Calabria is more known for its kidnappings and hospitality than it is for the severed ear that was sent to a stubborn billionaire over 30 years ago.
J. Paul Getty III was kidnapped by kidnappers in 1973. They took him from Rome, where he lived a luxurious life. Then they drove him to Calabria, where he was taken for a ransom of US$ 17,000,000. J. Paul Getty Sr. his grandfather, was the richest man on the planet at the time. He refused to pay. The kidnappers were impatient and sent the bloodied ear of the teen to the Getty family. Grandpa also paid. Calabria became a more dangerous area as other Northern Italians kidnapped them.
Although the crime spree ended years ago, Calabria (the toe of Italy) remains one of the least visited regions in the country. It is a region that has sincere people, stunning natural beauty, and ancient religious festivals.
The Falconara Albanese’s 1,400 residents honor Their Lady of Good Counsel on the second Sunday in September. This religious festival begins with a solemn Mass and then proceeds through the narrow streets of the mountain town of Falconara Albanese, which are only five feet (1.5m) wide.
The faithful shower her with Euros as small, but strong, young men carry the icon along the narrow streets of this town in 17th-century England.
Women prepare Sunday dinner of hot peppers and pasta while men make it.
The festival games are a chance for the men from Falconara Albanese to compete. Visitors can enter to win a prize, which could include a carton of cigarettes or two pounds of fresh mozzarella cheese. But cheering on the local boys is much more enjoyable than climbing a greased pole of 30 feet (9 m) or playing tug-of-war.
The evening is filled with hundreds of people from nearby towns who gather on the small piazza of the town for live music and fireworks.
The townpeople return to their daily routine the day after the parade. Falconara Albanese, which is located on a mountaintop, requires supplies to be brought up the steep, 2.5-mile (4 km) road. Every Monday morning, locals buy all they need – fruit, vegetables and meats, as well as clothing and household goods – at a travelling market that closes at noon.
Signora Riggio is a retired schoolteacher who often meets her neighbors to exchange gossip and examine goods. She rarely buys anything; her husband and she grow their own vegetables in their terraced gardens. They also pick wild mushrooms along the road. Signora Riggio searches for brightly colored threads to crochet her projects.
Although a trip outside of town is rarely disruptive to daily life, there are no year-round restaurants. Dining out requires a climb up a mountain to get to another town. For special occasions, there’s La Torretta (87030 Via Torretta) in neighboring Fiumefreddo Bruzio. Each Sunday, Chef Pasquale serves a nine-course meal made with local produce and fish. A typical meal includes thinly sliced salmon, pickled onions, calamari, green olives, and steamed mussels.
The views from the coast are breathtaking at 1,970 feet (600m) above the steep cliff. Franco Caputo, the owner, offers a commentary on La Torretta’s 600-year history of being a castle, prison, and monastery.
Fuscaldo Marina is a beachside village that offers many options for casual gatherings. Zucchero (Via M.Vaccari), a modern cafe, serves delicious European pastries, smooth gelato, and grilled sandwiches. Zucchero does not close during the three-hour lunch break like most other businesses in Southern Italy. Customers can linger over a cup of tea or strong espresso, catch up on email, or even watch the fish swim in an indoor pond. Zucchero also offers a fast takeout service, selling pastries and candies wrapped with gold paper and red ribbons.
Capricci di Gola (Via Molino), is down the street and sells Calabrian specialties.
This region of Italy is a unique experience, even though it might not be on everyone’s travel list. Calabria is a diamond in the rough.
Italian State Tourist Board