Archive for the Calabria Category

Calabria – Lamezia Terme – a great meal in Nicastro

Posted in Calabria, Catanzaro Province, Italy, Lamezia Terme, Nicastro with tags , , on March 19, 2019 by gannet39

Lamezia Terme is home to the second main airport in Calabria. The municipality is in fact an amalgamation of a few small towns and villages including the former municipalities of Nicastro, Sambiase and Sant’Eufemia Lamezia. My map is here.

I was working in Nicastro where I stayed at the Hotel Savant for two nights. The hotel is a bit old and faded but the breakfast is okay, and the staff, like everyone else I met in Nicastro, were very warm and friendly.

I didn’t see anything of note (although there is a Norman castle which I didn’t get round to visiting) and I didn’t have any expectations but I was really bowled over by the lovely people of the town who made me very welcome.

For instance, when I was doing a bit of fruit and veg shopping for stuff to take home (check out these lovely ‘datterini’ tomatoes, so called because they are the size and shape of dates)…

…I asked the old guy (not sure if he was the farmer or the grocer) if I could take a pic of his lovely apricots which had just arrived and ended up having a couple pressed into my hand for free. Such is Southern Italian hospitality and I love them for it.

The shop (at 16 Piazza Felice Sacchi) was also taking delivery of several crates of local cherries which were being stacked up high anywhere there was space, the fruits covered by fern fronds to protect them from the sun.

After finishing my last day of work I felt in the need to celebrate with a couple of beers. There are several bars in the main square but I noticed that in the kitchen of one ( Bar Bottega 89 at 87 Corso Numistrano) they were frying homemade Arancini so I hung around waiting for them to be done.

My patience was rewarded with a still warm, ragu-filled Arancino with the mozzarella just having melted. So, so good, especially with a cold beer.

On the last night of my trip I decided to eat at this little restaurant as it was the Tripadvisor #1 at the time of writing in early June 2017, for good reason as I discovered…

Alla Pentolaccia (High Elementary A+), 17 Salita Fratelli Maruca, www.allapentolaccia.it

This is a pretty little place tucked away on a back street. A Pentolaccia is similar to a Mexican piñata; a game where you break a container with lots of treats inside. It’s definitely a very apt name for this establishment.

I was given a very warm welcome by the friendly owner Franco who was assisted front of house by his son while his wife is the creative talent in the kitchen.

They specialise in ‘cucina territoriale’ and all the ingredients are locally sourced.

All the food on the menu is excellent (I should know, I ate most of it), as is their house red wine which Franco insisted I have rather than purchase a more expensive bottle as I had originally requested.

We kicked off with the antipasti; first an earthenware dish with a stuffed zucchini flower, a red onion frittata and a meatball, all deep fried deliciousness.

Next small dishes of green beans, a stuffed aubergine and a small mozzarella with tomato sauce served with rocket. Also a cheese board with two kinds of pecorino; fresh and aged, the latter, from Crotone, being one of the most powerful I’ve ever tasted as it had been matured for two years.

Can’t remember what this was but I could eat it right now.

This I think is Friarelli, a bitter cruciferous green.

I’d skipped lunch so I could have a proper feast and I followed up with one of the specialities of the house; Morzello made with tripe, heart, lungs, tomatoes, tomato puree, pepperoncino and oregano, which was wonderful. It’s served with a special bread called Pitta (it’s the big round loaf with a hole in the middle that you see in local bakeries, here sliced into short curves) which is especially good for sopping up the sugo.

I was in full beast mode so I had another main dish of Salsiccia con Porcini, sausage with boletus mushrooms (ceps) which even though it wasn’t in season and the mushrooms were a little hard from being soaked from dry, was still delicious (blurred photo, sorry).

After 3.5 hours of eating I crawled over the finish line with a slice of cherry pie and a glass of sweet wine.

So what do you think I paid for all ten dishes, a litre of wine and three homemade shots of Amaro? A mere €30, which is absolutely stunning value. I should know a bargain when I see it as I calculate that I’ve eaten on over 400 restaurants in Italy in the last seventeen years and this is definitely one of my favourites, both for the food and the hospitality.

Franco and I had become good friends during the time I was there and he sent me off with a kiss on each cheek and a warm glow inside. Many thanks to you Franco and to your lovely family, it was a real pleasure from beginning to finish. I must return one day!

I also went to another restaurant during my stay, but it wasn’t a patch on Franco’s place…

Novecento (Advanced B), 5 Largo San Antonio

This is the only Michelin recommended (not starred) place in the area. It’s okay but a bit posh and pricey for my tastes. The service was good, especially from the older chap, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the food.

I’d come hoping for local delicacies done well but I think it caters more for locals who want a change from the norm. Local ingredients are used but they are relatively far and few between. They do a good bread basket though.

To begin I was given this complementary creation, not sure what it was, but it didn’t impress. It’s the kind of fussy preparation that I detest (C).

I followed on with the Stroncatura Calabrese al Baccala e Peperoni Arrostiti (B). Stroncatura is a type of local pasta made with the flour and bran residues from milling grain. The whole wheat and rye gives it a coarse appearance. The pasta is generally seasoned with typical peasant ingredients such as olive oil, olives, garlic, Calabrian chili peppers, anchovies, and toasted breadcrumbs but here with saltcod and roasted peppers.

Then the Tonno in Crosta di Pistacchio, Sedano Rapa e Radicchio alla Soia, tuna steaks grilled and coated with crumbled pistaccios (B).

The Fiego Bianco white wine failed to make much of a mark on me (B) even though it was recommended by the head waiter, but I am a fussy bugger.

I enjoyed the dessert more; Cannoli alla Moda Nostro, or their house deconstructed cannolis (B+).

With these I had with a glass of 2011 Passito sweet wine called Bristace (B+), from the famous Tenuta Iuzzolini once again.

Finally I tried a trio of Calabrian amari. First a new kid on the block called Jefferson which I really liked (B+) and the more venerable Manfredi which was just okay (B). I contrasted these to all-time favourite Amaro di Capo (A). Capo is a bit sweeter than the others which might explain its commercial success (you’ll see it in most Italian airports). These were all complimentary as is often the case in Calabria.

With water and cover, the bill should have come to 60€ but they gave me a 5€ discount for some reason and I noticed while I was writing this that the dessert doesn’t seem to have been charged for, so I can’t really complain too much about paying 50€.

An okay place, perhaps good for a date, but I won’t be rushing back.

So a great time was had in Nicastro! I really look forward to going back one day. Off to Spain again next…

Calabria – a short stay in Cosenza

Posted in Calabria, Cosenza, Cosenza Province, Italy on March 18, 2019 by gannet39

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 www.hicosenza.it (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 boscoliquori.it 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, www.anticalocandadalpoveroenzo.com

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…

Calabria – peaceful Parghelia

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Parghelia, Vibo Valentia Province with tags , , , on March 17, 2019 by gannet39

Rather than pay over the odds by staying in pricey Tropea, I got a place in Parghelia, the next station down the line. From here it’s about thirty minutes on foot if you’re going to the main beach, or fifty if you’re walking up to the old town in Tropea.

I stayed for two nights in May in a flat I rented from a friendly family via AirBnB. It was about £35 a night, which is very reasonable.

You could of course pay an extra tenner for an AirBnB in the old town and save yourself some walking. Hotels are £100 plus a night in Tropea, although I did find somewhere a bit out of town for £50. No idea what it’s like though.

What sealed it for me though is that Parghelia has two stunning little beaches right next to each other, just a few metres from where I was staying.

Not sure what the southernmost one is called but the slightly larger of the two is Spiaggia Michelino. Video here.

The water here is super clear so you can see shoals of small fish really well.

There were only about ten people on the beach when I went, a far cry from the much larger beaches which get busier and busier as you get nearer to Tropea.

Every morning I walked the short distance to the main street in Parghelia…

Bar Pepe (Intermediate B+), 51 Corso Vittorio Emanuele

This was my spot for my breakfast cappuchino and cornetto. The coffee is decent (B) and there’s lots of space with two seating areas outside, front and back. A friendly lady who speaks good English works here too.

I ate out a couple of times as well…

Pizzeria da Antonio (Intermediate B+), 10 Via Principe di Piemonte

Had a perfectly decent Pizza Margarita here. Enjoyed the atmosphere as well because you could sit outside and the young servers were friendly and helpful.

It was with heavy heart I had to move on to Cosenza on Sunday but I had a fair bit of time to kill after check out but before my train, so I went to this place on the main street in Parghelia and coincidentally ended up having one of the best meals of the entire trip.

Il Portale (Intermediate A), Piazza Ruffa but effectively on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, www.ristorantepescefresco.parghelia.vv.it

The Antipasto di Mare is really good here (A/B+) and beautifully presented.

The pacchieri with langoustine was also very good (A).

I was less impressed by the bottle of Madre Goccia But it was okay (B).

Friendly service was provided by a nice girl from Transylvania who had lived in London for seven years, so her English was very good.

With a draught beer and a limoncello the bill was around 50€, a bit pricey but good value given the quality.

Weekend over! Back to work in gritty Cosenza next!

Calabria – places to eat and drink in Tropea

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Tropea, Vibo Valentia Province with tags , , , on March 16, 2019 by gannet39

After breakfast in Parghelia (see next post) I’d walk about twenty minutes to the main beach which is about two thirds of the way to Tropea. Map here.

You can hire sun loungers and other kit here, and also eat at a beach restaurant, which you can’t do at the secluded beaches in Parghelia.

The best food I ate in Tropea was at this place on the beach…

Lido la Grazie (Intermediate B+), Contrada Marina La Grazia

I ate lunch here twice and was very well taken care of by the mother and son team on the bar who run the place and their friendly waiters.

I also rented the lido’s sun loungers (a lattina with an ombrello) which cost 5€ for half a day or 9€ for a full day.

On one occasion I had the Spaghetti alla Vongole con Zenzero, Buccia di Lime, Aglio e Clorofilla di Prezzemolo, or spaghetti and clams with ginger, lime zest, garlic and a ‘chlorophyll’ paste of parsley, which was really good (B+).

I couldn’t argue with the Grigliata Mista di Pesce either (B+).

For dessert I continued to make the most of Calabria’s cherry season (A).

On the second visit I had the Antipasto della Casa; from top left going clockwise; Cipolla in Agrodolce (sweet and sour onion), Polpette di Melanzane (aubergine balls), Zucchina Gratinata (courgette au gratin), Frittelle di Fiori di Zucca e Acchiughe (pumpkin flower and sardine fritter), Peperoni Grigliati (grilled peppers), Sformatino di Parmagiana (parmagiana flan), all of which were fine (B).

I followed up with a primo of Fettucine allo Scoglio e Pesto alle Alghe; pasta ribbons with mussels and two kinds of clams (vongole and fasolari) in a seaweed pesto (A).

With this, the best bottle of white I’d had in Calabria on this trip, a Chardonnay from Tenuta Iuzzilini (B+).

The bill for this came to 42€ which was very fair I felt. So, no hesitations in recommending this place. Great food and lovely service from waiters who were my friends by the end of the two visits.

Speaking of friends, my mate Nicole, who is Calabrese and comes to Tropea nearly every year, recommends Lido de Nonno next door to Lido la Grazie for its good, cheap seafood. However it hadn’t opened yet when I was there as it was only May which isn’t officially summer as far as the Italians are concerned, although the temperatures were in the high twenties which is quite hot enough for me! She loves good grub so it must be a good place to try as well.

On my first day in the old town I did a walk round of all the restaurants I had on my hit list (map here). There were a lot so I had to be quite strict with my choices.

All of them were recommended in the first place for their food but I chose this next restaurant purely because their best table was up for grabs…

Pimm’s (High Intermediate A), 2 Largo Migliarese, www.facebook.com/RistorantePimms

Not sure why this lovely restaurant has the same name as an awful English amaro (perhaps comparable to Campari but not nearly as nice) but once you forget about that it’s lovely.

Earlier in the day I had snagged the table with the best view.

Although I do like a vista, I suffer slightly from acrophobia so when gazing out through the open window I had to avoid looking straight down the sheer cliff face and peer instead at the sun going down behind Santuaria Santa Maria dell’Isola.

I didn’t grade this meal as I was too busy chatting with the friendly young waiter (probably lost my notes) but I remember that seafood is the thing here. I kicked off with the Crudo de Pesce, raw fish, tuna I think, which I thought was more of a Puglian thing but maybe they like it here too.

Spigola (sea bass) were the catch of the day and they were brought to my table so I could choose.

The Spaghetti alla Spigola looks wonderful and I’m sure it was very good.

I remember being happy with the Contessa Emburgo white wine from Lento, a Malvasia Chardonnay combo from Lamezia Terme.

I did have a second fish course but the photo is to blurry to show, a bit like me at this point!

Cocktail Bar Tropea (Intermediate B), 1 Largo Migliarese

After eating I wanted to watch the Champion’s League final which fortunately was being shown here on a big screen in the square right next to Pimm’s.

They had a new amaro that I hadn’t tried before, Petrus Boonekamp. A great name, but it didn’t impress me that much (B).

I saw Real Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 in the company of a friendly Swedish couple. Madrid deserved to win but I did feel for the Italians, some of whom were over optimistically expecting a win. Still, they went home with flags flying high.

Not all my evenings out were good though…

Pinturicchio (Intermediate C) 2 Via Dardano

Pinturicchio is a modern restaurant located in a bright white cellar but they also have candlelit tables on the street which is where I sat. There’s no view to be had as it’s down an alley but it’s still a very atmospheric spot.

When I do my research, I do look at every resource available, so I know Lonely Planet, Conde Naste and CNT all like Pinturicchio. When using Tripadvisor, I’m more interested in the number of reviews a place gets rather than its ranking. So as Pinturicchio was the most reviewed place in May 2017, and had a #7 ranking (#28 now in 2019), I thought I had the odds on my side when I rolled the dice on this one, but sadly I lost badly.

There were two problems, the food and the service. The usual array of Antipasti was fine (B), but I had to send back the Fileja alla Tropeana con Cipolla Rossa, the town’s signature dish (more of which in the next post). The combination of insipid pasta and thick slimy slices of onion was actually inedible for me (D) which in Italy is highly unusual. I’d lost my appetite and couldn’t manage anything else except a semi-freddo and a limoncello for dessert (both B) which went a little way to cheering me up.

The second problem was the waiting staff who were very young and completely untrained. I got brusque service from the start from one young woman and finally exploded and asked her what her problem was when she literally threw a knife onto my table as she was rushing past. To her credit she came back to apologise and shake my hand but then I got very similar treatment from a different young guy and so my angry mood just continued and I left feeling very discontented. The contrast with the older professionals down at the beach was striking! I suppose approaching peak season there must be a local waiter shortage and all the best ones choose the nicer places to work.

Anyway, enough moaning, despite the odd restaurant blip, I love Tropea! I suppose any touristy place is going to have some restaurants that are all hype and no substance.

To avoid paying over the odds in slightly pricey Tropea I stayed in the next town instead…

Calabria – a golden weekend in Tropea

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Tropea, Vibo Valentia Province on March 15, 2019 by gannet39

Tropea is a gem. My favourite town in Calabria and one of my most favourite places in the whole of Italy. My map is here.

Of course, it’s not just me that thinks that, so in the summer it becomes one of Calabria’s most important resort towns as thousands of holidaymakers, many from the north of Italy, flock to its long expanses of golden sand. Thankfully I was there in May before the main season had started. I’ll write more about the beach and also restaurants in the following posts.

The old town sits on high cliffs overlooking the sea so the views are stunning.

Especially around sunset. Videos here and here.

At this time of the evening you can just make out the volcanic island of Stromboli on the horizon.

The town’s most famous landmark is the Santuaria Santa Maria dell’Isola Church which is perched on its own separate rock.

It makes for a good walk as you can get even better views of the old town. Video here.

The old town itself is very pleasant to stroll around.

There are many cosy restaurants tucked down side streets, of which more in the next post.

And a few more snaps from walking around. Click on them to make them bigger if you’re on a computer.

As well as its locations, Tropea is famous for a special ingredient, a red onion called la Cipolla Rossa di Tropea that I mentioned above. It was first introduced by the Phoenicians over two thousand years ago. You’ll see it in all the veg shops.

The onion is renowned amongst Italian chefs for two reasons, firstly because it doesn’t make them cry when they cut it and secondly because of its sweet flavour. The particular taste of the onions is attributed to the silty soils, the influence of the sea and an unusual microclimate of nearly constant temperatures all year round. The official website has some recipes here.

Now I think it’s time to eat…

Calabria – searching in Cittanova

Posted in Calabria, Cittanova, Italy, Reggio di Calabria Province with tags , , on March 14, 2019 by gannet39

I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Cittanova unfortunately (map here). It’s a bit of a grim place due mainly to the fact that it has been levelled a few times by earthquakes, hence the name.

The last one was in 1783 and I’d guess that that’s when many of the buildings date from. Many of them are derelict which gives the place quite an eerie feel at night.

However, all was not lost as I discovered that Cittanova was famous for Stoccofisso (stockfish), Norwegian air dried cod which, as a demi Noggy myself, I find quite gobsmacking. I even met locals in Lamezia who said they would happily travel long distances just to eat ‘stocco’ in Cittanova.

Both the following restaurants would be good places to try it…

La Mamma (Intermediate B+/C-), 33 Via San Giuseppe

I came here twice and loved it the first time but hated it the second time, hence the B+/C- grade. The atmosphere is very rustic and traditional and the lady proprietor (la mamma?) was very friendly and welcoming both times.

The first time I had the Fantasia Mediterranea, a fairly typical selection of antipasti including Caponata, Parmagiana, Crochette, Fritelline di Fiore di Zucca and some fresh Ricotta d’Aspromonte (B\B+).

This came with some yellow coloured bruschetta which I’d never encountered before. It seems to be a thing as they sell it in their bar. When I researched it, the closest thing I found was Pane Giallo from Lazio which is made with polenta (semolina).

After this I had the Tris de Stocco, or stockfish prepared in three different ways; fried (A), roasted (B) and stewed (B). I really liked the black olives it came with (B+).

I got a decent bottle of Calabrian white called I Gelsi by Statti for 9€ (B). Not sure why but they don’t seem to put the names of the grapes on bottles of local wine.

I finished with two Cannolini scattered with flakes of chocolate which was great (A).

The final bill with a strange tasting Bergamotto Amaro (B-) and cover was a reasonable 37€.

On my second visit I started with the Stocco Antipasti but unfortunately found the stockfish virtually inedible (C/C-).

And I wasn’t keen on the Greco Bianco/Malvasia white wine blend called Dragone from Lento (C).

But the Tagliatelle Fresche con Fungi Porcini, fresh tagliatelle with ceps saved things a little (B+).

However the final Lemon Cake wasn’t very good (C) and I was given the worst, funky tasting Limoncello I’ve ever had (C-).

Not a great ending then. Unfortunately I drew the conclusion that you can only scrape together one good meal out of what’s available on the menu here. Go with whatever mamma suggests because it’s most likely the best stuff.

This is another ‘good’ restaurant but it’s not really my cup of tea…

Baconchi (High Intermediate B), 1 Via Piave, www.baconchi.com

This is the place where Cittanovans come to celebrate special occasions. The décor is brilliant white with chairs covered in material that’s tied in a ribbon at the back, so you feel like you’re at a wedding reception.

There are several pages of Stockfish dishes but as I’d had it the night before I was in the mood for something different. I began with the Mozzarella di Bufala which was okay (B).

After this I enjoyed some Zeppoline, deep-fried dough balls (B+).

I asked about what meat was good locally and was directed to the Braciola di Maiale con il Manico, a hefty pork chop, which the waitress described as ‘colosso’, and she wasn’t kidding (B+).

I had it with chips and a bottle of their own label red wine (both B).

With water the bill came to 30€ which is very reasonable for what I had.

Although this place isn’t really my style it is good value and the food is okay so I’d probably go again if I was staying longer.

Il Vecchio Molino (Intermediate B+), 44-46 Via Circonvallazione Est

The Tripadvisor #1 at the time of writing in May 2017 and also recommended as the best pizzeria in town by the local school owner. Of all the restaurants, it’s the furthest away from the Hotel Casalnuovo, about twenty five minutes’ walk.

I only went once and had a Piazza Diavolo (with nduja the spreadable spicy Calabrian sausage, and salami picante) which was quite hot but enjoyable (B) if a bit thirst inducing. Their draught beer was a bit flat but still just about drinkable (C).

I meant to go back to try the restaurant menu but the extra distance and bland interior wasn’t enticing enough.

There’s a Guinness pub called the Garden Irish Pub just around the corner at 5 Via Ugo Arcuri , but I didn’t get time to try it out. It seems popular with the locals though.

One day after work the teachers took me for an ice cream to a bar over the road from the park entrance. I can’t find the name but it’s on the corner of Via Regina Margherita and Largo Calvio, opposite Gelateria l’Oasi which it shouldn’t be mistaken for.

I had my first experience of the Ice Cream Brioche here. It’s a Sicilian thing apparently so you can’t argue with it as they basically invented modern gelato. It got a bit messy with three balls of strawberry, pistachio and stracciatella but it was very enjoyable (B+).

I stayed at the Hotel Casalnuovo which unfortunately is the only hotel in town. I say unfortunately because it’s a bit of a dump. Brown rusty water came out of the bathroom taps, the Wi-Fi wasn’t great and the breakfast choices are cardboard cornflakes or cakes in plastic packets. If you ask him the grumpy old male owner will begrudgingly make you a substandard Cappuchino.

The worst thing for me was the cockerels who lived next door who started crowing at 4am with their mates the geese joining in a couple of hours later! I’m really not sure how this place awarded itself four stars! I was ecstatic when I managed to leave one night earlier than I was supposed to, by escaping to Tropea for the weekend (see next post).

It’s a tough call for my employer. The only other place, the Uliveto Principessa Park Hotel (no website, but it has a pool in the summer) is right out in the sticks but then again there’s not much to see in Cittanova anyway. The food is the decider for me though (it’s apparently not very good in the Uliveto Principessa) so if I had to come back I’d stay at the Hotel Casalnuovo again just so I can walk to get some decent food. The Agriturismo Da Peppone might be another option though.

There’s not a lot to see and do here although I did stumble upon a free concert in front of the main church, Chiesa Madre, in Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi.

They are quite proud of their park as well, the Villa Comunale on Via Carlo Ruggiero, as it has some unusual plants including a Californian Redwood tree.

On the plus side, I happily coincided with the local cherry season. I’d get a bag from a roadside stall to snack on when I was walking back to the hotel after work. Such a simple pleasure but one of my favourite ones.

Off to Tropea next which is much nicer!

Calabria – A short break in Scilla

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Reggio di Calabria Province, Scilla with tags , , , on March 13, 2019 by gannet39

Scilla was my first stop on this trip to Calabria. It is considered one of the prettiest towns along the southwest coast although for me Tropea wears the crown (more of which later). I just stopped by because it was on the way to the town I was working in, so I arrived in the country a day earlier than I was supposed to and stayed for 36 hours of R&R.

My map is here.

It’s divided into two parts; first there is the beach area…

… which has a wide lungomare.

Then you come to the pretty Castillo Ruffo sitting high on a rocky headland. Legend has it the rock was the home of the Syclla sea monster in Homer’s Odyssey.

Passing under the castle you arrive first at the small harbour…

…before you come to Chianalea, the lovely old fisherman’s district.

There is only one very narrow street leading through Chianalea.

It seems like every nook and cranny is in use here.

On my first evening I had a magical experience eating at this restaurant…

Glauco (Intermediate A+), 95 Via Annunziata, www.glaucoscilla.com

This excellent restaurant was the Trip Advisor #1 at the time of writing.

I arrived as soon as they opened at 8pm to snag a good table and as it was a midweek night in May (this place will be heaving in July/August) I got a table looking out over the sea where I could watch the sunset over the castle.

The cruise ships coming from Reggio had a similar idea but once they had sailed past the castle they turned in front of my view and headed out to sea, probably towards the Aeolian Islands of Lipari and Stromoboli, which were just about visible on the horizon.

My happiness was made even more complete by the arrival of some excellent seafood alongside a chilled bottle of white in an ice bucket.

I really enjoyed the Chardonnay/Greco blend called Costa Viola by Crisera (B+).

I started with the Antipasto Misto di Mare; marinated octopus, tuna and swordfish, all delicious (A).

Alongside this, some stuffed squid, a fish ball and some mashed fish and potato creation which looked lovely but in terms of flavour were just okay (B).

And continued with the Trofie con Frutti di Mare, which turned out to be just pasta with some mussels and tomato, but it was superb (A+).

With a Limoncello, the total came to 55€, worth every penny for a perfect moment in terms of food and location.

Il Casito (Intermediate B), 25 Via Annunziata, www.ilcasatoscilla.it

This was the Tripadvisor #2 in 2017.

It’s okay food wise (B) but I would have had a better experience if I’d reserved a table on their outdoor terrace which is built over the sea.

Unfortunately it was Sunday and the whole place had been booked out for lunch by the locals. Get in quick is the lesson.

I had the Compose di Mare, which is a posh way of describing an Antipasto di Misto similar to what I had above. It was all fine (B).

I wasn’t that keen on the ‘5 Generazioni’ Greco Bianco white wine from Tramontana (C) but at least it was cheap.

Fileja con Vongole, Zucchine e Pesto al Pistacchio, an unusual local pasta with clams, courgettes and a pistachio pesto, was interesting but sadly had little flavour (C).

To finish the Semi-Freddo alla Zabaglione con Amaretti e Cioccolato went down very well (B+).

A good place but I think Glauco is better.

Casa Vela (Elementary B+), Via Annunziata, www.casavelascilla.it

I only came to this place for a drink while I was waiting for Glauco to open and ended up really liking it. The location seems very popular as all the tables on the street had been reserved.

The friendly owner serving gave me a glass of an excellent white called Critone by Librandi, which was made of a blend of non-indigenous grapes (B+).

His olives were fantastic too (B+).

Casa Vela was one of the B&Bs I considered staying in (many didn’t reply as it was the off season) but eventually I chose a room at the Hotel U’Bais www.ubais.it near the beach. It was fine for 50€ a night but nothing special (C+).

Final tip: don’t trust the changing rooms at the beach bars.

And that was my brief break in Scilla. It’s a very pleasant spot but a couple of days were enough for me. It was certainly much cheaper than Lyon where I’d just come from so a good place for a few days cheap holiday. Off to work in Cittanova next…

Calabria – Sleepless in Vibo Valentia

Posted in Calabria, Italy, Vibo Valentia, Vibo Valentia Province with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Vibo ValentiaThis provincial capital is split into two parts, Vibo Pizzo at the bottom of the hill (where the station and the marina are) and Vibo Valentia at the top.

People doing my job usually use the Hotel 501 which is most of the way up the hill, about ten minutes walk up to the town. It would take about an hour to walk down the hill to the marina and there are no pavements.

The 501’s location isn’t ideal but bear in mind it has a pool and free internet. The only other options are a more centrally located 3 star without those facilities or the noisy Locanda (see review below).

La Locanda di Daffina (Intermediate B), 160 Corso Umberto I (entrance at the side), Vibo Valentia,

Had a pleasant meal on the terrace here. To start, some fresh young pecorino with some red onion chutney (both local specialities) followed by Tagliolino con Gambero Rosso e Pachino ((excellent red prawns (A) and cherry tomatoes (B+)) and my friend the Tagliate di Filletto con Tartar di Verdure di Stagione (strips of steak with seasonal veg with tartar sauce (B+))

This was washed down with another Ciro from Tenuto Iuzzolino (B+) which was good, but not a patch on the classico version by the same cantina.

Three of us stayed here for one night, thankfully not longer. The level of disorganisation was such that we got the feeling they had only just opened. The attractive double rooms were quirky, (eg bunk bed over the bathroom!) and had beautiful vaulted ceilings, lovely bathroom tiles and tasteful period decor, but weren’t particularly practical (old creaky beds and floors, no shower curtains etc).

The biggest problem however was the scraping chairs upstairs in the restaurant keeping us awake till past midnight, and then a piano recital at 2am from the owner’s son! By all means come to eat but it’s probably best to stay at the 501 if you want a decent night’s sleep and modern facilities.

L’Approdo (Advanced A+), 22 Via Roma, Vibo Pizzo, Tel. 0963 572640, www.lapprodo.com open every day.

GEM ALERT!

Don’t come to this formal place if you are on a budget, three of us spent €25 each way in a taxi from the top of the hill to Vibo Marina and another €55 each on food and wine, but it was worth it! It’s the kind of posh place that has individual cotton hand towels in the loo. The wine list was a 34 page book with an index.

We started with the Antipasti di Mare (€22) (A) which included Alici Ripiene (stuffed anchovies), Mazzancolle Merosta di Lardo di Colonnata (king prawns with Tuscan fatty pork), Spiedino di Pesce Spada (chunks of swordfish on a skewer), Totuni e Pomodorini al Basilico (a type of squid with cherry toms and basil), Insalata di Pesce Castagna (fish, egg, cheese, chestnuts) and Gratin di Bianchetto (whitebait baked with cheese). Due to the nouvelle cuisine presentation, we couldn’t work out what was what on the plate, but it was all delicious!

My main was Capretto del Monte Puro alla Brace, Timo, Menta e Balsimico (grilled goat from Mount Puro with a local red onion chutney) (B+), and Alison’s Trancio di Pescatrice all Arancia con Lenticchie dei Pollino was very nice (A), but the best main course was Nicky’s Medaglione di Filetto ‘Chianina’ Gratinato ai Funghi Porcini, Radicchio Brasto al Vino Rosso (chianina is beef from highly pampered cattle, similar to Kobe beef) (A+).

The highlight for all of us were the white and red wines, both Ciro Classico (€18) (A++) from Tenuta Iuzzolini (the red was 2006), startlingly unique, and some of the most delicious wine I have ever tasted. (NB although difficult to prove, Ciro is believed to be the oldest wine still being produced in the world.)

I finished with a local grappa (Ronco dei Quattroventi) (B+) but coveted my neighbour’s Cognac Park (cigar blend 40 vielle fine champ). You can also get set course menus for €30 to €45 and a tasting menu for €90.

Fillipo’s (Intermediate B), 128 corso Umberto I, Vibo Valentia, 0963 44870

Had an ok ;ate lunch here that started very well but the quantities seemed to tail off towards the end. Starters included bull salami, mortadella, local sautéed Tropea red onions, stewed pumpkin with cumin, cheese and potato soufflé, vegetable omelette/frittata, pasta with cream, rocket and grana, pasta in tomato sauce and fried fish with raw fennel (all B +/-). The Cauro IGT red (Statti ’05) (B+) and Mantanico white (B) were both from nearby Lamezia Terme. Mentioned in Gambero Rosso and owned by the brother of the Locanda above, it is principally a wine bar that sells food.

Specialities of Vibo Valentia province:

According to legend, pecorino cheese-making originated during the Greek period in a small village called Zaccanos (now Zaccanapoli) which literally means sheep corral, and later spread to the Poro, a mountainous area of VV. When it is young and fresh (‘green’) it has a sweet flavour with a sour aftertaste and can be served in slabs as antipasti. The older version (aged 6-8 months) tastes salty and spicy and is grated on to pasta. It is sometimes also used in desserts.

‘Nduja is a huge sausage with a sweet, peppery taste, made from a mix of pork meat including fat, bacon and cheek, blended with salt and red chilli, which is then smoked and hung. It can be spread on fresh bread or bruschetta, or combined with fileja, (the local handmade pasta which is formed by rolling around a small stick), and topped with grated pecorino. The DOP for ‘nduja is around the village of Spillinga where they celebrate the “sagra della ‘ndjua” festival every August.

The coastal town of Tropea is famous for ‘la cipolla rosa di Tropea’, which looks rather like a red spring onion with a white centre. This unique onion has its own DOP from the E.U. which takes in the Tyrrhenian coastal area from Nicotera to Pizzo Calabria. It has a strong and sweet aroma which makes it good for chutneys, omelettes and salads. The flavour can be made stronger by storing. You might see plaits of onions decorating shops and houses in the summer.

Mostaccioli (“pupazzo” in dialect) are hard biscuits formed into decorative shapes with symbolic meanings. They are made by expert artisans called ‘mastazzolari’ from flour, water and honey and originate from the small village of Soriano Calabro. They are considered a symbol of love in Calabria and heart-shaped biscuits are traditionally given as presents to celebrate engagements and weddings. They can also be shaped in the form of saints for religious days or as animals, such as a horse, goat, cock or fish, to celebrate the beauty of nature.

Olive oil production is important throughout the province. One of the most famous extra virgin oils is made from cold pressing the ‘ottobratica’ variety. Other famous varieties include ‘cecerello’ and ‘miseo’.

The villages of Joppolo, Maierato, Soriano Calabro and Piscopio are also famous for honey which comes in acacia, orange blossom and chestnut varieties.

The Serre highlands in the east of the province are known for mushrooms, primarily Porcini, but also the Gallinacci, Pratioli and ‘Drum and Nail’ varieties.

A famous dessert is ‘il tartufo di Pizzo’, an icecream with chocolate inside.

Written November 2009

Calabria – Reggio di Calabria

Posted in Calabria, Reggio di Calabria, Reggio di Calabria Province, Villa San Giovanni with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by gannet39

Lungomare and EtnaAlthough Reggio is the second oldest city in Italy, it’s a fairly unpretty town with few old buildings. However, it’s still popular with tourists who come to see the famous bronzes (see below) on their way to Sicily or elsewhere. Consequently it’s quite expensive. For me, the nicest thing about it is the long pedestrian boulevard along the seafront where you have fantastic views of Sicily looming large across the straits of Messina with Etna dominating the skyline. I love running along here in the dusk with the sun going down behind the volcano. It can be a bit edgy down here at night though with gangs of pushers peddling around the RC Lido station.

Generally I found it pretty tough to find a good value-for-money restaurant in Reggio. This first place is the only one I would really recommend.

I Tre Farfalli (Intermediate B+), 47 Via del Torrione, reservations recommended, Tel 0965817667 or 3389897788.

This is the best all-round place I found here, very atmospheric with lots of dark wood and low lighting. Popular with the locals, I had a family of twenty-six for company on the next table. The menu is fixed so you just decide which courses you want and eat what you are given. Although I had to wait till the kitchen was open at 8.30, whilst munching on some very tasty miniscule olives, the waiter was very helpful, giving me a running commentary on everything that came to the table. The antipasti included capocollo, two types of croquettes, carciofi, pan fried greens, a bowl of bean stew, deep fried bread, a pecorino dipping sauce, ricotta and half a grilled potato. The primi was two kinds of pasta on one plate, ‘macaroni’ (long, thin twists) in tomato sauce and gnocchi with aubergine and peppers, and the secondo was three types of pork (thick pancetta, sausage and a chop). Except for the capocollo and secondo everything was veggie. Along with a bottle of the house red and a bergamot liquer the whole bill came to a very reasonable 25 euro. To be honest, the food was ok but not amazing, hence the B+.

Revisited the next year with five others and had an even better experience because we could share everything. The experience was as good as last time, nice atmos, friendly staff, generally good food and lots of it. My only criticism was that they was a bit too much fried antipasti, which included three kinds of vegetable polpetti (aubergine, broccoli, ricotta ‘balls’), potato and cheese cakes, plain deep-fried lumps of dough (all B/C) with a declicious cheese sauce, caponata (aubergine stew), capocollo (cured ham) and a fagioli soup (all A/B). We couldn’t manage a pasta course and went straight to the mixed grill of beef, pork and sausage (C/B/A). Their delicious house red (B), bearing the restaurant name, was ‘Terramia’ from the Agrila(?) IGT in the nearby hills. To finish fresh fruit and the local bergamot digestive which was clear on this occasion. Total cost, a stunning €20 each. I also bought a bottle of homemade bergamot liquer a from here too for €10. There were fennel, liquorish and plain flavours too, as well as peperoncino (a local speciality) flavoured grappa.

There are a couple of friendly bars just a few doors down, and a shop that sells all things bergamottian. Bergamot, by the way, is a citrus fruit found only in this province. It’s kind of a cross between a lime and a lemon and is mainly produced for the perfume industry, and also for Earl Grey tea. The liqeuer is very tasty too, drunk chilled and similar to limoncello. Ask for a bergamino in restaurants (grammar note, one bergamino, two bergamotti).

Da Giovanni (Intermediate B), 77 Via del Torrione

An old school restaurant complete with bow-tied waiter and pictures of clowns and kittens on the walls, no TV or music, but reccommended for its seafood. This is a good place to taste spada (swordfish) which is supposed to be ‘the best in the world’ in the sea around here. I had a nice Critone white wine from the Val de Neto IGT to wash down the seafood antipasti (delectable octopus, prawns and smoked spada), grilled spada steak, an overdressed salad, fresh strawberries and a berganino. The handwritten menu was unreadable so I got shock when the bill came in at 48 euro. Don’t think I would go again as it was expensive and stuffy.

Osteria Symposuim (Intermediate B), 6 Vico le Roma, left out of the Hotel Royal and second left.

A modern place with light jazz and a sullen waitress (probably sick of being ordered around by the affected owner). I had an excellent steak, salad and chips with a couple of glasses of red Ciro and a grappa. Again it was expensive, 32 euro, so another one to maybe give a miss. First courses were 8 to 12 euro and mains 8 to 15.

La Rosa dei Venti (Intermediate B), Piazza Monsolini – Lido Communale, (go to the other side of the RC Lido station entrance on the lungomare, take the stairs down towards the sea, the restaurant is on the far side of the car park).

Three of us had the €18 Menu Fisso (fixed menu) here. We shared Insalata di Polipo, Pepata di Cozze and Alice Marinate to start (all B), followed by Risotto ai Frutti di Mare (B), Tagliatelle all Ancona (olives, toms, uninteresting lumps of swordfish) (C) and a delicious Pesce Spada Arrosto (swordfish steak)(A), with a green salad and a 1/4 of white wine each. Strange that the swordfish was so variable, especially as the straits of Messina are supposed to be the best place to fish for them. Uninteresting decor, rather dark except for all the tellys (at least five) but ok reasonably priced food.

Gelataria Cesare sells ‘the best icecream in Calabria’ according to one of the teachers I worked with, and it is very nice. It’s the green hut just over from the RC Lido station.

Untried:

Baylik, 1 vico Leone, (the best place in town but a long way?) not Thurs (from Gambero Rosso and internet)

Le Rose al Bicchiere, 118 via D.Tripepi (from Gambero Rosso)

Bronzi di RiaceThe ok but nothing special Hotel Royal is literally next door to the archaeological museum which houses the famous Bronzi da Riace, two wonderful greek bronze statues found by a scuba diver in the sea nearby during the 70s. They are a big tourist pull which is probably why everything is so expensive in the area. The museum closes at 8, entrance is 4 euro.

The sister hotel of the Royal, the Excelsior just over the road, has internet for €5p/h.

Buffet Stazione F.S. Villa San Giovanni (Elementary D-)

Villa San Giovanni is the ferry port next to RC where you catch the ferry to Sicily. This hole surely has to be a contender for the grimmest station bar in the country. We had to spend an hour here having missed the ferry to Messina which left 5 minutes early, by their own clock. Bastardi! The mistake we made was trying to buying our tickets from the bookstore on platform one from the pretentious proprietor who wanted to demonstrate his (bad) English. We decamped to this grimy dark hole to wait for an hour till the next ferry. To pass the time we invested €8 in possibly the rankest Nero D’Avola ever bottled, something like a fizzy rose laced with Benolin. No wonder the girl on the till looked at me as if I was insane when I asked for it. All the same, we flopped onto the Coca Cola high chairs and did our best to drown our sorrows under the searching stares of various misfits and scornful bar staff, one of whom suggested a spag bol might help the wine down. One look at the food on display was enough to dispel that idea. Glistening processed cheeses nestling against sweating mortadella, flapping between slices of wonderloaf with the crusts cut off. Buxom cakes with beige cream fillings, topped with glinting glace cherries, cosying up to huge canolos with ricotta oozing from within. Singed grey croissants sat in a glass case like a museum display. Once on board though we were cheered up by the recorded Inglish safety instructions which were hilariously incomprehensible. For future reference you can buy your tickets on board, the crossing takes 25 mins.

Updated Nov 2009.

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