Indulge in a day trip from Cosenza and explore the intriguing city of Reggio Calabria with me…
The narrow Strait of Messina holds much historical importance and is what separates the coastal city of Reggio Calabria (Reggio) at the very end of Italy, from the picturesque island of Sicily.
A coastal town that holds many historical secrets for you to unveil, there’s enough in Reggio to keep you busy for more than a day.
Art, fabulous museums, ancient churches, beautiful ornate architecture, and the seafront are just some of the activities to enjoy in Reggio.
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and GooglePlay. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
A little history
Reggio’s history can be traced back to the Early to Middle Bronze Age. And, as with most of southern Italy, Reggio’s history is tumultuous.
Reggio’s history is traced back to the Early to Middle Bronze Age. And, as with most of southern Italy, Reggio’s history is tumultuous. Including, selling most of Reggio’s residents into slavery during the 918AD-occupation by the Arabs to the occupation by the Normans, Greeks, French, and Spanish. Then finally Garibaldi’s dictatorship in 1860.
Suffering numerous destructive earthquakes over centuries, disastrous air raids and capture during WWII, and finally, infiltration by the ‘Ndrangheta (Mafia) in its council, Reggio has also witnessed violent protests during the past years.
What to see
With a favourite pastime of wandering the local streets and absorbing the ambience wherever I am, enjoying a little people-watching and discovering without a schedule or a map.
During the summer months, Reggio’s seafront swells with bars, restaurants, clubs, and the obligatory beach umbrellas over perfectly positioned rows of colourful lounge chairs on the Lido (beach).
Strolling along the Lungomare Falcomatà, named after the centre-left mayor that started Reggio’s improvement, cast your gaze across the ink-blue Mediterranean to Sicily. Only 7-kilometres away, the vista across the sea is enticing.
The impossible shades of blue create a stunning natural canvas.
Today, sea breezes keep the temperature down even though it’s only early May and not yet the height of summer.
Arena dello Stretto
This wonderful space is home to the monument dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II.
Built to replicate an ancient Greek theatre, if you’re lucky enough, you may catch a concert or theatrical event at this arena displaying a gorgeous panoramic backdrop.
Initially, the statue faced the sea. Although, at the mayor’s request the statue now faces towards the city.
Modern art meets ancient architecture.
On your leisurely promenade along the almost two-kilometre-long Lungomare Falcomatà, glance back towards the city and along the park. Spot several curious sculptures.
Several of Italian artist Rabarama’s sculptures in “eccentric poses” dot the park that runs parallel to the Lungomare.
The disparity between modernity and past centuries converge along the lungomare.
Piazza Italia is a haven from the summer’s heat. Surrounded by manicured shading trees and benches, it’s a welcoming spot to rest for a while.
The commanding Monumento all’Italia and the Prefettura building in the background accentuates the piazza’s administrative heart of Reggio.
Excavations from 2000 to 2004 revealed ancient Greek pottery fragments and cobbled stones from a Roman road, which confirms that this area was always the centre of the city’s commercial activities. But also, its importance in the Byzantine Empire’s maritime trade.
If opened, you can visit the lower level of the excavation or you may just be interested in peering through the glassed area at street-level, which discloses the ancient street beneath the piazza.
Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi
Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi connects the north with the south of the city. This is the main street running through the Centro Storico (historic centre), which was rebuilt following the 1908 earthquake.
Many exclusive shops line this mostly pedestrianised street, which is pleasant to stroll along. Enjoy a coffee from one of the bars when exhausted from shopping – today is quite whilst visiting as it’s midday.
Most roads from il Corso lead down to the shimmering Mediterranean Sea where the Straits of Messina separates the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas.
Chiesa di San Giorgio
Dedicated to Reggio’s patron Saint, the church of St George was erected in 1596. Demolished by the 1908 earthquake, the church was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1935.
Sculptures etched from the church’s surrounding stone represent WWI scenes and are also imprinted with the battle’s location.
Archbishop Morosini established this church as the “Church of the Artists” to promote the territory’s artistic talents and bring everyone together, giving all, new hope.
Reggio’s municipality boasts “67 churches, 8 sanctuaries, 26 oratories, with as many as 52 religious communities”. You won’t walk too far without coming across a church.
Discovering the Aragon Castle (free entry) off il Corso too late in the day as closing time is at 18:30 hrs, walking around its perimeter suffices for today.
History dates the castle at 536AD. Living its life during the Byzantine to the Norman era in 1059, then experiencing many fortifications and renovations depending on its usage. The castle spent its life as a political prison and execution abode for the Risorgimento (Italian unification) rebels, and also a safe-haven during the Turkish invasions.
The 1908 earthquake damaged the structure and destroyed nine-tenths of the fortress. These days the castle hosts history and cultural events.
Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia
This excellent museum (€8 entry) on Piazza Indipendenza is also known as the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Reggio Calabria or Palazzo Piacentini. Enjoy the museum’s amazing collection of original artefacts from around southern Italy, over five floors.
Exhibits are tastefully presented with an explanation in English and Italian. Floor E displays explanations in only Italian.
Of course, most visitors to the museum come to see the Riace bronze statues, also known as “Riace Bronze Warriors”. The statues were discovered in 1972 in Riace’s sea around eighty kilometres northeast of Reggio.
Dating back to 460–450 BC, the two full-size Greek statues are amongst the few surviving of this time as typically, the bronze was melted down and used elsewhere – tragic.
Whilst diving only 200-metres from Riace’s coast in six to eight metres, the Roman chemist Stefano Mariottini noticed the left arm of one of the statues rising from the sand. Touching the bronze arm, Mariottini realised that it didn’t belong to a dead human body as he first thought.
Whilst both statues are imposing and works of art, the museum does hold older captivating and fascinating exhibits.
If you’re anything like me and try to read everything in a museum, you’ll spend hours visiting this marvellous museum.
Getting to Reggio
If you’re starting out from Cosenza, then it’s an easy smooth drive south on the highway of around two-and-a-half hours to Reggio Calabria, which is nestled in the “toe” of Italy.
You can catch a bus from the Cosenza Autostazione, which takes a little longer.
The train from Cosenza also takes a similar time as the bus, so you have several travel options.
Today, we have the luxury of a hire car so no hanging around for public transport.
Where to eat
The city boasts loads’ of great eating haunts. Should you wish to dine or enjoy a coffee along the Lungomare Falcomatà, then this is definitely a pleasant alternative.
Bar Tabacchi di Loaurendi Vincenzo
Along Viale Genoese Zerbi N.9/11/13, this very busy bar enjoys a steady stream of locals for its great coffee, amazing pastries, scrumptious gâteux, and savouries.
Although prices are a little higher than Reggio’s side streets, the good service more than compensates.
For the best gelato in Reggio, which even sees locals queuing, check out the brightly painted tiny Cesare along Piazza Indipendenza, 2.
This little gelato haunt has been making delectable gelato in this spot since 1918. Also offering exotic flavours, be warned that there’s usually a line-up.
Leaving Reggio Calabria
After a very long and full day experiencing Reggio Calabria, it’s time to head back north on the highway to Cosenza.
You can easily spend several days or a good week exploring this area. So, if you’re travelling to this destination, keep this in mind.