The Costa dei Saraceni and its natural beauties

Among the wildest and historically rich coastal areas is the Costa dei Saraceni.
KR-Isola Capo Rizzuto-castello 2[Tour Calabria]

© Regione Calabria


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Among the wildest and historically richest coastal areas of the Calabrian Middle Ionian Sea, the Costa dei Saraceni (Calabria) stretches between the provinces of Crotone and Cosenza.  

The name evokes ancient pirate raids along the coast, which in this very stretch boast some of the best-preserved medieval watchtowers in Calabria. It was here, for example, that the fascinating story of Occhialì (Uluç Alì), born Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, the Calabrian child kidnapped by the corsair Barbarossa and who in turn became the "terror of the seas", the only Turkish admiral to survive the Battle of Lepanto.

In addition to serving as a backdrop to the legends linked to the Arab-Turkish invasions of Calabria, the Costa dei Saraceni boasts the presence of some of the region's most spectacular natural jewels, such as the "Isola Capo Rizzuto" Protected Marine Area, one of the largest in Europe.

The Costa dei Saraceni is also the indigenous territory of the Gaglioppo vine and of fine PDO wines (Cirò, Melissa and Sant'Anna). It is no coincidence that no less than four "Wine Cities" in Calabria meet on this coast. 

Tappa 1 - Isola di Capo Rizzuto

Vai alla destinazione

Our itinerary along the Costa dei Saraceni starts from Isola Capo Rizzuto, a municipality in the province of Crotone that is home to one of the best-loved and most photographed architectural symbols in Calabria: the water-front fortress known as Le Castella.

The Aragonese fortress Le Castella was erected in the 15th century on an islet opposite the coast, accessible via a narrow strip of land. A visit reveals signs of numerous pirate assaults. Just outside, in the centre of the small square in front, we encounter the half-bust of the aforementioned:

"Giovanni Dionigi Galeni - Kilic Ali Occhialì, Castella-Constantinople 16th century", as the plaque reads.

In the territory of Isola Capo Rizzuto lies one of the most important natural heritage sites of the Costa dei Saraceni and the entire region, the Protected Marine Area "Isola Capo Rizzuto", one of the largest in Europe. This 15,000 hectare Blue Flag area is home to numerous rare species of Mediterranean flora and fauna.

In addition to the beaches of Capo Piccolo, Torre Nuova and Torre Vecchia, sea lovers cannot miss a dip at Sovereto and Le Cannella, the latter named for its bright red colour reminiscent of cinnamon.

We leave this beautiful location, which is also a "Wine City" in Calabria, with a glass of Sant'Anna di Isola Capo Rizzuto PDO.

Tappa 2 - Crotone

Vai alla destinazione

The second stop along the Costa dei Saraceni in Calabria is the provincial capital of Crotone. Also known as the "City of Pythagoras", in honour of the mathematician and philosopher who founded his renowned Pythagorean School here in ancient Kroton (530 BC).

Kroton (8th century), among the most important poleis of Magna Graecia, represented from the very beginning a political, religious and cultural reference centre for the entire Mediterranean. Today, all that remains of its opulent buildings and great sanctuaries is the striking symbol of the Temple of Hera Lacinia, the famous column standing alone on the promontory of Capo Colonna, in the National Archaeological Park of the same name. Finds from excavation campaigns in and around the city are on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Crotone.

Symbols of medieval Crotone are the imposing Charles V Castle (15th century), which in the centre houses the Civic Museum and Library, and the Cathedral of the Madonna di Capo Colonna, where every year in August, the effigy of the Black Madonna is the subject of a spectacular night procession to the small Capo Colonna Shrine

The best view on the Costa dei Saraceni? On the seafront, among the fish restaurants where you can taste the typical Sardella Crotonese (or Rosamarina), the spreadable whitebait and chilli pepper condiment also known as "Calabrian Caviar", and the renowned Pecorino Crotonese PDO.

Tappa 3 - Strongoli

Vai alla destinazione

Marina di Strongoli (KR) is the third stop on our itinerary on the Costa dei Saraceni. Here you can enjoy a crystal-clear sea and a truly unspoilt beach.

A stroll along the Lungomare reveals a number of gems linked to the Saracen raids: first and foremost, the Limena Tower, part of the efficient system of Calabrian coastal towers put in place by Charles V.  Archaeology enthusiasts are also advised to pay a visit to the so-called "Tesauro Stone", one of the five Roman mausoleums in Calabria (at Santi Quaranta), which tradition identifies as the tomb of Consul Claudius Marcellus.

Fancy a gourmet lunch or dinner? You're in the right place! Strongoli, which is also a "Wine City" in Calabria, is home to the renowned Dattilo Restaurant in the marina, among the 6 starred restaurants in Calabria (1 Michelin Star).    

Finally, we reach the historic centre in the hills, and discover the medieval charm of Strongoli Castle, the Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Grazie (14th century) and the 16th-century Bishop's Palace.

Tappa 4 - Melissa

Vai alla destinazione

Among the Blue Flags and Green Flags along the itinerary we are following on the Costa dei Saraceni, Melissa (KR) welcomes us to the coastline with its architectural symbol, which gives its name to the Marina of Torre Melissa, the monumental Aragonese Tower.

The Aragonese Tower (commonly called Torre Melissa) is a unique fortress compared to other coastal watchtowers in Calabria, as it has an octagonal plan, an inner courtyard and three floors. Today, a small Civic Museum can be visited inside. 

Climbing up to the historic centre on the hill, we discover the ancient wine-growing vocation of this area, not surprisingly among the "Wine Cities" in Calabria, devoted to the prized production of Melissa PDO wine, to which the Old Oil Mill and the "Palazzo Ferraro" Wine Museum are dedicated.

The walking itinerary in the village includes a visit to the Mother Church of San Nicola Vescovo and several minor churches, as well as the Monument to the Fallen of Fragalà, a work that Ernesto Treccani (founder of the famous encyclopaedia) wanted to donate in memory of the peasants killed in the Melissa Massacre for having claimed their rights (1949).  The Peasant Struggle Research Centre is also dedicated to these events.

Tappa 5 - Cirò Marina

Vai alla destinazione

The Costa dei Saraceni continues with a stop in Cirò Marina (KR), another renowned "Wine City" in Calabria, which boasts the production of the prized Cirò PDO wine, and also loves the Clementine di Calabria PGI, one of the region's iconic citrus fruits.

We are once again in a stretch of the Costa dei Saraceni that boasts both the Blue Flag and the Green Flag, meaning crystal-clear sea and facilities for those who want to enjoy a family holiday with children. A land of ancient settlements, Cirò Marina is identified with the ancient Greek colony of Krimisa (7th-6th century B.C.), linked to the remains of the Temple of Apollo Aleo, which can be visited on the promontory of Punta Alice. Founded by the hero Philoctetes to celebrate the end of his long wanderings (alae), the temple is linked to the nearby Archaeological Civic Museum, which houses its artefacts.  

Archaeology lovers can also visit the ruins of Torre Vecchia and Torre Nuova.

Tappa 6 - Cariati

Vai alla destinazione

The last stop on the tour along the Costa dei Saraceni takes us to the province of Cosenza, to the medieval village of Cariati, a 10th-century fortress town known for its extraordinarily well-preserved city walls (the only one entirely preserved in Calabria), which extend for about 1 km and are interspersed with eight circular towers.  

The history of this sea-view village is imprinted in its architecture, including the access gates, the bridge crossing, the noble palaces, among which the Seminario Palace stands out, and the winding lanes, now embellished by a series of murals.

Places not to be missed include the Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo, a rare example of a neoclassical church with a 17th century bell tower, the sea view known as the Balconata della Spezieria, and the Tomba Brettia (4th-3rd century B.C.), a rare example of a chamber tomb located on a hill near the town.

The beach at Cariati (Cariati Marina), is Green Flag for services to families with children, and on 16 August hosts the sea procession of the patron saint, San Cataldo. Here, too, specialities include spicy sardines.

Ultimo aggiornamento: Mar 27, 2024 9:23 AM