International,  Travel

Off With an Italian in Southern Italy

In the heart of Tuscany, right outside of Florence and sitting on the highest hill, you can find Villa I Barronci of San Casciano in Val di Pesa. There in the picturesque Chianti Classic region, we wandered the property, admired the pool, enjoyed the Chianti, and gazed out at the superb panorama just beyond the olive trees. This is Southern Italy.

Later that afternoon, we took a drive to the medieval city of Lucca, a city known for its famous Renaissance-era city walls, its Roman street plans, and for the Napolean conquest that occurred in 1805. There we met with some of my husband Mario’s relatives, Roberto and Daniela, for a nice Italian dinner at Buca di Sant’ Antonio, a restaurant that continues to make one of Italy’s oldest dishes, Farro soup.

After dinner, they were kind enough to take us on a night tour of the historical town. The shops were closed. The stone streets were empty, so we walked in the night, mesmerized by the ancient doors and windows that we passed along the way.

The next day, we continued south towards Belmonte, Calabro, known simply as Belmonte. The town and commune are located in the province of Cosenza, in Calabria (Southern Italy), and it is the birthplace of Mario. The city, which was founded in 1270, sits upon a hilltop above the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, surrounded by ancient walls.

Mario took me on a tour of his hometown, and as we ascended from the coast, it was easy to realize the past defensive needs of the village. I stopped and wondered what it was like to have lived when such walls were needed for protection and where the founders often feared the pirates, which continuously raided their community. There we were, high above the coast. You could see for hundreds of miles the beautiful blue sea and the mountains, which seemed to meet together, with towns nestled in between each bend. It was a postcard paradise.

A short drive from Belmonte and further south is the town of Catanzaro, the city of two seas. The town is located at the thinnest point of the Italian mainland. Here, only 30 km separates the Ionian Sea from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The area was once a Greek settlement in the fifth century B.C. and flourished with a population called the “Vitalo,” so-called because they worshiped the calf. The Greeks renamed them “Italoi,” after a famous Italian King and ancestor of the Trojans, with the same last name. Italy gets its name from this Important Italian Figure. Here, we visited with some of Mario’s closest and oldest friends, whom he has known since medical school.

They drove us another hour away to view the impressive and magnificent fortress of Le Castella, situated in Isola di Capo Rizzuto, on the eastern extremity of the Gulf of Squillace. The original structure dates back to the Angevin age, to the second half of the thirteenth century, and the fortress has very remote and ancient origins.

Inside the castle, it is possible to see calcareous square rocks dating back to the Greek period, walls constructed with blocks of limestone placed as a chessboard, and some traces of Roman masonry. Some walls even showed evidence of an ancient sea bed embedded into its walls. We collected some fantastic rocks from the shore, similar to souvenirs from our journey.

There, we ended our day with an Italian sunset overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, admiring its beauty and wishing we did not have to return home. This is Southern Italy.

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