July, 2016 – February, 2017
Italy’s alluring and untouched southern region: Cosenza, Calabria – where tourists are scarce but locals, frivolity, and food are plentiful!
Unlike the milk-run of Italian tourist destinations, Calabria and especially Cosenza are nowhere to be seen on a tourist’s checklist.
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
This is what makes this region so special. I love the fact that Calabria is so untouched and not traversed. A region of Italy that feels as if it’s about to be unveiled to the rest of the world.
I hope to see most of it before the hoards of tourists discover Calabria and its hidden gems such as Cosenza.
You can wander the gorgeous 14th-century cobbled streets of the Old Town without bumping into or being neck-to-neck with cameras snapping in your face. Or, surrounded by flag-waving tour guides vying for the best vantage point at a famous ruin, whilst closely poking your eye out with their flag!
There is a serenity here that is both peaceful and relaxing. Take your time, wander at will, and enjoy the pace. Stop for an espresso, enjoy the ambience, and absorb an authentic and different Italy.
A little background
Cosenza is a city that boasts many thousands of years.
This city’s tumultuous history starts from the Middle Ages and travels through Byzantine conquerors but also Norman, Spanish, and French conquerors with bitter battles and endings. All have left their mark on the elegant architecture in this city. Traces of the prehistoric period and also Neolithic sites (along the coast) have also been identified.
Situated on seven hills in the valley of Crati, Cosenza is almost surrounded by hills and also the reason that it enjoys a micro-climate different to the Mediterranean.
The inviting Mediterranean coast is about a 25-minute train ride from the city. The Sila National Park spanning over five-hundred thousand hectares is one of Italy’s oldest national parks, an excellent playground for trekking, and about an hour’s drive from Cosenza.
As a foreigner, I just don’t blend in here no matter how hard I try. Although I speak enough Italian to hold a conversation, I only need to open my mouth with one word and immediately, I am found out. However, locals are super polite, very kind, and accommodating.
Why not step out of a typical tourist route and make the effort to visit this beautiful part of Italy? Make your own conclusions.
For a smallish city of around 100,000, there always seems to be something on and usually free to attend, which is great for both locals and visitors. The city also has its own FaceBook page Cosenza 2.0, which is always updated with weekly events.
The Open Air Museum Bilotti, which runs the length of Corso Mazzini’s pedestrian area, holds many beautiful stone and bronze statues. Stop for a moment to admire the wonderful fluidity of these art pieces or better still, sit for an espresso whilst casting your eyes over some of this artwork.
Football and drinks
Although I am not big on football, managed to squeeze in a football match between Atletico Madrid and Crotone (€25). Atletico won: 2/0 – they played well. Even for a novice as myself, I could see that Crotone did not have it together!
Going with locals was a lot of fun – so passionate about everything in life but especially football. Interesting how in many countries football is a religion.
Ventured off back to the Mary Jane Pub House in the Old Town after the match for a few drinks and joined up with more friends, which was great fun as they tried their hardest to remember their English.
Sad though is that all these highly educated guys cannot find work here and feel as if there aren’t any opportunities in Cosenza or Calabria. Apparently the north has more jobs. I think people love it so much down here that they are not willing to give up their lifestyle and head north. I still haven’t worked out how locals survive here.
This pub is owned by twin brothers and both are so overwhelmingly hospitable that it is very humbling…even gave our whole group a local wonderful home-made liqueur drink.
So far, everyone in Cosenza has been super friendly, warm, and extremely welcoming – it is almost as if they can’t do enough for you. Perhaps it is because people are incredulous that we would swap Australia for Cosenza.
Castello Normanno Svevo
Sitting high on a hill over-shadowing the Old Town and overlooking the expanse of Cosenza, lays the recently restored Norman Castle.
Originally built in 1000 and restored in 1239, the EU funded restoration of the castle commencing in 2008 and completed in 2015.
The restoration merges modern with old and I am not sure the modernity does this ancient building justice.
The view from here is pretty impressive and worth the long walk uphill from the city centre. There is a shortcut down many stairs through the Old Town, if you want to work your glutes.
The legendary tomb of Alaric – some history
This part of Cosenza’s history goes something like this…
It is believed that at the confluence of the two historical rivers in Cosenza (Busento and Crathis), King Alaric 1, hid his mountain of treasure. A modern-day statue marks the spot near the Old Town. No one really knows whether this is truth or myth.
Alaric ordered a horde of slaves to divert the water from the Busento, which allowed the slaves to dig a large tomb. This is where Alaric is buried with his horse and treasures amassed from his conquests in Rome. On completion of the tomb, the river was returned to its bed, and thus covering the tomb over with water. And just like Egyptian Pharaohs, Alaric’s troops killed all of the slaves to ensure the secrecy of the treasure’s location.
The very talented Silvio (singer/guitarist) and Eugenio (percussion/backing vocals/Cajón) blast music from the past, but also include more modern music in their repertoire.
There seems to be a push to give local artists exposure in the city but also a push to give Cosenza exposure as not many tourists visit this city.
Teatro dell’ Acquario
Saw the most amazing band: Safari Njema at the Teatro dell’ Acquario (Via Pasquale Galluppi, 15).
The band’s musicians are incredible and the voice of Bachir Charaf is also amazing with Arabic tonal notes – great night with friends.
The small bar section at the front of the theatre around from where the band was playing serves Gin & Tonics with a sprig of fresh Rosemary for €3 and beers for €2.50. Food is also on offer.
The ambiance on this night was quite eclectic and bohemian. I’m sure we will return to this venue at some point in the future and free entry, so even better.
Fashion and art exhibition, guitar making, and classical guitar evening
Museo Delle Arti e Dei Mestieri (Coroso Telesio, 17, in the Old Town)
Founded in 1861, this museum is a lovely and bright space to have an art exhibition; surrounding cobbled alleyways and beautiful Medieval architecture never disappoints.
For a different experience one evening, a group of us ventured to this museum for a fashion and art show together with guitar making demonstration and classical guitar playing, all wrapped into one cultural evening of a couple of hours.
Eugenio Ligato, a local guitar and violin maker quickly took us through the process of hand-making a guitar, which is amazing to watch.
This demonstration was followed by the classical guitarist Robert Longo giving a wonderful 20-minute performance. All free and some wine and nibbles at the end of the show – lovely night.
The exhibition included Italian artist Luigia Grenada’s “From paper to silk”.
This artist screen prints her artwork by hand onto scarves, dresses, hand bags, and purses. The exhibition was to look for sponsors for her future work.
Once a year, the chocolate festival comes to Cosenza and is heaving with locals and wondrous chocolate delights, dedicated to the “Food of the Gods”: chocolate.
Apparently, October is the month of chocolate in Cosenza. Who can argue with this celebration?
Lucky enough to be living just a 5-minute walk from this festival in Corso Mazzini, we attended a few times over the 28th-30th.
An amazing sight for one’s eyes was the intricate cakes, delicate chocolates, and even sausage made with chocolate.
I never want this festival to end – ever! Chocolate art at its best.
I love how you stumble upon different activities out of the blue, on a passeggiata (stroll) along Corso Mazzini.
On this particular night, bumped into this massively long cake stretching across several shops, with hoards of locals hovering like a swarm of bees, patiently waiting for some sweetness.
The catering school nearby made this cake in sections then joined it together on many tables for the finishing artistic touches.
The school’s chefs decorated the cake whilst the crowd of hungry onlookers waited patiently for a free slice or three. Yes, chunks of cake were cut up and handed out, devoured by the city; purely light and delicious!
Celebrated in many countries of the world, Halloween is no stranger here in Cosenza. Locals love to make an effort and dress up for the occasion.
A lovely playground for children or just for a stroll.
Shopping in Rende
Apart from the fancy shops in Corso Mazzini in Cosenza, the newer town of Rende about five kilometres north, offers a large shopping mall: The Metropolis. Another reason to shop here is I need a dress for an October wedding in Australia.
A bus from the Autostazione in Cosenza to Rende (€1.80 return) takes up to 20 minutes, depending on traffic. Rende is a university town and much newer than Cosenza. Actually, Cosenza has the largest university campus in Italy.
Loads of accommodation for rent, students everywhere, abundant buses, and buildings are much more modern than in Cosenza. Everywhere you look, there is an apartment block or new ones being built. Noticeable are all the ‘For sale’ and ‘For rent’ signs here – a sign of the current times or maybe a transient student populace? Although the locals say that Italy’s unemployment for the 25-35 year-olds is at 37%.
The Metropolis Mall
A large not-so-pretty modern shopping mall and what a surprise, still open during the day when everything else closes. Typically, everything shuts in Italy anywhere between 12:30-16:30; not unlike a ghost town.
Loads of flash shops but also a great place to bargain hunt. Pitta Rosso is amazing for shoes. As I’m going back to Australia and going to my niece’s wedding, I looked for a formal evening dress (I don’t usually wear dresses). I might add that I’ve put on about 5 kilos since being here and feel rather rotund. As I felt uncomfortable in everything I tried, returned to Cosenza without a dress, with shoes, and feeling rather depressed.
There is also an Old Town on the hill at Rende but will see this on another trip.
- Express Café – Cheaper wonderful savouries (€1+), great coffee (€1+), and good service.
- C House Coffee Shop – Great coffee (€1+) and wonderful generous Gelato scoops (€1.50+) of many delicious flavours
Italians and their love of food
Born into an Italian heritage, I was no stranger to the love affair that Italians have with food and the importance of a several-hour lunch.
Living in Calabria however, I had no idea that this love and affinity is actually an obsession. To be honest, I did not notice this as much in the north of Italy, although food is still discussed.
I often smile as I hear the many conversations on the street with people discussing food, meals, or passionate about the upmost detail on how to cook a particular Italian recipe – it’s beautiful! And as a result, the food here is wonderful, especially if you are lucky enough to be invited to a Calabrese home for an extended lunch.
The regional and seasonal fresh produce are so tasty that it throws me back to my childhood years, when fruit and vegetables tasted delicious.
I haven’t even started on the abundance of wonderful specialty cheeses, cured meats, pastries, pizza, pasta, Gelato, and much more…my ever-expanding girth is a testament to Calabrese food!
This food list will grow with time, so check back here in the future to try a few more delicacies. Or may be I will start another food post for Cosenza as this list is growing by the week!
- Bar Ritrovo Matteotti Gelataria (Piazza G. Mancini, 58) – This is a regular if not daily haunt – it is that good and inexpensive. Service is excellent as is the coffee (€1); Aperitivo (€5); amazing Gelato (€1+); incredible pastries (€1+); and savouries (€1+) are also available. Our second home.
- Angelo Azzurro (Piazza XX Settembre) – Another good bar/caffetteria with good service and great coffees (€1+); and delicious savoury snacks or sweet pastries (€1+) – friendly staff.
- Pizzeria L’Antica Tavernetta (Via Lungo Crati, N7) – Decided to walk along the Corso, which runs along the river Crati – several restaurants open later in the evening (19:00-20:00) until late serving pizzas, traditional Calabrian food, or Gelato/pastries. The pizzas (€4.50+ normal; €5.5o+ Maxi; €11+ massive) are amazing and something to behold! There is a cover charge of €0.50/person but you overlook the river and the Old Town so worth the location! Service is very good. Beer (€1+), soft drinks, and bottled water served only.
- Renzelli 1803 (Corso Umberto) – A little more upmarket than the others but states its been running since 1803, so maybe this is why? Excellent coffee (€1.20+), pastries (€1.50), and seems to be an after-work place where locals come and stand at the bar to have their Espresso shot before going home for the evening – loads of workers in suits but government offices are close by. Ambience is swish.
- Zorro (Old Town) – For excellent Gelato (€1.50 cone), you can’t pass up this Gelataria. Always super busy with many locals purposely stopping in for a take-away Gelato!
- Rossosapore (Corso Mazzini 239/241) – Excellent coffee (€1+) home-baked savouries (€2+), and the Aperitivo is wonderful at €7. Great ambience in a modern setting; sweet staff!
- Gran Caffe San Franceso (Piazza Europa 12) – Good coffee albeit at €1.50 (+ €0.12 table service), a little pricier than our usual haunt and the coffee isn’t as good. Loads of scrumptious-looking pastries on offer but abstained from these surprisingly. Reason for going here is that our goods friend suggested this café serves one of the best Gelato in Cosenza…sadly, none right now as winter is upon us.
- Campagna Amica La Bottega (Piazza G Mancini, 16) – Great for locally produced fresh fruit, vegetables, and products. This is a friends’ co-op and sells local goods external to the large supermarkets.
- Caffe Cliv (Via Montesanto 47) – Thought we’d try this as it’s just up the road from the new apartment. Great service, cosy little café with a couple of tables and chairs. Great coffee (€1) and savouries (€1.50). Very friendly owners, but then again, haven’t had a bad experience here for service yet in Cosenza.
- U Paisanu (Via XXIV Maggio 55) For sliced pizza, catering, birthdays, special breads (rolls €0.20+), local cakes, then you can’t go past this artisanal bakery. Serves freshly made Panini with ingredients of your choice!
- Pizzeria Osteria Vecchia Cosenza – Following the art and guitar exhibition, and with everyone famished, we ventured to this over-priced restaurant. A tiny bit of mixed meats (€7), pizza (€4+) but much smaller than usual. This place was absolutely packed but I am not sure why as the quality isn’t great. The wait staff were so busy it took over an hour to get our meals.
- L & O Captain Luigia & C. S (Piazza Kennedy, 9/10) – Enjoyed a thick luscious hot dark chocolate (€3+) and divine little freshly baked pastries (€1.20+) here – scrumptious. Lovely old-world surrounds.
- Gourmet Ristorante Pizzeria (Via Giuseppe Verdi, 6/7, Quattromiglia) – Excellent pizzas including metre-long delightful experiences, which you can select several different toppings to share or have yourself, if you’re starving. Great service.
- Retro Bar – Seems like all of Cosenza hangs out here during the early hours of the morning. Live band, no cover charge, spirits at €4, so not too expensive – good vibe.
- Palco (Via XXIV Maggio, 49) The Willis – Great band and ambience! Some jamming with a couple of Bassists and another vocalist thrown in for good measure when the need felt right. This establishment opens at around 9:30pm and closes around 1 am. Basic drinks are reasonable (Wine €4+; Rum €6+; beer €2.50+; snacks €3+). A fairly new venue so everything is super clean and staff are great. Just started opening for lunch.
- Bronx Bar (Piazza Loreto, 1-2-3) – Although a little more expensive than our usual haunt (Matteiotti), this Bar offers great service, excellent coffee (€1+), scrumptious pastries and cakes (€1.50+), savouries (€1+), meals, and ambience.
- People Bar (Via Giuliana, N7) – Expensive boutique beers, average food for the price, nice ambience though and good service.
- Bulldog Ale House (Corso Mazzini, 39) – Cosy pub with many boutique beers in varying sizes on tap (€4+), spirits (€4+) but wine is not sold here as it is just for ales.
- Mary Jane Pub House (Piazza Valdesi, Old Town) – Gorgeous original 14th-century architecture. Great reasonably-priced good hamburgers (€5+), excellent potato skins, and also reasonable drink prices.Great atmosphere and service.
- Interspar (Piazza Giacomo Mancini) – Within walking distance from the Old Town and only about 5-minutes from the apartment, this smaller supermarket stocks pretty much everything. Prices are not expensive, especially after travelling in France. The fresh local produce is excellent and cheap here in the south.
- Carrefour Zumpano (Via B F marino 5, Zumpano) – This supermarket is like a small city. The selection is great and reminded me of the HyperMarts in The Baltics. Understandably, there isn’t much Asian or Indian staples on the shelves although there is a Sushi corner inside the Carrefour is manned by Asian staff; Sushi is expensive but very good. Always spend a couple of hours here as the buses (€1.20 return) run at 2-hour intervals. There is an around-the-world bus ticket from the Autostazione, which goes around the hills of Zumpano and a very lovely 45-minute drive. Not sure why we buy tickets as I haven’t seen any locals buy bus tickets. Trains however, are different. Conductors are on trains and you must have a ticket prior to boarding or you may incur a fine. Loads of parking at this supermarket, which is great if you have a motorhome.
- Lidl – The Lidl (next to the Carrefour) is a substantial size and stocks most things; not much Asian ingredients or even Coriander. Prices are cheaper than Carrefour. Loads of open-air parking, so good for a motorhome.
- Outlet Del Kasalingo (C. So Mazzini 105) – Great shop for home wares and bits, is the best way to explain this store. Good prices and cheaper than other stores as this is an outlet store.
- Eurospin – Great supermarket that’s not too dissimilar to Lidl but much cheaper if that’s at all possible. It’s almost three kilometres from our apartment and the walk back loaded down like packhorses with shopping, makes for a long slow walk back. Definitely worth it for all your supplies and a great place to stock up your motorhome as there is plenty of parking.
Other shops of interest
- Hair Style Bruno (Corzo Mazzini, 159/C – upstairs) – Great service with a smile. Gianluigi is very passionate and dramatically creative, when cutting and styling your hair; and does an excellent job. Shampoo, condition, style-cut, and blow dry for €25 – bargain!
- Lab Digital Color (via Piare, 6) – If you are in need of excellent quality printed photos, then this lab is your place. Printing can be done on many mediums.
- Le Joly Papier (Via XXIV Maggio, 74) – For all your scanning, printing, copying, or office supplies, this is your go-to place in Cosenza. The owner is great and prices are reasonable.
- Casa (Loc. Licca Garrube Feeroleto Antico) – For home wares, and a few bits and pieces of small furniture. Some bargains, others not, but worth a look if you visit this area.
Back to loving Cosenza and my ever-expanding waistline…