Calabria – a short stay in Cosenza

Cosenza doesn’t have the greatest rep amongst my colleagues as there’s not much to see except seemingly endless blocks of modern flats.

There is a rather scrubby looking old town, on the slopes below the unimpressive looking castle on the hill (top left in the pic), but I didn’t have time to walk up to it so I can’t really say what it’s like.

I stayed at the Hotel Italiana Cosenza (the former Holiday Inn) which met all my requirements; a good breakfast with handmade coffee, strong Wi-Fi, spacious modern rooms and pleasant staff. They also have a gym which I didn’t have time to use but I imagine it must be pretty decent as it’s open to the public.

The only downside is the hotel is at the other end of town from all the restaurants and Cosenza is very linear so you’re looking at a 45 minute walk to get to the good places. However I don’t really mind that as I’m sitting down all day and it’s good to stretch the old pins and walk up an appetite.

My map is here.

There’s not a lot to see that I’m aware of. If you fancy a wander anyway, Piazza Carlo F. Bilotti seems like an interesting modern take on what a square should be. The main shopping street Corso Mazzini runs off the square and gets quite busy in the evenings.

For more serious holidaymakers than me, Cosenza is the main jump off point for Sila National Park. The symbol of the park is the wolf so you might see it around, especially as it’s the nickname of the local football time is also the Lupini.

As far as restaurants go, here are my favourite places in order of preference…

Cantina Cosentina (Elementary A), 12 Corso Plebiscito

It says they are closed on Monday on their business card but it was open when I went. They were #1 on Tripadvisor when I went in June 2017, probably because it sells good but simple local fare at a very reasonable price. I went twice and really enjoyed it both times.

The ebullient owner will most likely greet you and ask whether you’d like to sit inside or out. As the June evenings were quite warm I always chose one of the tables on the pavement.

Not a lot of English is spoken and the menu is delivered verbally in strong dialect so it would make things easier to brush up on your Italian food vocab.

As soon as you arrive some Peperoncino Nduja mixed with olive oil hits the table.

I’ve lost my notes but from the looks of things went for their Antipasta di Terra which involved some cheeses, salami, grilled aubergines and courgettes, a tomato and red onion salad and some kidney beans mixed with tuna and onions.

You can also have meatballs without sauce as a starter.

The paccheri with tomatoes, nduja and grated ricotta is pretty decent.

I think this is stewed veal. It was fine, if not very photogenic.

I remember the house red was okay, and it could stand up to heat of chillies. Much preferred their Ciro though as I recall. It’s generally considered to be Calabria’s best DOC.

Liquorice is another famous ingredient from Calabria so I was intrigued to try it in this dessert. It was fine as I recall but not mind blowing.

And for the road, a shot of Amaro Silano which is made in Figline Vegliaturo, a village on the edge of town (note the wolf symbol). It was okay but nothing amazing (B).

So no grades sorry but I remember it being a really enjoyable experience with good, rustic food and a pleasant ambience. My top pick in Cosenza.

Antica Locanda dal Povero Enzo (High Intermediate B), 42 Via Monte Santo,

A local gourmet recommended this higher end place to me and as it had already come up in my own research I decided to give it a whirl. It’s about forty minutes’ walk from the town. You have to press the buzzer to be let in by the snooty MD.

I can’t say I was particularly impressed by the service or the food but the latter was partly my fault due to my poor choices. I went for the dishes on the menu that had local ingredients but, as the restaurant is primarily aimed at giving locals Italian cuisine made with international ingredients (eg Scottish and Australian beef), I didn’t do very well.

To start, some antipasti including Cubi di Mortadella di Cinta Senese Tartufata, or cubes of grilled mortadella which were lovely (A-). Also, Crostino Caldo all Nduja di Spilinga; hot toast with best quality pepperoncino spread, Pecorini Calabro Toscani al Miele di Catagno del Cosentino; two kinds of pecorino cheese from Tuscany and Calabria and some Soppressata Calabrese Gentile and Coppa di Cinta Senese charcuterie (all B).

Next the Guancia; beef cheeks stewed in a liquorice sauce. Not actually as bad as it sounds as the liquorice was quite subtle. Give me the Spanish version over this any day though (B-). The baked potatoes they were served with didn’t do much for me either (C).

Next the Maccheroncini Saltati al Juice di Salsiccia Calabra, Pepi Cruschi dell’ Esaro e Polvere di Pane Croccante; aka small macaroni tubes sautéed with the juices from Calabrian sausage, crushed peppers and crunchy breadcrumbs. It was an interesting example of cocina povera but I wouldn’t reorder it (C+).

The Cariglio wine started as a B+ but declined to a B. The stong berry nose and the very dry finish means it’s not for everyone.

By this time I’d made friends with the Swiss and Japanese couple on the next table so I had a couple of grappas as we all reminisced about Tokyo. The white Sicilian grappa wasn’t up to much (C+)…

…but the aged grappa from Trento in the north was better (B).

I also enjoyed their soundtrack of old soul music. With water the bill came to 56€ which seemed fair.

Galliano Industrial Bistro (Intermediate B+), Via Galliano (no number)

A slightly forbidding name but it’s actually quite a decent place for food and at the weekend, cocktails and music, or so I was told. I was pulled in by the fact they were playing an Erykah Badu album on loop which is not a problem as far as I’m concerned.

I began with the a Sicilian classic Pasta alla Norma made here with Cortecce pasta (B+).

Then Tagliatas di Picanha; rare rump steak (at my request) with diced roast potatoes and rosemary (B+).

The young guy serving was very nice and I had a good chat with him at the end, even though he was quite hard to understand; a combination of his fast delivery and local dialect.

He recommended a hearty Calabrian red from Cantine Odoardi called Savuto which went well with the meat (B+). It’s a blend of 45% of the Gaglioppo grape (called Arvino locally) and 25% Aglianico to give it structure, along with some other local grapes.

And for dessert, some nice cheeses.

And finally, a shot of Nero, a Calabrian liquorice liqueur, which wasn’t really my thing (C).

A good place which might be fun at the weekend. I’d happily go again.

If you’re on a budget and looking for somewhere cheap and cheerful cantine style place, try Pizzami at 19/20 Piazza Europa.

I also did a spot of shopping…

As I was nearing the end of the trip I went to Dok on Via Marconi, the nearest decent supermarket to the Hotel Italiana Cosenza, and got a few goodies to take home.

They had oregano still on the branch. It’s one of my favourite things to take back because it weighs virtually nothing. La Cosentina is a local business with an online shop.

Some other things that I couldn’t resist taking home were; some Nduja from Spilinga (the best stuff), a kilo of top quality dried spaghetti by Mezzani di Martino from Gragnano in Campania (again, the best) and also some of the famous liquorice from Amarelli in Rossano (do I need to repeat myself?) for friends who like that kind of thing. When added to my stash of choclates and brandy from Lyon, it was quite a haul.

Thanks Cosenza, you were very hospitable. I would like to go back, just to get to know you a bit better.

Just one more stop in Calabria before heading home…

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