In the splendid Upper Tyrrhenian region of Calabria, washed by the Tyrrhenian Sea, lies the strip of land known as Riviera dei Cedri. The name is obviously linked to the cultivation of the citron, a citrus fruit typical of this region: thanks to the mild and temperate climate, not very windy and not subject to strong temperature changes, the citron has found its natural habitat in this territory, covering the valleys of this area with a brilliant green.
The Riviera dei Cedri stretches for about 80 km, encompassing 22 municipalities, from Tortora (to the north) to Paola (to the south) via Santa Maria del Cedro, and also includes several mountain areas close to the coast on the slopes of the Monti dell'Orsomarso, in the Pollino National Park. Not just beaches, then, although those that can be admired are truly enchanting.
The itinerary is suitable for everyone, can be travelled by car and is suitable in spring, summer and autumn.
A symbolic food of Calabria, chilli peppers are not only widely cultivated in the region, but are also used as a product that characterises countless traditional dishes. We find it as a main ingredient in "unthinkable" dishes, such as jam, liqueur, ice cream or chocolate, but also as a basic ingredient for the preparation of some preserved fish and cured meats, such as the very spicy 'nduja calabrese, a spreadable sausage. There are many traditional dishes in the region in which chilli peppers are the undisputed protagonists: morseddu, licurdia, cipuddizze soup, cannaruozzoli, carne incantarata, frittuli and mazzacorde, to name but a few. In September, the town of Diamante becomes the capital of spicy food: every year the Chilli Pepper Festival is held here, organised and run by the Italian Chilli Pepper Academy, an event which attracts around 100,000 visitors each year.
The origins of the Calabrian citron, which is widely used in the smooth citron variety of Diamante, are very old and the subject of debate among experts. Today, the juice derived from the Calabrian citron is used by the food industry for the preparation of soft drinks and candied fruit, but it is often used by regional confectioners in the preparation of certain creams for cakes and typical products. In the area of production, known as Riviera dei Cedri, cedar liqueur and, above all, flavoured extra virgin olive oil are also produced. Since this fruit is considered sacred by the Jews, the rabbis of the various communities come to Santa Maria del Cedro in late summer to personally pick the best citrons. The fruit they select is used during Sukkoth, the Feast of the Huts celebrated in the first half of October, which commemorates the Jews' crossing of the desert to reach Israel.
Stop 1 - Paola
The starting point from the south of the Riviera dei Cedri is Paola, a town laid out in terraced steps descending to the sea. This municipality is known above all for religious reasons: it was here that Francesco Martolilla was born in 1416, who became St Francis of Paola in 1519, the patron saint not only of this town but of Calabria as a whole.
The Sanctuary of San Francesco da Paola, which stands in the upper, hilly part of his home town and where part of the saint's remains are kept, is dedicated to this figure, founder of the Order of Minims. Patronal celebrations are held from 1 to 4 May with various processions on land and sea.
The cult of St Francis is so strong that Paola has become one of the most important religious tourism destinations in southern Italy.
Stop 2 - Acquappesa
If the aim is to relax and think about psychophysical wellbeing, then you need to go slightly inland to stop at the Terme Luigiane: located between Acquappesa and Guardia Piemontese, they are considered the oldest in the region. Their strong point is the thermal mud, famous for its therapeutic efficacy due to its chemical-physical composition and the maturation process, with the clayey part (humus and mineral salts) being enriched by "living algae".
But the Devil's Finger is the real symbol of this place: it is from this rocky spur that the most sulphur-rich thermal waters in Europe flow. On the nearby Tyrrhenian Sea, the Terme Luigiane have an unmistakable landmark: the very high Scoglio della Regina (Queen's Rock), almost a stack in reality, the subject of many legends. The beautiful beaches of Intavolata and Acquappesa to the north and Guardia Piemontese to the south begin here.
The latter is a delightful village that still retains the remains of its Waldensian origins and the use of the Occitan language. It is striking, among its alleyways, to see the names of the streets with double names in Italian and dialect. Next to the centre is the Porta del Sangue, so called in memory of the massacre of the Waldensian minority in 1561.
Stop 3 - Diamante
Diamante is one of the most famous tourist resorts in the whole of Calabria, with 8 km of coastline with varied combinations of sand and colour. In its crystal-clear sea there is also the Cirella Island, a charming little island with wild flora.
Diamante, the town of murals (more than 200 works of art scattered through its alleyways), is an unexpected jewel, teeming with craft shops and known for two other reasons: the town is linked to the production of citrons - hence the name of the most famous variety of the citrus fruit, the smooth citron of Diamante - and to another of Calabria's iconic products, the chilli pepper, celebrated with a festival in September.
Stop 4 - Scalea
Scalea is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Calabria, with a charming historic centre - laid out in tiers on the hillside - that preserves the remains of ancient walls and picturesque narrow streets. The old part overlooks the new part built along the coast, with a wide range of hotels. Heir to the Greek-Lucan city of Laos and the Roman Lavinium, Scalea is one of the oldest cities in Calabria, located between the hill and the valley of the Lao River south of Praia a Mare in the upper Tyrrhenian Sea of Cosenza.
The city seems to be traversed by a single grand staircase that rises and falls throughout the town, passing under low arcades, wedged between narrow alleyways that barely allow a glimpse of the sky, and then succeeding in the wider streets and small squares.
Stop 5 - San Nicola Arcella
A true corner of paradise is San Nicola Arcella, situated on the edge of a steep cliff 110 m above the sea. The village is dominated by the presence of the ancient Saracen tower, known as Torre Crawford, which was home to the English writer Francis Crawford for a long time. At the foot of the village, a small bay is bathed by wonderfully clear waters. This stretch of coastline is full of charm due to its cliffs and caves, such as the famous Grotta dell'Arcomagno, which is enjoyed by thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. The Arcomagno beach, shaped by the erosive activity of the sea on the rock, owes its name to the imposing stone arch that marks the access to the sea. The beach, Blue Flag, is formed by an opening in the rock that has led to the creation of a small sandy bay, a true natural paradise surrounded by dense vegetation.
Stop 6 - Praia a Mare
A maritime landing place and port of call along the main trade routes of the western Mediterranean, Praia a Mare has been known since ancient times for its strategic and economic importance. A densely populated village of peasants and fishermen built on the narrow beaches between the course of the river Noce and the rocky spur of the alluvial plain of the river Lao, Praia has for centuries kept intact and alive the customs and traditions of its nearby native rock.
In Praia a Mare, it is possible to visit the region's other island, Dino Island, an imposing spur of rock famous for its suggestive sea caves. Praia a Mare is also an ideal destination for extreme sports enthusiasts, who can try rafting, dinghy and canoeing along the nearby Lao River.