Alto Ionio Cosentino is one of the most surprising places in Calabria, with many unusual and little-known attractions to discover. Surrounded by archaeological ruins, ancient castles, blue flag beaches, lush countryside, and many opportunities to sample delicious cuisine, this area is the ideal place to immerse yourself in the wilderness of Calabria without sacrificing comfort.
The village of Rocca Imperiale, kingdom of the fragrant world-famous PGI lemons, is named after the manor built in 1255 by Frederick II of Swabia, which was also a source of inspiration for Italian director, Pupi Avati.
In August, Rocca becomes even more poetic thanks to the literary festival that leaves a lasting mark: the winning poem is imprinted on precious majolica and affixed to a house in the village. This means that year after year the walls of the houses gradually transform into pages of a three-dimensional book made up of the literary compositions.
Just four kilometres from the historic centre of Rocca is the sea, where visitors can make the most of the seven kilometres of beach that alternates between pebbles and rocks.
One of the most enchanting places on this stretch of coastline is Roseto Capo Spulico. You will be left speechless by its Norman stone castle which, rebuilt at the request of Frederick II, is one of the largest in Calabria. In the era of Magna Graecia, the town of Roseto was one of the satellite cities of Sybaris. Roses were grown there, whose petals were used to fill the mattresses of the people of Sybaris. Once you have finished admiring the castle overlooking the sea, head down to the beach. The waters that lap the beach’s white pebbles and gravel have won it the coveted Blue Flag award several times. One of the symbols of the Calabrian sea, the famous Scoglio dell’Incudine (rock of the anvil), can also be found not far from the beach in front of the castle. Together, the rock and castle form a much-loved and photographed backdrop.
As you continue to explore you will come across beaches of golden sand and pebbles with clean, crystalline waters. These unique features make Sybaris a real paradise, where, in some areas, the beach extends up to almost 100 metres.
The coastline is part of the Foce del Crati nature reserve and the surrounding area is also known for its archaeological excavations, whose findings are preserved in the Archaeological Park of Sybaris and the National Archaeological Museum of Sybaris. These artefacts serve as a tangible and superb testimony of a glorious past when Sybaris was the queen of Magna Graecia.
Continuing past the artificial lakes, you will encounter the majestic village of Corigliano Calabro, a pretty town perched on a hill with one of the most beautiful and admired historical centres of Italy. The most iconic place in the town is undoubtedly the Ducal Castle, a fortress dating back to the 11th century which remains perfectly preserved.
Robert Guiscard was the patron of this true symbol of the Calabrian city and still to this day you can admire numerous frescoes, statues, highly treasured and stunningly beautiful stained-glass, as well as unique and original architecture inside the building. Corigliano is certainly not lacking in important religious buildings. Visitors can admire the 15th century Church of St. Anthony of Padua, attached to the nearby Franciscan monastery, and the sixteenth century Church of St. Francis of Paola which is also connected to the convent.
The waters of the Ionian Sea lap against the shores of the seaside village of Corigliano: the beaches of Schiavonea are popular destinations among foreign tourists who want to savour one of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline in the whole of Southern Italy.
A little further on you will arrive at Rossano Calabro, which is situated in the easternmost part of the impressive plain of Sibari, between Sila and the Ionian coast. Recently, the town of Rossano has officially merged with that of Corigliano to create one of the largest tourist-commercial centres in the region.
Rossano is the home of the liquorice variety known as Cordara amongst Calabrians. The town is also the location of the famous Liquorice Museum.
In addition to being an ideal destination for excursion-lovers, Rossano is also the guardian of a precious treasure: the Rossano Gospels. This manuscript of the New Testament is made of purple parchment and is of particular biblical, religious, artistic, palaeographic, historical, and documentary interest. It is housed in the city’s Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art. Also worth a visit is the Church of the Panagia, a tiny Byzantine building hidden amidst a cluster of old houses behind the Cathedral. On the south-eastern cliff edge stands the Church of San Marco Evangelista, one of the most interesting Byzantine buildings in Calabria.
In Calabria, in addition to the production of artisanal pasta, rice is also grown. The rice paddy of the Sibari plain, made up of alluvial and naturally brackish soil, is the southernmost, and therefore the sunniest, rice paddy in Italy. This particular combination of the soil and micro-climate gives Sibari Rice a unique flavour. In the past, this rice was resold to producers in Northern Italy, but since 2006 the entire production operation, from sowing to packaging and sales, is managed on site. This allows the entire supply chain to be fully controlled in order to guarantee the end consumers a product that is authentically Calabrian, with superior qualities and properties. Due to its light consistency, it is not usually recommended for risottos, but it is an excellent choice for soups, timbale, croquettes, arancini and desserts.
About 80% of Italian liquorice production is concentrated in Calabria.
It originates from the coastal region and its main production areas are the municipalities of Rossano and Corigliano, in the province of Cosenza. Liquorice has always been a source of value and wealth for Calabria, particularly thanks to the Duke of Corigliano, who founded the first factory of its kind in 1715. The liquorice variety named "Cordara" in Calabria obtained PDO certification in 2011.
The PGI Lemon, grown since ancient times in the territory of Rocca Imperiale, is known as Antico (old) or Nostrano di Rocca Imperiale (ours of Rocco Imperiale). The fruit of this intensely yellow and extraordinarily fragranced lemon is unique and significantly different to all other varieties. It has an elongated shape, is almost seedless and is juicy with an excellent aroma and pleasant taste. Rocca is the largest producer of lemons in the whole province of Cosenza and the Alto Ionio region: since 2001 the lemon growers of Rocca Imperiale have joined together in a Consortium to protect and promote the Rocca Imperiale Lemon. They started the procedure for the recognition of the PGI label, which was then awarded in 2011.
A cross between the bitter orange and the mandarin, clementines are probably native to Algeria. However, they have been grown in Italy since the 1930s and found an ideal habitat in Calabria where, in 1992, they became Clementine di Calabria PGI. This horticultural product is mainly grown in the plains of Sibari and Corigliano in the Cosentino area, in the Lamezia plain in the Catanzaro area and in the Gioia Tauro-Rosarno plain and the Locride plain in Reggio Calabria. Thanks to their excellent quality, Clementine di Calabria PGI are generally eaten as they are, but are also widely used in sorbets, juices, syrups, and jams.