The Costa Viola, or Purple Coast, stretches 35km along Calabria’s coastline, in the Reggio Calabria region. On one side it borders the sea, and on the other, the mountains. Tourists often overlook this area in favor of the more well-known Cinque Terre, leaving it relatively untouched. You should not, however, view these two areas as equivalents! Along the Costa Viola, beaches and towns do not flood with tourists every summer, prices do not suffer from mass tourism inflation, and the natural serenity that pervades this coastline remains even in high season.
The area houses four main localities: Palmi, Scilla, Villa San Giovanni, and Bagnara Calabra. Each of these has their own, unique draws. Nevertheless, all share the tranquil and stunning setting of the beautiful Costa Viola. Historians do not know exactly when people first started using the name ‘Costa Viola’ for this part of the world. However, you will soon realize why it bears such a particular name. As Plato describes, in the evening, “everything is tinted in varying shades of purple, giving life… to an ever new spectacle”. An evening spent gazing out to sea as the sun goes down promises both utterly breathtaking views and unforgettable memories.
This delightful little town extends inwards from the shoreline, and seems to spring up naturally from its surroundings. It is home to numerous religious and traditional ceremonies that take place all year round. For example, ‘La Varia’ consists of an enormous procession through the town. It celebrates the assumption of the Virgin into heaven. Another interesting, more sombre celebration is that of Saint Rocco. This festival features a procession of a statue of the saint. Men of faith accompany it, wearing a headpiece of thorns, in memory of the Christ’s crucifixion.
Enthralling, though intense, traditions aside, Palmi also offers plenty of history. Visitors can enjoy wandering up to the Saracen Tower, amidst the ruins of the city of Taurina. Here you will also find a three-hectare wide archeological park, where you can learn more about the city’s history.
Palmi also boasts the beautiful golden sands of Spiaggia delle Tonnare. This large and popular beach provides perfect sunbathing spots, and refreshing swimming opportunities.
Scilla is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the localities along the Costa Viola. The town sits on a promontory, and descends into the sea. From the top of the town you can enjoy a profile view of Sicily. Wandering down to the lower areas of the delightful Scilla you will arrive at Marina Grande. This family-friendly beach offers 800m of sands, with gentle and clean waters. It opens up onto the Strait of Messina, and in summer months it is probably also one of the busiest beaches in the area.
Scilla is also home to the typical Calabrian fishing village of Chianalea. This small borgo is sometimes called the Venice of the South. Its houses sit right by the sea, giving onto the gentle waves which lap against their foundations. Its seemingly spontaneous construction creates a charming mosaic of the typical fishing homes of the locals.
The Castello di Ruffo overlooks Chianalea’s bay. This imposing structure has an incredible history. The count who lived there, Paolo Ruffo, gave the castle its name. Moreover, in 1523, he successfully defended Scilla from the notorious Pirate Barbarossa (Redbeard)! This castle is well worth a visit, offering not only riveting histories, but also gorgeous panoramas over the Aeolian Islands.
In August you can also enjoy the Sagra del Pescespada. This month-long festival celebrates Scilla and Chianalea’s long and diverse historical culture. Enjoy evenings of traditional music, exhibitions and themed events. At many of these events you can also taste some of the area’s delicious gastronomy and wine! For a first-hand account on what it’s like to visit Scilla please check out our friends at southernitaly.net.
Villa San Giovanni
Villa San Giovanni is a slightly smaller, and slightly lesser-known area of the Costa Viola. It nonetheless offers a charming, and characteristic seafront town, nestled amongst the various levels of the rocky shoreline. It also has its own beaches, and a superb vantage point from the elevated head front, which consists of a large mass of rock, on which an old fortress can also be found.
Just like its neighbors, Bagnara Calabra offers its visitors lovely, sandy beaches amongst lush greenery, with an ever-present culture of a fishing village. In fact, from May through August, you can witness the age-old tradition of swordfish fishing, the results of which you can then taste at local eateries.
Those wishing to fully immerse themselves in the Costa Viola’s history can visit many an historical attraction in and around Bagnara Calabra. For example, taking a trip down to the historic Marinella district, you will come across the 15th-century Aragonese tower, Capo Rocchi, which was one of many watchtowers that guarded against Saracen attacks. Bagnara is also home to the Fonte Garibaldi, at which local legends claim Garibaldi stopped twice for drinking water. A new fountain was built in commemoration of this in 1866.
What to eat on the Costa Viola
Calabria itself has a plethora of exquisite delicacies on offer, and the Costa Viola is no different. In each of its localities, you can delight in incredibly fresh seafood, given their strong fishing culture. If you time your visit well, you can even taste the uniquely-caught swordfish in Bagnara, a speciality that is imbued with traditional culture. In other dishes this you will find hand rolled pastas, the famous ‘Nduja sausage, and the much-beloved variations on aubergine. You can find the latter all over Calabria, and it is often found in a spicy stew with chilis, tomatoes, and onions (a great option for vegetarians!).
Calabria is also famous for its sun-dried red peppers, as well as their red onions, both of which lend their characteristic flavors to many of the region’s most savory dishes. Whilst visiting a seafront town, however, perhaps try the pasta ccu ri sarde, a dish in which fresh sardines, raisins, and pine nuts are mixed into pasta to create a sumptuous fusion of sweet and salty.