I must confess that before accepting a job here in Calabria I had never heard of it. For me south Italy was Naples. Sicily, sure, everyone knows the ball but as for the foot of the boot it was far from my consciousness. Realising I’d signed up for a year as an English language teacher it soon dawned on me that perhaps I should research the exotic sounding location that I had so willingly agreed to call home.
My first port of call was to ask my endlessly stylish Italian friend from Milan. “Trust me treasure,” he warned over his cappuccino froth, “Calabria is nothing more than Mafia. Come to Milan, at least we have shopping!”. Of course this warning did nothing more than pique my curiosity even further so I did what I’ve always done in a crisis, I turned to Google.
Palmi, the town I’d chosen, sounded exotic, it conjured up images of desolate beaches fringed with palm trees. My boss had made very clear that it was a market town with little tourism but this to me just sounded fantastic! My Google search turned up little so I headed here full of anticipation.
So what is it really like?
Calabria has a bad reputation, it has high unemployment, little industry and is riddled with a criminal past. However, it is one of earth’s hidden gems, a rustic honesty that is wrapped in the most stunning surroundings you forget you’re in Europe. Yes, it’s not perfect, yes there are things which don’t work but I can categorically say that it’s the safest place I’ve ever lived. I’ve never felt uncomfortable here and am happy to walk everywhere late at night. As it’s a small place you get to know everyone and they all look after you because they like you to feel part of the community. It’s difficult to walk across the square without being stopped for a conversation or having lemons thrust upon you! I like the hospitality that everyone shows and it’s definitely made me feel part of the town rather than an outsider. The people are so warm and welcoming, they would give you the shirt of their back if they could. The food is the best I’ve ever eaten in Italy and trust me I’ve eaten a lot. To top it all, the landscape is jaw dropping, you can smoothly move from mountain to beach in less than half an hour and the lack of tourism here means that it is still relatively unspoilt.
The warnings from the North? The longer I lived here the more I came to realise that the North/South divide will always mean that people will bad-mouth the South. Judging from the amount of Northern tourists that spend their summers here, it can’t be that bad!
Like anywhere in the world there are positives and negatives but come and visit and decide for yourself!