Why I Chose Calabria as a Setting in My Novel
When you ask someone where they would like to visit given the opportunity, many will say, Italy. I don’t blame them. I have been fortunate to visit many times and have traveled most of that picturesque Mediterranean peninsula.
The first time was in 1996 with my parents, youngest brother, and Mom’s sis, my dear Aunt Mary (God rest her soul). Mom and her big sis wanted to go back to visit their Zio Julio. Thanks to WWII, they were separated from their father (who was in the U.S.) for 10 years, so their uncle filled that paternal role as best he could.
The story about how he saved my Uncle Mariano (thanks to medicine he acquired via the black market) from a leg amputation or quite possibly death by infection was just one of many amazing tales my mother shared with us about growing up in a war zone. At 85, she is still one of the most compassionate people I know toward the plight of those in Syria, Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere today, because she’s been there and done that. However, she considers herself one of the lucky ones. Her experiences, she will say, “were minor by comparison to what has been suffered by others.” (I will say, “I’m glad to have been born in the U.S.A.”)
Personal Ties to Various Regions in Italy
More on all that in a future blog, but for now, let me tell you about her village. It’s located in the shadow of one of Italy’s most famous mountains, Gran Sasso, in a rolling valley of fertile fields; a pastoral setting of tiny towns of stone-on-stone offering strolls back in time. Sadly, earthquakes in that area have since devastated some of those towns including little Vallecupa, my Mom’s home village. But don’t let that hold you back from a visit to the Abruzzo region and some of the best food you could ever eat.
My husband and I once stayed inland and upland from the hopping beach town of Pescara along the Adriatic coast. I remember that we had to eat dinner early that night because Italy was playing Spain for the European soccer championship, and the staff of the castle where we stayed (very inexpensive) in Loreto Aprutino did not want to miss a kick. The castle, its views, church, and antiques were well worth the stop. The meal was one of my all-time favorites.
I realize that most folks want to visit Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast (as I first did), but if you can swing a side trip to another region like we did with Mom, time spent off the beaten path is well worth it.
My father’s parents and my husband are from the region where my story begins, Calabria, one of the least known regions of Italy, but a must-see. The beaches as well as the views from the high hill town of San Mango D’Aquino, and the quaintness of its main church, are just as I describe in my novel, Fatima and the Sons of Abraham.
The Best Places in Calabria
San Mango D’Aquino is easy to get to from the Autostrada A3. (It really does only take 15 minutes to scoot down the mountain to the beach towns of Falerna, Nocera Terinese, and Campora.) For a fish dinner that will blow your mind, eat at Ristorane L’Aragosta. My paesani at the Hotel Torino are located on a quiet stretch of the rocky shore and may not serve as exotic meals, but you won’t go away hungry after a day of sunbathing.
The Calabrese in this region will tell you to visit Tropea, known to world chefs for its fields of onions, but to vacationers for its incredible beach setting at the base of a rock outcropping where sits (what else) a church. Get there early if you go in the summer, because parking is difficult – especially on the weekends. The town is some 300 steps above the beach, atop ancient Roman aqueducts.
For history or romance buffs, the nearby town of Pizzo is home to the palace where Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Marshal Joachim Murat, former King of Naples, and gallant military leader, was executed in 1815. The letter he wrote to his wife before his death at age 48 is a literary wonder.
On the Ionian Sea side of this region (known as the bottom of the boot of Italy), is the hamlet called Gerace where one of the most amazingly ornate collections of silver can be found. I remember a moment there when the sound of local folk music echoed its way to my ears from a tiny farm cart along the winding road to the hill town and my perch against the cities outer wall.
So many places to see and so little time, I know, but if you are a European traveler, get yourself to Abruzzo and Calabria and discover La Dolce Vita, southern style.