Paradise regained

Nestled within the jagged toe of Italy’s boot, Calabria is a land of steep coastal villages, ancient sites that earned their names from Greek myths, and a surprisingly spicy cuisine.

At dusk, when the warm orange Mediterranean sun begins to dip closer to the aquamarine Tyrrhenian Sea, there is an hour or two when the coastline of Calabria glows violet. Along with the Costa degli Dei and the Riviera dei Cedri, the Costa Viola, or Violet Coast, is part of a 155-mile shoreline that is one of Italy’s least celebrated and yet most spectacular, a sight easily the equal of the Ligurian or Amalfi coasts. Here, between stretches of abandoned construction and acres of bergamot orchards, isolated fishing villages and ancient fortified towns still cling to the foreboding Aspromonte, mountains that seem to plunge into the Mediterranean.

Tell a non-Calabrese that you are traveling to Calabria and the standard response is an incredulous, often dramatically drawn out, “Ma perché?” (“But why?”). If the Italian peninsula is a boot comprising the generous thigh of the north and the elegant calf of Lazio and Campania, then Calabria is the toe. Italy’s southernmost region has long been held back by its dark and tragic past, one marked by wars, earthquakes, corruption, and, most corrosively, the damage wreaked by the ’Ndrangheta, the local organized crime syndicate.

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Photos: Bill Phelps © Condé Nast Traveler April 2015