Bagnara Calabra and Scilla, the villages of swordfish

Visit to the Straits swordfishers

© Regione Calabria

Food and wine

Calabria and swordfish: an ancient combination that recalls a laborious craft, still practised in the legendary waters of the Strait of Messina, between the mirages of Fata Morgana and the pitfalls of Scylla and Charybdis.

What are the swordfish villages in Calabria? Certainly Bagnara Calabra and Scilla, two pearls of the renowned Costa Viola, in the province of Reggio Calabria.

Let's take a dive into the sea of the Strait to discover all the secrets of a family art and of a product, Calabrian swordfish, among the most excellent of the regional gastronomy.

Sword fishing in Calabria

Documented since classical times, swordfish fishing in Calabria evokes an ancient maritime tradition, almost comparable to the hand-to-hand fight between "the old man and the marlin" described by Hemingway in The Old Man and the Sea. The earliest evidence dates back to the 2nd century B.C. when historians such as Polybius described the technique in detail. Greek mythology itself gives us Achilles' brave spearmen transformed into swordfish at his death, when they jump into the sea and the goddess Thetis transforms them into spearfish.

Regione Calabria

How does swordfishing take place in Calabria? Meanwhile, the stretch of sea affected by the passage of this renowned variety of fish is mainly the Strait of Messina, the most perilous channel in the ancient imagination, still the subject of suggestions and disputes concerning its crossing. Experienced and contemptuous of danger, Calabrian swordfishermen ply it with their typical boats to ensure the daily presence of this tasty southern fish on their tables.

Fishing trips (spatàre) take place aboard fast boats: the luntru (fast and manoeuvrable, for daytime fishing), the palamita (equipped with long nets for night fishing) and the super-classic felucca. Swordfishing remains a bloody spectacle, which nevertheless narrates the inseparable relationship between man and nature in territories that make their living from fishing and have made fishing an identity trait, to the point that one of the most widespread iconographies of the Municipality of Bagnara Calabra depicts a woman of the people, the traditional bagnaròta, balancing a basket on her head from which the sharp sword of the fish emerges.

Spatare Bagnara
Regione Calabria

Any curiosities? Sword fishing in Calabria is a true sacred ritual and as such involves precise gestures, objects and superstitions. Despite the use of new technological devices, for example, the traditional blue (or red) wooden ball, placed atop a pole on the prow, with the stars of Ursa Major painted on it, separated by a white band, in reference to ancient Phoenician culture, cannot be missed. The most mysterious gesture still today is the so-called cardàta da' crùci, which consists of carving a sign of a cross on the swordfish's right cheek. Now lost, unfortunately, is the ritual of fishing songs in Greek.

How and where to eat swordfish in Calabria? In the picturesque fishing villages of Scilla and Bagnara.

Where to eat swordfish in Calabria

Bagnara Calabra is the little "sword capital of Calabria". Lying along the Costa Viola, the stretch of the Lower Tyrrhenian Sea in the province of Reggio Calabria characterised by the presence of seaweed that lends its colour to the entire coastline, the town of Bagnara is also known for being the birthplace of the "Bertè sisters" of Italian song (Loredana and Mia Martini, to the second of whom a town monument is dedicated).

Among the excellence of Calabrian food and wine, this beautiful seaside resort also stands out for the production of the prized Torrone di Bagnara PGI and Costa Viola IGT wines. The culinary combination of "nougat and swordfish" is one of the most enjoyable ventures in contemporary Calabrian cuisine.

After a meal of these delicacies, all that remains is to take a stroll along the beautiful promenade overlooking the Straits and then discover the more elevated historic centre. Among the oldest remains of Bagnara before the disastrous earthquake of 1908, the 15th century Aragonese Tower (or Capo Rocchi) survives. In the historical centre, it is possible to visit the Church of the Carmine, on a square with a panoramic view, just like the Ducal Ruffo Castle, a little further upstream. From the top of the hill of the same name, the Marturano Path starts, allowing you to return to the marina with a pleasant trek through the greenery.

Regione Calabria

If you still haven't had your fill of goodness and beauty, continue your trip to Scilla, another essential reference point for Calabrian swordfish.

Here you can find it declined in a thousand ways, from the classic swordfish rolls to the very southern swordfish parmigiana, passing through the traditional grilled and fresh pasta in combination with aubergines, capers and cherry tomatoes, with an excellent glass of Scilla IGT. Or, for those who want a quick snack, in the form of a swordfish sandwich, typical local street food.

The seafood restaurants in Scilla are arranged in rows on traditional stilts at the water's edge in the picturesque fishing village of Chianalea, not coincidentally known as the "Little Venice of the South" because of the sea that creeps between the buildings and the boats literally "parked" below.

Vincenzo Stranieri

Climbing to the historic centre in a panoramic position, the imposing Ruffo Castle, which stands on a cliff and is among the best-preserved fortresses in Calabria, is worth a visit. Take a walk to admire the churches and, above all, the sea-view Piazza San Rocco, at the centre of which stands the Statue of Scilla (or Little Mermaid), a true artistic symbol. To conclude, a swim at Marina Grande is the best way to say goodbye to the wonders of the Strait.

Last update: Feb 16, 2024 8:53 AM