Region of Honor Program

Over the years, NIAF has worked extensively to promote some of Italy’s most unique and rich regions. By 2013, this effort manifested into an official Foundation program: the NIAF Region of Honor. This program’s profound impact provides enormous visibility and is undoubtedly one of NIAF’s signature works in strengthening the bond between Italy and the United States.

NIAF’s Region of Honor program partners with one of Italy’s 20 regions every year, and is a marketing opportunity for a region to showcase its history, landmarks, natural resources, artisans, industries, cuisine and culture in an effort to promote tourism and economic development as well as to highlight the region’s businesses and entrepreneurs on the international stage.

Promoted Through Events: The region is highlighted at NIAF events such as the New York Gala in April and is the presenting sponsor at the Anniversary Gala Weekend in Washington, D.C. In addition, NIAF’s Board of Directors’ Mission to Italy, and the Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery program travels to the region to visit cultural sites and businesses as well as meet with government officials.

Promoted Digitally: The region has direct access to the Foundation’s members and friends via NIAF’s communications which include: its monthly eNotizie; feature articles in its premiere quarterly Ambassador magazine; weekly posts covering all-things about the region on NIAF’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts; as well as frequent press releases and email blasts.

Past Regions of Honor

2019: Molise

Molise is a mountainous region filled with rugged natural beauty, centuries-old customs and rich traditions that many travelers have yet to discover in southern Italy. Undisturbed by mass tourism, it is nonetheless where so many Italian Americans have ancestral roots and can find their family history and heritage.

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Molise throughout 2019

Molise is Italy’s second smallest region. Originally part of the Abruzzo-Molise region, Molise separated from Abruzzo in 1963. Yet, despite being Italy’s youngest region, Molise has a proud history dating back to the Stone Age.

The city of Campobasso, the region’s capital that’s a little more than three hours by car from Rome, is home to several fine-art museums exhibiting artifacts and art from the history of the Samnites, the ancient Italic people who battled against the early Roman Republic, to a centuries-old Campobasso procession representing the mysteries of the Catholic saints. The city’s churches originate from various centuries, and Castle Monforte, perched above the city in all of its splendor, is considered the symbol of the capital.

Notably, especially for nature lovers, the region is also part of Italy’s oldest national park, Il Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise. The park boasts rivers, lakes and mountain peaks, as well as hundreds of fauna and more than 2,000 species of flora. Its bountiful wildlife can be accredited to the Riserva Regionale Guardiaregia Campochiaro, under the protection of the World Wide Fund, which encompasses caves, canyons and waterfalls. Skiers, hikers, campers, and those who simply want to gaze at serene mountainous scenery, come to enjoy what the region has to offer.

Nearby, the town of Isernia is home to Fontana Fraterna, a must-see landmark. Tied to two historical figures, Pontius Pilate (who is believed to have retired to the Abruzzo and Molise region after his political career) and Pope Celestine V (who is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno), the magnificent fountain continues to gush clean, fresh water.

Molise has many other archeological sites to visit, including Altilia, in Roman times known as Saepinum, just a short drive south of Campobasso. Founded by Tiberius between 2 B.C. and 4 A.D., Saepinum’s ancient walls still surround remains of a theatre and other buildings, including temples dedicated to Jupiter and Apollo. Northeast of Campobasso is the town of Larino that was founded by the Etruscans in the 7th century B.C. Today, visitors can go to the amphitheater built by the Romans in the 1st century A.D., as well as the adjacent baths where mosaics of marine subjects and geometric patterns are still visible.

With 22 miles of coastline, Molise has some perfect spots to soak up the Adriatic Sea. In 2019, Campomarino Lido beach was awarded a prestigious Blue Flag (Bandiera Blu) for its standards for quality, safety, environmental education and provision of services. At the northern end of the beach is the Biferno river, a tributary that is a sustainable ecosystem comprising of pine trees and numerous species of Mediterranean plants and birds. Campomarino Lido is only six miles south of Termoli, a vibrant resort beach town that has a 13th-century fortress overlooking all of Termoli’s hotels, restaurants, shops and more. Beachgoers can enjoy the town’s promenade that gives access to explore the town and marvel at Molise’s iconic fishing piers, trabucchi, and walk along the coastline.

Molise is the site of a centuries-old custom that takes place between the regions of Puglia and Molise, the transumanza, which is currently being considered for recognition as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The transumanza is a traditional trek of more than 200 miles that’s traveled by shepherds and their livestock, such as cows and sheep, to reach two different geographic and climatic regions twice a year. Agriculture is an important component to Molise’s economy and the transumanza is an essential component to farming life in the region.

The agricultural products from Molise are of the finest qualities and some are exported around the world. Cheeses from Molise are renowned, especially for its own caciocavallo and stracciata. The region’s durum wheat production thrives thanks to the local and international demand for pasta. The 107-year-old, family-owned, pasta company La Molisana, in Campobasso, exports products to 50 countries worldwide and is Italy’s fifth-largest pasta brand. La Molisana is especially proud to sell fusilli and cavatelli, two pasta shapes that originate in Molise. Another famous Molise brand is Colavita, which primarily produces olive oil, what many consider to be the region’s liquid gold. The family-owned and -operated international business is headquartered in Sant’ Elia a Pianisi, located in the province of Campobasso.

Compared to Molise’s pasta and olive oil, its wines are not as internationally recognized, but some oenophiles think that may change soon. With its sun-drenched hills, Molise’s climate is ideal for winemaking and has had wine-making traditions that can be traced back to 500 B.C. Molise’s three vino DOCs (Denominazione Originata Controllata), Biferno, Pentro di Isernia and Tintilia, are not common in U.S. wine shops, so wine enthusiasts must enjoy the hunt to discover one of Italy’s best kept secrets.

Besides the culinary treasures of the region, Molise has a proud history of skilled craftsmanship. In the ancient town of Agnone, perched atop a rocky hill that was once a stronghold of the early Samnite tribes, a bronze-casting legacy of more than 1,000 years endures today. The Fonderia Marinelli is Italy’s oldest bell foundry and one of the oldest family businesses in the world. The Marinelli family is still hand-making bells from start to finish, using the same tools, methods and process employed since 1339. The foundry has been making church bells for the Vatican for centuries.

While still largely unknown by the tourists that flock to Rome, Florence and Venice, NIAF’s 2019 Region of Honor, Molise, should be on every Italy-loving tourist’s radar as a destination that has not lost its authenticity or natural charm.

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2018: Puglia

Stretching along the Adriatic and Ionian seas, the charming Region of Puglia is famously known as the “heel of the boot.” With its unapologetic, natural beauty, its stunning beaches, picturesque villages, authentic food and slow pace, Puglia is one of Italy’s shining stars. Like many regions in Southern Italy, the history of Puglia is a tangled one.

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Puglia throughout 2018

Due to its position in the Mediterranean, it was vulnerable to invasions and colonization. But as we know from other Southern regions, not all invasions are bad; all have left a cultural, architectonic and gastronomic footprint in the region making it one of the most eclectic regions of Italy.

From the Greeks who left a form of dialect still spoken today in the southeast, and the Romans who completed the Appian Way through Puglia, to the Normans who left their Romanesque churches like those in Bari and Mandredonia, the Swabian fortifications like the one in Trani, and the Spanish bold baroque buildings like in Lecce, Puglia has been consistently trafficked.

Aside from its history, part of Puglia’s past remains a mystery. Take, for example, Castel del Monte, which is not a castle or a fortress. Octagonal in shape and built by Frederick II, to this day we’re not exactly sure why he built it. Or, what about those “trulli” of Alberobello? The 16th-century, conical-roofed, stone houses unique to Puglia have mysterious origins with little documentation on their unusual design.

But the allure of Puglia doesn’t end with its mysterious past. The centuries-old countryside is home to olive groves, vineyards, fruit groves and wheat fields, making it the perfect place to eat farm-to-table, the trending way to dine nowadays though the Italians have been doing it for centuries.

Steeped in culinary tradition, Puglia is the land of the highest quality of extra virgin olive oil, Cerignola olives, taralli, friselle, Primitivo wine, DOP bread from Altamura and creamy burrata cheese. Home to authenticity, Puglia is a paradise for any lover of nature and food. Burn off all those calories by walking in the 900-million-year-old Caves of Castellana, a karst cave system some 76 yards below ground and the length of two football fields. The grandiose natural beauty will leave you in awe.

The various towns in Puglia are lovely, but you’ll need a car to navigate between them as they are spread out like jewels on a necklace. Characteristic of Puglia are small whitewashed, limestone towns like Ostuni and Locorotondo that will make you want to forget the world and get lost in their winding, narrow, quaint streets. Along the coastline are scenic towns like Otranto, Gallipoli and Polignano a Mare, where white sandy beaches and Caribbean-like waters meet the cliffs. It’s no wonder they say many people come to Puglia but only some go home.

From the countryside to the seaside, it’s Puglia’s rural simplicity and unconditional warmth that makes it one of Italy’s most unique regions. It’s a year-round destination perfect for the traveler seeking history, food, adventure, culture and above all, authentic Italian life.

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2017: Sicily

Perched at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, the island of Sicily represents the patrimony of so many world cultures, and a melting pot of mysteries that even the most avid traveler can never fully comprehend.

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Sicily throughout 2017

In his masterpiece “The Normans in Sicily,” John Julius Norwich describes the island region as “the steppingstone between Europe and Africa, the gateway between the East and the West, the link between the Latin world and the Greek.” Two centuries earlier, the German philosopher, writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, writing from Palermo, put it this way: “Italy without Sicily cannot be conceived: here is the key to every-thing.”

Today, this land blessed with fertile fields and sun-kissed cities affords the visitor an incomparable opportunity to engage the innumerable cultures, both ancient and modern, that have left their mark on her people, places, and character. Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Spaniards, French—all have lent some part of themselves to Sicily’s “kaleidoscopic heritage,” which allows even the most infrequent tourist feel somehow at-once a part of this exceptional place.

From the ancient Arab markets of Palermo to the Greek metropolis of Siracusa, from Messina and Catania, to Ragussa and Agrigento, perhaps this unique land can never truly be understood entirely…and that might be what awes those who are lucky enough to visit.

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2016: Piedmont

Nestled in Italy’s northwest corner, sharing borders with France and Switzerland, is Piedmont, or in Italian, Piemonte. True to the definition of its name, “piedi del monte,” meaning “foot of the mountains,” Piemonte is surrounded on three sides by the Alps. So, no one was surprised when this mountainous northern region was awarded the 2006 Winter Olympics…

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Piedmont throughout 2016

Home to some of the most iconic attractions in Italy, Torino’s skyline is dominated by the unmistakable spire of the Mole Antonelliana, initially built as a synagogue and now the setting of the National Cinema Museum. The city is also home to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, which houses one of the most famous Christian relics of the world — the Shroud of Turin.

Piemonte is also important because of its world-renowned automotive brands such as Fiat, Ferrero and Ferrari. But don’t be fooled, Piemonte’s allure isn’t just here and now. The region has played an important role in the history of Italy. Immediately following the Unification of Italy in 1861, the House of Savoia declared Torino as Italy’s first capital, which it remained until 1865.

As you walk through the arcaded sidewalks and cobblestone streets of Torino, you feel the aura of a national capital, perhaps because it also has a striking resemblance to France’s capital, Paris, with grand boulevards, palaces and elegant palazzi, beautiful churches, and decorative lampposts — lots of them. But don’t think Torino’s architecture is all French. In fact, although the region was briefly under Napoleonic rule, when it came to build the royal palaces and royal residences in true Baroque style, Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoia called on his favorite architect, Filippo Juvarra, from Messina, Sicily, and known simply as Juvarra.

Take a drive a few miles outside the city and you’ll come across the grandiose hunting residence of the Royal Savoia Family, also known as La Venaria Reale. With a striking resemblance to the Palace of Versailles and the Reggia di Caserta, the not-so modest Baroque residence is complete with extravagant ballrooms, ornate stucco work, and extensive gardens, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Juvarra has his fingerprints all over the blueprints.

Aside from the beautiful architecture the city of Torino offers, the region of Piemonte plays an important role in the world of wine. When it comes to oenology, if Tuscany is queen, Piemonte is king. This is wine country at its best, the home to vineyards that produce the noble nebbiolo grape, among others, and make three of the world’s most admired red wines, Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera. The list goes on and on. With more than 58 DOC and DOCG zones, Piemonte has the highest percentage of classified wines in all of Italy.

No glass of wine is complete without an exquisite meal, and the Piemontese know how to prepare one. Piemonte is one of Italy’s gastronomical capitals. Agriculture thrives in this region — home to the earthy delicacy, the white truffles of Alba, plus dozens of local cheeses and rice — and lots of it. In fact, Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe and it’s all thanks to the abundant water supply from the Po River in the area known as the Langhe, where rice paddies are à go-go.

Food is so key to the local culture of Piemonte that the upward trending Slow Food Movement was born in 1989 in the city of Bra. Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization founded to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions and counteract the rise of fast life and fast food.

Makes sense, then, that Piemonte is the birthplace of the mega food haven Eataly. With 28 stores in six different countries, Eataly is the destination of choice for a taste of Italy no matter where you are in the world.

Speaking of taste, one cannot consider Piemonte without mentioning its sweet history. During Napoleonic rule (1796-1814), the Mediterranean was under a blockade by the British and cocoa wasn’t being imported. A chocolatier thought to extend the little chocolate he had in his shop by mixing it with hazelnuts, which grow abundantly in the region. And, so, gianduja chocolate was created. By 1852, the chocolate Piemontese company Caffarel invented the gianduiotto, chocolate shaped like an upturned boat. A century later, a little bakery in Alba introduced pasta gianduja, which is now known the world over by the name of the most popular brand — Nutella.

If eating and drinking your way through the region isn’t your thing, perhaps a day at spa is. The small, quaint villages of Acqui Terme and Vinadio are famous spa resort towns where spring water flows naturally throughout the city. In the main town square in Acqui Terme, you can find a bubbly, hot natural-spring fountain that locals have dubbed “the fountain of youth.” Indeed, many townspeople swear by its natural healing forces and make it a point to drink from it every day or wash their faces with the water.

As you get to know Piemonte, you’ll discover a treasure trove of picturesque villages and agricultural landscapes. From the rugged peaks and the gentle hillsides, to the abundant countryside, the varied cuisine and rich history, there’s something for everyone in this northern Italian region.

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2015: Lombardy

Nestled in the heart of the Padania Valley, stretching from the romantic lakes in the north, mirrored by the picturesque Swiss Alps, down to the economic and fashion capital of the world, lies the region of Lombardia.

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Lombardy throughout Fall of 2014-Fall of 2015

Home to the likes of Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, and Armani, the region’s capital city of Milan is the ultimate hub of the fashion industry, where people from all over the world travel to study the effortless feel of Italian style. To every Milanese, the streets are their catwalk, with a lifestyle as fast as the Formula One cars that zip through Monza during the Italian Grand Prix.

European soccer fans also have their eye on Milan, as two of the continent’s most famous and wealthiest football clubs are based there — F.C. Internazionale Milano and Associazione Calcio Milan. Both share a heated rivalry in Italy’s Serie A league, as well as the same home venue, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.

But Milan is just as rich in history and culture, as it is in wealth and fashion labels. From the glorious gothic Duomo, that holds attention in the center of the city, to the Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s historic painting, “The Last Supper,” the Roman and Renaissance era is evident at every turn.

Always of importance to any region in Italy is the culinary tradition and you will not find a menu in Milan without the city’s signature Risotto alla Milanese, Osso Buco or Coteletta Milanese. Milan is also the origin of the sweet dessert bread, panetonne that many of you likely give and receive at Christmastime.

South of Milan, on the left bank of the Po River, is the city of Cremona, birthplace of the world-famous Stradivari violins. Considered one of the highest-quality instruments ever made, these stringed masterpieces are also one of the most expensive, with duplication attempts unable to equal the sound of Antonio Stradivari’s gifted craftsmanship.

Further north of Milan and Cremona, the lakes of Como and Lecco offer a chic weekend getaway, where all the VIPs of the world come to relax and play. The neighboring Swiss Alps provide the perfect background drop to the charming villages and majestic villas that line the waters’ edge.

Nowhere else in Italy will you find as versatile a region as Lombardia, with the fast-paced hustle and bustle of Milan’s fashion and financial empire, yet the calm and serene feel of the beautiful lakeside escapes. But, like so much of Italy, Lombardia is a land with layers of history and a rich culture, begging to be exposed. And, of course, the Expo Milano 2015, the World’s Fair that opens its doors in May, will do exactly that.

NIAF is happy to have celebrated the many facets of this region that has had such an impact on Italy and the rest of the world.

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2014: Campania

Located in southwest of the Italian peninsula, Campania is the nation’s second-most populated region, with major cities of Naples and Salerno. The culture-rich region also boasts the beautiful Amalfi coast, the picturesque towns of Positano and Ravello, the towering Vesuvius and mountain ranges, the popular islands of Capri and Ischia, as well as…

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Campania throughout Fall of 2013-Fall of 2014

Land of the real pizza Napoletana, the true caffè espresso, the juiciest lemons from Sorrento, the creamiest Mozzarella di Bufala, and the freshest seafood, Campania is home to authenticity and a paradise for any food lover. The region is steeped in culinary tradition. No one can visit Campania without sipping on a limoncello after a delicious meal or indulging in a rum-soaked babà or crispy, seashell-shaped sfogliatella.  Thanks to the mild climate, this sun-kissed region is home to the production of San Marzano tomatoes.

The capital city of Naples, Italy’s third largest city, is beautifully situated in the bay that bears its name. Naples is the city of contrasts, with a vibrant, on-the-go city center that is balanced by a passeggiata along the lungomare, all while Mount Vesuvius plays the backdrop.

As you make your way through the labyrinth of the ancient city, you will notice traces of the past from Baroque churches to Greco-Roman ruins.  One of the main streets, Spaccanapoli, meaning “break Naples,” since it divides the city in half, is lined with hundreds of shops selling traditional Neapolitan nativity figurines, souvenirs and typical food products.

Off the coast of Naples and a short ferry ride away is Capri—the playground of the rich, famous and chic. With its crystal-clear waters and breathtaking scenery, the Mediterranean island of the famous Grotta Azzurra is something to be seen in one’s lifetime. Procida and Ischia, Capri’s sister islands, offer a more relaxed environment and are still rather untouched by tourism.

Making your way inland is the city of Caserta, home to one of the most majestic palaces in the world—La Reggia di Caserta, an 18th century Baroque, royal palace designed by the Neapolitan architect, Luigi Vanvitelli.

There are countless sites and cities to see in Campania, yet it’s the people of region who make even tourists feel at home, not only for their warmth and easy-going personalities, but for their comical twist on everyday instances—does Totò ring a bell?

Stretching along the Tyrrhenian Sea, from the winding roads of the Amalfi Coast, to the temples of Paestum, the ruins of Pompeii and the extensive historical artistic wealth, the region of Campania, is one of Italy’s most diverse regions with a splendid natural beauty and charm that never ceases to enchant its visitors, just like the mythological siren Partenope from which Naples gets its name.

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2013: Calabria

NIAF’s Region of Honor program has evolved into a robust program since its first year with Calabria in 2013. Since Calabria didn’t receive a comprehensive overview about the region or food at that time, please enjoy this featured article about Calabria’s beaches from the 2013 spring issue of Ambassador magazine (vol. 24 no. 3) by Michelle Fabio.

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Highlights of NIAF celebrating Calabria throughout 2013.

Calabrian Beaches

If you love both beaches and Italy but haven’t yet explored the far south of the bel paese, it’s time you put Calabria on your seaside radar.

Mainland Italy’s southernmost region, Calabria boasts over 500 miles of coastline which draws thousands of Italians and other Europeans during their summer vacations. American tourists haven’t yet arrived in droves, likely because of the lack of information about Calabria in major guidebooks, but those who venture to the toe of the boot for fun in the sun will find two distinct atmospheres—from the Tyrrhenian Sea’s Tropea on the west to the Ionian Sea’s Soverato on the east.

Both towns and their surrounding areas offer pristine water, sandy (and sometimes pebbly) beaches, dramatic cliffs, unique rock formations, postcard-perfect views, and plenty to see and do in the summer. But which coast would better suit an individual traveler is simply a matter of taste.

Tourists Love Tropea

Tropea on the Tyrrhenian’s “Costa degli Dei,” or Coast of the Gods, is the most beautiful and well-known of Calabria’s beach towns. One legend says that Hercules was so enamored with Tropea’s beauty that he built a port there and named it after himself, Porto Ercole. With its cobblestone streets, grand, colorful palazzi, and panoramic views, this hilltop town features characteristics of old, traditional Italy as well as some of the finest beaches in all of southern Italy.

Tropea’s centro storico (historic center) is perched on a sandstone rock that drops off steeply to the sea and road below, providing a stunning vista of the Tyrrhenian from the Gulf of Sant’eufemia to the Gulf of Gioia Tauro. The streets are lined with artisanal shops; restaurants, pizzerie, and trattorie; ceramic stores; and many breathtaking peeks of the sea below and, on a clear day, Stromboli and the rest of the Aeolian Islands in the distance. The center is car-free, so travelers can stroll through the narrow alleys and squares, dipping into sites such as Tropea’s duomo, which features two unexploded American bombs from World War II, complete with a prayer thanking the Madonna for sparing the town.

Tropea’s most popular attraction, however, is L’Isola Bella, “the beautiful island,” a small stretch of land containing an enormous rock that juts out into the sea. The Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola sits majestically at the top, and those who brave the climb are treated to a gorgeous Gothic structure (rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake) that has been a religious site since its founding as a Byzantine monastery in the 4th century; faithful pilgrims still arrive daily, especially for the August 15 procession to the sea for the Assumption.

Like every respectable Italian town, Tropea has a weekly market (Saturdays) with everything from clothes, shoes and housewares to all the traditional Calabrian food like supressata, local pecorino, and cured olives and eggplant as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, most notably Tropea’s famous cipolle rosse, red onions.

For those who love staying active, several companies run diving expeditions from the port of Tropea. Fishing excursions, such as those offered by Italian-Australian Tania Pascuzzi of In Italy Tours, allow visitors to go out on a boat with local fisherman and clean, cook and eat the catch onboard.

As spectacular as Tropea’s beauty is, the entire Coast of the Gods has much to offer beach lovers from Pizzo, Briatico, and Zambrone north of the town to Capo Vaticano-Ricadi, Joppolo, and Nicotera further south.

Secrets of Soverato

Situated on the “Costa degli Aranci” or the Coast of Oranges and known as “the pearl of the Ionian,” Soverato is hardly a secret to Italians and other Europeans, but it is still largely undiscovered by Americans. The entire Ionian Sea coast is less developed in tourism than the Tyrrhenian side, so travelers looking for a more laid-back vacation may prefer the eastern part of Calabria.

American Cherrye Moore of My Bella Vita Travel LLC, who runs the Calabrian Table Tour with Tropea’s Pascuzzi, calls the Ionian side “low-key” compared to the Tyrrhenian.

“In the seven years I’ve lived in Catanzaro (Calabria’s regional capital on the Ionian coast), I’ve randomly bumped into other Americans on the beach twice. And one of them had been born here,” says Moore.

Of course, more laid-back can also mean it’s more difficult to find organized activities, but by no means is Soverato secluded or boring. To the contrary, while the Ionian coast as a whole can offer a less hectic pace with lots of hilltop medieval villages, archaeological treasures, and lesser-known beaches, Soverato itself is a bustling, modern town. It also has a medieval section a short drive from the sea, but most people hover around the coastal area, which gives off the feeling of a resort town in its high season.

Separating Soverato’s beaches on the Gulf of Squillace from the town is the lungomare, full of outdoor restaurants, seasonal dance clubs, carnival rides for children, and more. It also offers a particularly rich nightlife during the summer, especially for families and for young people who travel to Soverato from several towns away. Kitesurfing and diving are popular activities in this area, and a weekly antique market on Sundays is a large draw as well.

Like Tropea, Soverato is a fishing village at heart, so fresh seafood is highly recommended as are the local fish markets with daily deliveries from the beach. If you’re awake early enough, you may even convince a local fisherman to sell you some freshly caught surici, a local speciality snared by net because it bites violently when being removed from the hook. Soverato also features an aquarium and a marine park dedicated to the study and preservation of seahorses, the Baia di Soverato Parco Marino Regionale.

During the day, the main street of Soverato, Corso Umberto I, is frenetic with activity even in the off-season, but in August traffic can be downright demoralizing. Finding a place to park off of the main drag is a must. On the corso and its neighboring streets, you’ll find all the aspects of any compact Italian city: coffee shops (called “bars” in Italy), gelato shops, modern grocery stores, clothing and shoe stores, as well as the neo-Gothic Chiesa della Madonna del Rosario.

On Fridays, Soverato’s sprawling open air market nuzzles up to the seaside, and Calabrians come from miles away to stock up for the week on fresh fruits, vegetables and all the local specialties. The small rosemary-seasoned roasted chickens sold for a handful of euros each are a quick, delicious lunch you can grab on the way home from the beach.

For those interested in venturing outside of town, Soverato is surrounded by some of the most picturesque beaches in all of Calabria, including Pietragrande, Caminia, Stalettì, and Copanello. You’ll find much less crowded, down-to-earth, but still beautiful beaches in nearby Sant’Andrea, Isca and Badolato.

Sizzling Summers

Calabria livens up in July and August (also the two hottest months); during the rest of the year, activities for tourists are limited. Even many businesses, especially restaurants, are closed from mid-November to April. For some perspective, off-season Soverato has about 9,500 residents while Tropea has around 6,600, but the populations can easily double or even triple during the height of tourist season.

Because of the influx of tourists in August especially, finding a place on the beach where you’re not jammed up against other sunbathers can be challenging. Private clubs rent umbrellas and deck chairs (you’ll be able to identify those sections of the beach by the rows upon rows of matching umbrellas), while other areas are open to the public free of charge for those who prefer to BYOU (bring your own umbrella).

Although it can be quite hot (central air-conditioning is still not the norm in southern Italy), the upside to visiting in the high season is that there is always plenty to do besides simply hanging out at the beach, from outdoor concerts and theater to food festivals and religious processions. Accommodations are also more expensive, however, so for those who wouldn’t mind trading a little less action for some peace, quiet, and cost savings, but still great weather, May, June, September and October can be great months to visit Calabria.

Sunrise, Sunset

So where are the best beaches in Calabria? Calabrians tend to be loyal to their home areas, so there is always the feel of a slight competition as to where the best beaches are. The answer certainly comes down to personal preferences, but overall, both coastlines of Calabria, anchored by Tropea on the Tyrrhenian and Soverato on the Ionian, are full of inviting beaches and some of the cleanest, clearest water of the Mediterranean.

As an added bonus, Calabria’s two major beach towns are not very far apart, so it’s easy for a traveler to hit both sides of the region on a visit. Indeed, only about 65 miles lie between them, which means you could catch a bursting orange sunrise over the Ionian in Soverato and be in Tropea for a gorgeous violet sunset over the Tyrrhenian in the evening.

The best of both Calabrian coasts in one day? No contest.

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Michelle Fabio has lived in her ancestral village in Calabria, Italy, since 2003. She writes about savoring simplicity one sip at a time at Bleeding Espresso and about raising goats at Goat Berries. She is also the managing editor of Gemelli Press, a boutique publisher that combines twin passions for books and Italy.

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