It is 11AM and I’ve cracked the first ice cold Birra Moretti. My sister, 8st at fighting weight, is bemoaning her previous day’s lunch and dinner time pizzas. We are lazing on our picture postcard penthouse balcony overlooking Calabria’s Costa Viola. Holiday has its languid and sybaritic grip on us.
Beating sun dominates the horizon – not even a wispy cloud for miles. The sea, an endless smudge of azure, shimmers with a thousand gold leafs. Apart from the lizard dancing impossibly up the wall, wildlife is left for us idle humans.
I’m lucky enough to be holidaying in the wonderful and little known coastal town of Scilla in Calabria; the toe of the boot of Italia, or the poor carbuncle as the snooty Milanese would have you believe.
I was not strictly speaking in Scilla – that is where the beaches for the tourists lie and perhaps lacks a little elegance. A short walk round the headland takes to Chinaglia, which is a working fishing port and whose narrow streets contain wonderful discoveries like our B and B.
Life is hot and slow here. I have spent divine hours reading (an excellent Graham Greene and a book on that cycling toad Lance Armstrong), ingested copious amounts of fabulous fish and guzzled many glasses of local wine.
I always find one finds a holiday rhythm quickly; Staying in a charming B and B above a bar was an easy rhythm to become used to! Casa Vela (www.casavelascilla.it) is run by the charming Francisco and Francisca and occasionally their 10 month daughter Marianna. The bar is marvellously relaxed and welcoming – be it is over coffee and croissants in the morning or devilish digestifs at 2AM.
The southern coastal Italian outlook on life is something that we should really try to adopt in London. They rise reasonably early hoping to catch the fresh bread or vegetable van (which has a small on-board tannoy that tells the town about the daily deals).
They then appear to orbit Scilla in a team shuffle. The Southern Italians are unlike the impolite general populous; in the south they are impossibly generous and devoid of pomposity. After lunch and a majestic doze the gentle hum of constant talking and laughing reconvenes.
Scilla has exceptional fish which I dined on every evening – Carpaccio of tuna, oysters the size of my fist, carbonara of smoked swordfish, and a superbly rare tuna fillet were only some of the highlights. The multi-course meal of antipasto, pasta, fish, salad, dessert, and the ubiquitous espresso is the only way to dine. Indeed it is a banquet, but unlike French dining it doesn’t leave you with a case of crise de foie! The rich local wine that accompanies the meal (Vino Crisera is the wonderful product of Francesca’s family – http://www.vinicrisera.it) was like a welcome waterfall on our table.
Food doesn’t stop at the restaurants – it is a way of life here, with all products having a proclivity to organic farming. Bergamot (a type of orange) and local chilli are infused in any which way. My favourite discovery was Nduja which is a spreadable spicy sausage mix. Rather like a chorizo that has been smashed by a hammer and mixed with olive oil. It is delightful on fresh artisan bread or with creamy pecorino.
The people here are all long limbed and impossibly tanned, walking the street one feels rather like Chenault dancing in the Rum Diary. They appear to live a perfect life yet this is one of the poorest regions of western Europe. The irony is that the life of fresh vegetables, good wine, beautiful people, and hot sun is the Arcadia that every bored office worker dreams of. The idea is often more golden than the reality, but I would love to take a house on this relaxed sunshine trap and live of the fat of the land with buckets of olive oil and lashings of cured meat and cheese.
I have visited Italy extensively and loved it all. But I do encourage you all to go to the South because you will see a different side to the country. By all means go to Rome and press endless Euros into inflated palms. However I feel a week in a town that genuinely needs your money is a more rewarding experience; they don’t prostitute or force you for money, it occurs as an extension of fabulous times….or perhaps wonderful and subtle salesmen!