Do yourself a favor, though, and make the effort. You won't regret it. To really understand Calabria, you need to head inland. It is here that you will find the Calabria of yesteryear, where very little has changed and people live their lives today much as they did 50 years ago.
So where to start? Morano Calabro is a great option if you'd like a base to explore the hinterland of Calabria. Stay at the absolutely wonderful Albergo Meruo; it is one of the best places I've stayed anywhere in Italy.
Then, you'll need a car to get here, and for the best deals, book with these guys before you leave home. With a car, you'll find yourself in heaven, with Morano and nearby towns just waiting to be explored. Driving in Calabria isn't nearly as bad as many fear; it's far less frightening than in big cities like Rome and Naples.
Everybody thinks of Tuscany when one talks of hill towns. Well, Calabria has hilltop towns that are every bit as spectacular and without all the tourists. Morano Calabro is one of the loveliest of all the Calabrian hill towns; it is so gorgeous that it is officially rated as one of the loveliest towns in all of Italy.
To me, the joy of visiting here is to experience the feeling of having entered a time machine. The buildings are the same as they were hundreds of years ago, and the people are so lovely and welcoming.
In this tranquil haven, the frantic pace of the modern world has yet to encroach. Here, conversations flow freely in bustling piazzas and cozy local bars, where people find more joy in listening to your tales and sharing their own than being tethered to their phones. In the squares, the children's laughter mingles with the sound of a bouncing ball, and at dinnertime, animated conversations unfold without the constant interruption of phone screens. It's a genuine appreciation for living in the moment, and it's something I cherish deeply.
From a distance, the town looks like a pyramid as the houses climb the hill to the castle on top. Approaching at night the glittering lights of the houses lead onward and upward to the stars above. It is a spectacular sight.
I met Salvatore at the bottom of the town. We started chatting, and he shared tales of his 75 years living in Morano Calabro. I told him I was planning to walk up to the castle, and he said he was heading that way too. I knew it was supposed to be quite a steep walk through the narrow maze of streets, and I was glad to have him with me for directions. I worried if he would make it, though, at his age.
By the time we reached the top, I was huffing and puffing. Salvatore was just fine. It looked like he could do it all over again.
A gorgeous church dating back to the 11th century, I was surprised to discover how much significant art was contained within; apparently, the church was once an important stop for pilgrims from Southern Calabria and Sicily heading to Rome, and over 50 priests were based here in the 16th century.
The most famous artistic works you'll see here are four statues of marble by Bernini Senior. Bernini senior, together with his more famous son, designed the beautiful Barcaccia Fountain in Rome.
For a small town, Morano Calabro has a lot of important churches, mostly thanks to its location in ancient times as a pilgrim route and a crossroads for travelers. Some of the others you'll want to visit are the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena and the Church and Monastery of San Bernardino of Siena.
Built in the 11th century by the Normans, it was once almost impregnable. Those trying to get into the castle would have to climb the hill, cross the moat, and face boiling tar and deadly arrows.
It's a lot easier now; all you need is a ticket.
There is no longer much to see in the castle itself, but the views of the town below, the hills, and the mountains are spectacular.
The main attraction outside of town is the glorious Pollino National Park. Visit the Nibbio Natural History Museum before venturing into the park, as it gives you an excellent insight into the flora and fauna to look out for when you visit.
For more adventurous types, rafting on the nearby Lao River is an experience you'll forever remember. Here's how you can organize a trip.
The official Pollino National Park website also has a lot of excellent information on visiting the park. It is all in Italian, so use your browser to translate to English (in Chrome, you right-click the page and select Translate to English).
For a small town, there are a surprising number of rather unique dishes you won't get anywhere else in Italy. Try the rascatelli pasta with a meaty sauce (I enjoyed a wild boar sauce) and a glass or two of the excellent local red wine.
The winter favorite is a hearty stockfish stew made with potatoes and olives. There was no fresh fish in centuries past, so they would dry fish on the coast in summer and send it by mule up to the inland towns.
There is no train station in Morano Calabro, and public transport is pretty poor in the inland areas of Calabria, so get yourself a car rental and drive. The E45 leads south from Naples right to the doorstep of Morano Calabro, and it is a picturesque and very well-maintained road that leads you deeper into the Calabrian wilderness. The journey becomes an experience in itself, where every curve reveals breathtaking views, and as you ascend into Pollino National Park, the mountains rise majestically before you.
The drive allows you to savor the natural beauty and tranquility of the region, making your arrival in Morano Calabro all the more rewarding.