort town but some of its charm is the proximity to other hill and resort towns. Seemingly every mountain top in the area is crested with a little hill town. Each one has its own character and charm.
Maiera is quiet and reverent. Grisolia is bubbly and welcoming. Diamante is well named as it is truly a diamond set next to the sea. Its beautiful promenade is home to fun shops and gelaterias. Its old town hides beautiful murals and mosaics.
And of course one cannot discuss surrounding hill towns without bringing up my favorite hill town, Santa Domenica Talao.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the Sweeping green of the Lao plain and the Mediterranean beyond that, Santa Domenica Talao is an artist’s Mecca where seemingly every villager is a master of some form of art.
Our architect, Antonello Lucchesi recently unveiled his spectacular terrace just off the piazza with an unobstructed view of the sea and mountains beyond.
Under the terrace is a stunningly beautiful loggia with different levels and perfect stairs that open up the lower village and make it accessible as the stairs prior to this were pretty brutal to navigate.
Our neighbor Rosaria is a master chef and we have been beyond lucky to have been invited several times to one of her spectacular lunches.
Several villagers knit or crochet. After lunch one day Rosaria brought out her tiny crocheted teacups that were so small and delicate that I was afraid to pick them up.
I could go on and on bragging about the amazing people in Santa Domenica but I digress.
When you come to Scalea, give yourself time to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Each is a jewel in a perfect Mediterranean setting.
Calabrian cuisine is just now being discovered by the foodies of the world. America has known Calabrian cuisine of a sort since the late 1800’s when the Italian diaspora brought an influx of Italian immigrants to the US mostly from Calabria.
Once they arrived, pizzas pastas, breads and other Italian staples appeared on American tables but they were adapted to America palates.
The cuisine in Calabria is unique. At lunch recently Rosaria told me that some of the dishes she was creating (I should say “crafting” because that is what she was doing) were specific to Santa Domenica Talao and that each individual hill town had its own recipes.
This is a treasure trove of magnificent new food treats for us to explore and enjoy.
From the Arancini (little rice balls, filled, rolled in bread crumbs and fried) to the ragu to the bacalao (salt cod rehydrated and cooked to perfection) Calabria has something new for every day of the year and I have not even touched on the desserts.
Calabria also has many immigrants from Sicily who have brought their amazing cuisine and especially fabulous desserts. Our favorite restaurant in Scalea is Vulare Sicillienne where we find pistachio encrusted sword fish, beautiful seafood pastas and the world’s most perfect cannoli.
The first time I arrived in Calabria our plane slanted in over the Mediterranean and I saw the stretch of magnificent coastline. I suddenly felt like I was home.
I felt like I had been on a long muliti life time journey looking for who knows what and that I had finally found it.
Then when I came to Scalea and finally to Santa Domenica Talao, I knew that I was where I belonged.
In our city of San Jose, California, there is a spiritual hecticness, an anxiety that I can feel in the air. Wherever I go in San Jose, it is there.
When I reached Calabria, it disappeared. And truthfully, until I visited Calabria, I did not know that it even existed and that I had grown so accustomed to it.
It was like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders and I was there in the moment to enjoy all the gifts that Calabria was giving me.
I cannot describe it other than to tell you to come and experience it for yourself.
I am the luckiest person alive, I mean along with my husband, our friends Bonnie and Carolyn, and Father Ernesto.
Why you ask? Well, not to brag but I had been invited to the lunch table of one of the master chefs of Calabria and right now I can barely put my arms around my massive belly to type this to you and that, my friends, is lucky.
No, this master chef doesn’t have a syndicated TV show, nor does she even own a restaurant. She has a beautiful kitchen lovingly crafted by her adoring husband Peppino and a kitchen garden where they grow everything from tomatoes to mushrooms, to herbs and a gaggle of happy chickens.
And happily she and Peppino have chosen us as friends.
A few days ago was Valentine’s Day so my husband invited our friends to dine at the Bella Vista here in Santa Domenica Talao to celebrate. That was a fabulous meal as Michelle of Bella Vista fame is another mistress of the kitchen and her pizzas and pastas are top notch.
As we ate and the wine flowed, Peppino leaned in and told me that this Sunday, we were all having lunch at his house.
I didn’t stand up and clap my hands although I wanted to, but even though I was mid a perfect pizza, I started thinking about what magic Rosaria might have up her sleeve this time.
The last time we visited was Summer and we were invited for lunch. Rosaria allowed Pete to take video of her making tagliatelle.
And I do not exaggerate when I say, this was one of the very best meals I have ever had and I have had some epic ones.
As she cooks so also does Rosaria instruct. “These are the dishes not only of Calabria but specific to this village, Santa Domenica Talao.”
And as she moves gracefully from the stove to the cutting board to the sink, some of the most amazing smells start to emerge. Her braided Calabrian loaves of the softest white bread filled with cheese and salami are almost perfectly browned in her counter top oven and they fill the house with a yeasty goodness.
A pan lid on the stove slides to the side revealing potatoes perfectly browned, frying in a deep pan, crackling and sizzling as Rosaria turns them over and over.
Another pan lid allows one to peek inside and see wild boar cooked with peppers in an impossibly delicious sauce.
And on the bureau in the dining room lie perfect fusilli, hand made that morning and resting before their hot bath and dressing with Rosaria’s famous sugu.
We breathe in filling our noses with the hope that the smell will make us less hungry because one cannot be exposed to this kitchen without becoming ravenous.
We sit at the already set dining table catching up on the latest news from the village. Peppino tells us that the village is a grand family and the joys and losses of everyone in the village are shared. He lists some of the events and we laugh and cheer at the successes and shake our heads in sorrow at the losses.
We chat while listening for the doorbell because lunch cannot start without Father Ernesto who has raced over after saying mass in Santa Maria Del Cedro to join us.
Finally the doorbell rings and Father Ernesto appears talking in rapid Italian and filling the room with his laughter and benevolence.
Bonnie and Carolyn tell him how much the villagers miss him. He was transferred to a nearby village for some reason and it has left a giant hole in the church and in the hearts of the villagers.
But finally we are all together again and Rosaria is at her finest,
Despite wild pleas for “piccolo, piccolo!” (only a small helping please) big bowls of home made fusilli pasta appear topped with sugu (sauce) made from tomatoes and an unfortunate, though tasty wild boar who was shot by Peppino’s friend and sold off in bits to whoever is lucky enough to hear about it.
“This boar is a young one” Peppino tells us as we savor the fusilli and slurp up the sugo.
Home made fusilli is the perfect pasta. It has a hole in the middle made by rolling it over a thin piece of metal such as an umbrella spine and stretching it out sideways until it forms a hollow tube.
Rosaria cooks hers perfectly al dente creating a delightful mouth feel in addition to the super fresh flavors.
Father Ernesto says grace and with a flourish and a giant Buon Apetito! he finishes and we dive in.
The table falls uncharacteristically silent as we focus full attention on the fusilli.
From nowhere bowls of bread appear just in time to sop up the sauce and clean our plates for the next course.
With the first dish handled, we sit back and in our chairs. Our stomachs that have been torturing us all morning are happy but we still feel the tug of hunger as we know round two is on its way.
Rosaria appears again with two dishes of wild boar. The first is a stew of tomatoes and cinghiale (wild boar) and the second, cinghiale roasted with peppers.
Again silence falls with only the sounds of happy sighs and wine glasses being refilled breaking the hushed reverence.
We are full and somewhat worried because we hear a clattering of dishes in the kitchen that portends another course. We think we cannot eat another bite until Rosaria appears again, this time with plates filled with fried potatoes, thinly sliced pork sautéed in white wine and a hint of lemon, vegetable frittata and sweet chili peppers fried up to a crisp like potato chips.
I pick up a chili to try it and it crumbles in my mouth filling my tongue with sweet peppery deliciousness and a perfect blend of salt and olive oil.
Suddenly despite the first two courses I am hungry again.
And again silence falls.
Rosaria disappears once again and emerges with a platter filled with individual rectangles of orange sponge cake filled with orange pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. it is impossibly light and so freshly orangy that I have to help myself to a big slice instead of “being good” and sticking to a small one.
Finally Rosaria emerges once again this time with tiny coffee cups and thick, powerful coffee perfectly sweetened to end the meal.
In case you have not divined this yet, lunch with Rosaria is a work of loving art unequalled by anything anywhere.
And the company is also unequalled.
Although we live far away and are gone for months at a time and although Father Ernesto is now watching over a new flock in another village, it is as though we were never apart. The Winter sun shines in Rosaria’s dining room and we are all together loving each other and enjoying Rosaria’s works of culinary art. It is a moment that seems like it will last forever.
And I think to myself “How did I ever get this lucky?”
And no matter what happens in the future and where I might find myself, I will hold this feeling close to me and never lose it.
Tomorrow I will go to the flower shop in the piazza, I will climb the steps filled with flower pots and plants next to the little fountain the runs all year round, and I will chose something very special for Rosaria.
To repay love with love.
As you may know from reading previous posts, Pete and I are opening a BNB here in Santa Domenica Talao. I have asked Rosaria if she would be willing to teach our clients how to cook her amazing Calabrian dishes and she is ready to roll. If you are interested in joining us in a Calabrian culinary experience, please write to me.
Italy is studded with many small towns and villages that are like hidden jewels, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid traveler. One of those gems is the village of Tortora, the north-westernmost village in Calabria.
The village is divided into two main sections: The Marina, and the much more interesting Centro Storico (historic center), nestled in the mountains above the Marina, about a 15 km drive from the sea.
It was the Centro Storico that our friend Giacomo, whom we met in the neighboring village of Aieta, introduced us to when he invited us for lunch with his wonderful family at the Ristorante Al Caminetto.
Al Caminetto serves delicious local Calabrian dishes, authentically prepared by Roseangela. We enjoyed our experience there so much that we end up returning to Al Caminetto with Giacomo and his family every time we visit Calabria. During one of our visits, Roseangela showed us how she prepares her superb ravioli and fusilli:
Tortora has a very rich history, having been occupied since prehistoric times. Excavations that took place nearby revealed stone tools dating back to 35,000 years ago.
Since then, the area has been occupied by the Enotri (the early people of Italy) up through the 6th century BC, as well as by the Greeks, Romans, Lombards, and Burbons thereafter.
You can view a collection of local Enotri and Greek artifacts at the Museum of Blanda. The English-speaking guide did a wonderful job of revealing the history of the Tortora region to us:
Wander the narrow, winding streets and you’ll encounter a number of small shops and galleries. We met Giuseppe, a local ceramics artist, at a small art gallery, and he then took us to his ceramics shop a short distance away.
Although a bit off the beaten path, the short drive up to the Tortora Centro Storico will reward you with beautiful mountain views, excellent restaurants, interesting shops, and a superb museum. Be sure to make it your first stop on your trip down to Southern Italy!
It is with light hearted and educated finger that I take to my keyboard today to tell you I have been taking a class on essay writing through The Great Courses.
I love these courses and I can study everything from mental math (Still haven’t cracked the cellophane on that one) to Latin 101 (Its coming along but I have a ways to go) and Renaissance Italy which I lap up like a St. Bernard with a bowl of ice cream.
Our first assignment is to write about a place we know intimately.
Of course our village, Santa Domenica Talao, Calabria comes instantly to mind.
Our village, perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mediterranean has been, until recently, somewhat sequestered.
Back in the day when it was not as easy to get around, most everyone stuck around the villages and unique personalities and cultures emerged in the minds and lives of the people.
When you go to Southern Italy and visit the hill towns, you will be struck by the fact that each one has its own unique character.
Maiera, which is close by, clinging to the hilltop like mushrooms on a tree trunk, is humble and reverent.
Grisolia, high above the clouds overlooking the shimmering Mediterranean is warm and friendly.
The beach resort of Scalea is untamed and a mix of cultures and colors, and our village is aesthetically beautiful, loving and playful.
One thing however, that is taken seriously by all of these different villages, is faith.
As any Italophile can tell you, the predominant religion in Italy is Catholicism. And although it is one religion, it has many expressions and runs deep in the culture of the tiny towns and villages all over Italy.
Our village piazza is dominated by a thirteenth century stone church that rises up in the middle of the village and, like a pin, holds the village together.
Babies are blessed there, young couples are married there and when someone’s journey ends for whatever reason, they are given over to God there in a solemn ceremony and then a sad procession up the steep road to the cemetery that overlooks the village on the hill just above it.
A villager has perished and the village is sadly diminished by one.
In the church, from a special niche, the patron saint of the village, San Giuseppe, watches over his flock.
Every year, in celebration of his day, the statue of San Giuseppe is taken from the church and in a loving procession is carried through the tiny vias and alleyways of the village.
The villagers hang their best linens out the window as he passes and the medieval windows are dressed up in their finest clothes for a celebration.
The statue of San Giuseppe is quite heavy and although he is carried by several strong men and jostled about as they make their way up and down stairs and steep alleys, winding through the village, he remains calm and unmolested.
He seems grateful that they are willing to take him out on a tour so he can see what has elapsed since his last sojourn, and happy despite the villagers thwarted best efforts to carry him gracefully.
When I arrived to Santa Domenica this trip, I had no idea it was patron saint day.
Nonetheless, my beautiful house looked pretty neglected when I first walked up after a year of being gone. So I got out a broom and a trash bag and started cleaning her up.
After much sweeping and digging the weeds out of the cracks in the stairs, I had her looking pretty spiffy. She looked like someone cared about her again and we were both happy.
My neighbor, a sweet lady, paid me a compliment about what a nice job I had done on the walkway, porch and stairs.
I accepted it and apparently had unthinkingly ingratiated myself to her as she thought I was doing it for San Giuseppe.
Later that day I was on my balcony breathing in the crystal blue Mediterranean when I heard someone yelling.
This person was obviously outraged and I wondered what could make any of our peaceful, loving neighbors so angry.
I came out on the porch and looked. The medieval houses across the via from me rose up to the sky.
The windows thrust open and heads thrust themselves out like a giant advent calendar.
I looked at the stair leading to my house and there, perched on the top one was a perfectly shaped dog turd.
Not just any dog turd this, but obviously one that this particular dog had put some thought into.
Not a dog to just crank out something and call it art, he went the extra mile.
It looked more like a perfect chocolate custard than a real turd but its placement gave away its true identity.
Yep, It was a turd, still wet and stinky in its freshness and it had been just recently been deposited
My neighbor was livid and I secretly felt that she was vindicating me. How dare this dog defile my perfectly manicured steps! How dare he thumb his nose at my back breaking labor!
Although, I thought, she is being a little excessive. I mean, I could just get a dustpan and handle it right there.
Every head that was thrust out of a window had something vital to add to the conversation.
My tiny neighbor stood yelling in outraged Italian, her shawl shaking in indignation and the Greek chorus of disembodied heads from the advent calendar were all singing in unison that yes, indeed it was a disgrace! Yes, an outrage even and how could anyone, even a dog (vile beast that this one obviously was) be so disrespectful?
The cacophony went on for quite a while and finally died down. The advent calendar lost interest and one by one the windows closed against the heat of the Calabrian sun.
My neighbor, still muttering went inside to nurse her grievance.
I snuck out and retrieved the turd and relegated it to the trash.
As I was idly chatting with Nunzia who holds court from her little market in the piazza, I learned that today was San Giuseppe’s day.
A tiny lady in the doorway took my hand in both of hers and talked excitedly about the procession, the music and the lights. Her eyes lit up like a child’s talking about an upcoming birthday party.
I had seen the procession of the Madonna Festival in Scalea just the week before and I learned that it was out of respect that you hung your prettiest linens out of the window as she passed, in her honor.
Later in the day I went onto the trunk of linens that had come with the house. The lady who sold it to us had left us all the bedding and linens when we bought the place.
I found a pretty bedspread and hung it from my kitchen window which could be seen by the villagers and San Giuseppe as they walked by.
As the procession began my husband and I went up to the church to watch the faithful spill out. The villagers had spent hours making special baskets with flowers and ribbons that they carried on their heads in front of San Giuseppe as he made his way through the village.
Then we raced back to our house and met our neighbors who were sitting on their porch watching the parade as it looped and wound its way through every tiny or forgotten via in Santa Domenica.
The women were crying with love and gratitude. It was quite moving.
And then I understood why my neighbor was so upset.
This was her saint, the one who watched over the village and whom every villager loved with all their hearts. This calm and beautiful wooden statue was a symbol of perfect love, peace and harmony. And they adored him.
Later there was music. Men, women and children were dancing the Tarantella in the piazza, the giant flowered tiles under their feet acting as their dance floor.
The steps of the church became seating for those watching the spectacle and the giant bell tower that wakes me every morning to the heavenly sounds of church bells watched over the village while San Giuseppe watched over the church once again from his perch.
I am sure he was smiling calmly as he always does.