REGGIO CALABRIA was one of the first ancient Greek settlements on the Italian mainland; today, it’s Calabria’s biggest town by some distance, with a population of over 180,000 – but also one that’s been synonymous for years with urban decline and the influence of the local mafia, or ’Ndrangheta. The most attractive areas are the long, mainly pedestrianized Corso Garibaldi – the venue for Calabria’s liveliest passeggiata – and the lungomare, the seafront esplanade that affords wonderful views of the Sicilian coastline and, occasionally, Mount Etna. At the southern end of the Corso, you can see remains of sixth-century-BC city walls and a Roman bathing complex. Just off the Corso lies Reggio’s Duomo, an airy building heavily restored after the 1908 earthquake.
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Museo NazionaleThe Museo Nazionale at the northern end of Corso Garibaldi (closed for restoration at the time of writing) is Reggio’s main draw. It holds the most important collection of archeological finds in Calabria, full of items dating from the Hellenic period, with examples from all the major Greek sites in Calabria, including the famous pinakes or carved tablets from the sanctuary of Persephone at Locri. The most renowned exhibits in the museum are the Bronzi di Riace: two bronze statues dragged out of the Ionian Sea in 1972 near the village of Riace. They are shapely examples of the highest period of Greek art (fifth century BC), and especially prized because there are so few finds from this period in such a good state of repair. While the Museo Nazionale is closed, the Bronzi are displayed at the Palazzo del Consiglio nearby at Via Portanova (daily 9am–7.30pm; free). When it reopens, you will also be able to view examples of Byzantine and Renaissance art, including two works by Antonello da Messina.
Most visitors to Reggio leave without having ventured into the great massif of Aspromonte, the last spur of the Apennines on the tip of Italy’s boot. Here you can be on a beach and a ski slope within the same hour, passing from the brilliant, almost tropical vegetation of the coast to dense forests of beech and pine that rise to nearly 2000m. Although it recently became a national park, the thickly forested mountain has not yet shown any sign of becoming a tourist destination. This is mostly due to its reputation as the stronghold of the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian Mafia, and as such most Italians would think you mad for going there. On top of this, the area remains virtually unsigned, and the oppressive tree cover rarely breaks to provide views. If you’re in a car take notice of the Strada Interotta (“Road interrupted”) signs you’ll find at the entrances: don’t even think about attempting the rocky dirt tracks across the range unless you are driving an off-road vehicle.