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2 Must-See Calabrian Towns: Gerace & Stilo

Ever since I moved to Calabria, people have been telling me I needed to visit Gerace and Stilo. Each has its unique personality, and the two together make for a great day trip.

Stop 1: Gerace

Like many towns just a few miles inland from the sea in Calabria, Gerace is located high on a hill. The name "Gerace" comes from the Greek word for sparrowhawk (all of Calabria was once part of Greece). The story says that locals, fleeing from an enemy attack in 915 AD, were led to the hills by a sparrowhawk, and so they named the village founded there after the bird!

One of the first things you'll notice here are the ruins of an old Norman castle. Imagine what a view they had from up high! They'd see enemies coming long before they arrived.

My friend Dora (the Calabrian Explorer) and I had fun wandering around Gerace looking for the churches, of which there are many! At one point, this tiny town had 128 churches!! Building a church was a status symbol for the rich, and this area attracted the wealthy, thus the high number of churches.

We stopped at a bar for a cool treat of gelato. When I spotted this cute lil treat, I lit up like a little girl. Even more so when I heard it was called la lingua di gatto, or "cat's tongue!"

We also stumbled upon a very cool shop that makes ceramics in the style of the ancient Greeks and Romans. There, sculptor Tony Custureri and his team paint plates and create sculptures with Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses. Right up my alley!

Tony showed me several small busts of the Goddess Aphrodite. Interestingly, he had a Greek, Roman, and even older version. Just 5 euros! Best deal in town.

We also stopped by Sapuri Calabrisi, a shop selling a variety of local delicacies, including bergamot wine, spicy spreads, and locally-made bath products. Ask for free samples of the wines!

Stop 2: Lunch in Bivongi

Sightseeing made us work up an appetite, so before we drove into Stilo, we stopped down the hill at La Vecchia Miniera in Bivongi.

This is authentic Calabria. While Americans are used to restaurants that have been Instagrammized with trendy plant walls and kitschy signs, Italy, at least in Calabria, is all about authenticity. Nothing fancy. Just good food.

This restaurant sits above a river, and you can hear the nearby waterfall if you sit on the outdoor dining deck.

We started with a typical appetizer in Calabria: meats and cheeses.

Dora was excited about the goat meat pasta dish, but I opted for the burrata ravioli. Both were delicious.

Stop 3: La Cattolica in Stilo

Now fortified with food and locally-made wine, we made our way up the hill to Stilo. This was one of the most important Byzantine cities in the 10th century.

Given that rain was headed our way, we made our way to the jewel of the town: the church La Cattolica, which overlooks the city from above.

To be honest, there's not much to this church. I was a bit dumbfounded to discover that entry was a whopping €4. But then we got inside and I understood.

This place is a gem.

Though it was tiny, this Byzantine church from the ninth and tenth centuries packed a powerful punch.

It's remarkable how well-preserved the many paintings on the wall were. I was shocked that they weren't being protected in any way. You could actually touch the paintings if you wanted (I didn't!).

These towns further illustrate just how many remarkable sights there are to see in Calabria!

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