The Cammino Basiliano® runs north–south for nearly 1400 kilometres (1390 to be exact) across Calabria in southern Italy. This gorgeous region, occupying the “toe” of Italy’s boot, is famed for its dramatic landscapes. Sure enough, the trail laces its way through rugged mountains, traditional villages, plunging valleys and along a spellbinding coastline. It follows in the footsteps of the Basilian monks, a Greco-Italian order that followed the teachings of St Basil.
Starting in Rocca Imperiale in Cosenza and finishing up in Reggio Calabria (facing Sicily across the Messina Strait), the Cammino Basiliano® traces the Calabrian Apennines, part of the mighty Apennine mountain chain that forms the backbone of peninsula Italy. The route is divided into 73 smaller stages, and takes in the four massifs of Pollino, Sila, Serre and Aspromonte. Here, we explore Calabria’s Cammino Basiliano® is all its glory.
Following a series of mountain chains, the landscapes of the Cammino Basiliano® are the most obvious draw. Wooded ridges, rocky outcrops and sheer-sided valleys make for fine walking country, while the Calabrian coastline is picture-perfect. As you wind your way through charming historic villages that haven’t changed in decades, where fresh Italian cuisine is served farm-to-plate at the local trattoria, you’ll find a slice of authentic Italy every bit as alluring as the staggering views. Walking the Cammino Basiliano® in Calabria also encourages slow, sustainable tourism. Appreciating the area’s valuable ecosystems and putting money back into its communities – for instance by staying at local lodgings and dining on local produce – helps to secure the region’s future.
There is plenty to captivate culture vultures along the route, too. The region has been shaped by a number of different civilizations over the sands of time, occupied variously by Bruttians, Oenotians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens and Normans. Archeological remains, Byzantine relics and ancient places of worship have been left in their wake. You’ll discover brilliant Basilian monasteries, crumbling fortresses, Latin abbeys and shrines carved into steep mountainsides. And don’t forget to pause in traditional towns and historic hamlets to check out local handicrafts – they make stonking souvenirs.
From ancient mule tracks and gravel roads to seven sections designated as “wild” – read: for experienced hikers only – you can select a section to suit your ability and timeframe. Alternatively, walk the lot and cross a real once-in-a-lifetime experience off your bucket list.
The first part of the Cammino Basiliano® in Calabria takes in the Pollino massif, characterized by towering mountain peaks and plunging canyons that will take your breath away. The rugged scenery heralds a series of peaks topping 2000 metres, laced by old paths and countryside tracks that can also be negotiated by bike or on horseback. The glorious mountainscapes – punctuated by historic towns with fine fortresses and rich cultural offerings – eventually open up to reveal spectacular views to the Gulf of Taranto and the Piana di Sibari. As the route leaves the mountains behind, the spires of the Pollino massif are replaced by gentle slopes carpeted in olive groves.
Highlights along the first section of the route include Rocca Imperiale, the startpoint, crowned by an imposing Swabian fortress, and the village of Oriolo, its Norman castle perched above the ancient village. Also not to be missed are Alessandria del Carretto, the highest village in Pollino National Park; the Shrine of Madonna delle Armi, built on an ancient Byzanitine monastic site; and Civita, notable for its Albanian community. Near the end of the section, be sure to spend time in San Demetrio Corone, once home to a Greco-Italian monastic community and site of the Abbey of Sant’Adriano, complete with exquisite Norman mosaic floor tiling.
The second section of the Cammino Basiliano® stretches from Acri, the northern gateway to Sila National Park, to Tiriolo, on the isthmus of Catanzaro at the peninsula’s narrowest point. The landscapes along this stretch feature dense forests and dappled woodlands that are faintly reminiscent of Scandinavia, while there are more rich pickings in the form of religious and cultural sites. To top it all off, remote mountain villages herald old tuff caves created by monks seeking shelter and space for prayer.
The section kicks off in style with the sublime landscapes of Sila National Park; other scenic highlights along the way include Valli Cupe Natural Regional Reserve – towards the close of the Sila stretch, where you’ll find centuries-old chestnut trees, tumbling waterfalls and the Petra Aggiellu monolith – and the Lago Ampollino reservoir, flanked by pines. Expect superlative views of the Piana di Sibari from Corigliano Calabro, the Neto Valley from towering Santa Severina, and out over the Gulf of Squillace as you head towards Sellia Superiore. Cultural standouts, meanwhile, include the 11th-century Abbey of Santa Maria del Patire; the Byzantine centre of Rossano; the Romanesque abbey of San Giovanni in Fiore; and Catanzaro, the region’s administrative capital and home to a collection of noteworthy historic buildings.
The third part of the Cammino Basiliano® in Calabria runs along the Serre Calabresi, with forested mountain slopes, ancient monasteries, enigmatic hermit caves and sweeping coastal vistas. Spiritual sites are king here, and you’ll find endless monasteries, churches, hermitages and shrines to admire along this section, which ends in Gioiosa Ionica.
Highlights in the Serre Calabresi include Squillace, where the Monastery of Vivarium was founded in the 6th-century, renowned for its ceramics. Search for souvenirs before enjoying the tremendous views over the town’s namesake gulf. Badolato’s Church of the Immacolata, set adrift from the village on a narrow strip of land, is another showstopper, while the Byzantine Valley of Stilaro, surrounded by a trio of villages, sports an 11th-century monastery in Bivongi, hermit caves dating to the 6–7th centuries in the side of Mount Consolino, the Cattolica of Stilo, and a standout shrine to the Madonna della Stella in Pazzano, complete with a 10th-century fresco.
The last stage of Calabria’s Cammino Basiliano® has jagged peaks, towering rock spires and a fascinating sense of living history. It’s here, in the Aspromonte massif, that you’ll find the last Calabrian-Greek (or “Grecanico”) speaking communities. The Grecanici are descended from the once sizable ancient and medieval Greek communities of southern Italy; today, alongside the archeological sites and religious relics you’ll have come to expect from the region, these unique communities are a joy to explore.
The Aspromonte section starts in Gerace, with the remains of a Norman castle, an imposing 11th-century cathedral and the pretty Piazza delle Tre Chiese. Bianco – the land of Greco wine – and Samo – home to the area’s finest Byzantine-Noman monument in the form of the Church of Santa Maria dei Tridetti – are both worthwhile stops, too. But the real draw of this region lies in its Grecanici communities, enduring bastions of Greek history, culture and tradition. Visit Bova, the capital of Greek Calabria, topping a spur 820 metres above sea level; Gallicianò, with its orthodox Church of Panaghìa tis Elladas, dedicated to Madonna di Grecia; or Pentedattilo, which was likely used as a fortress in Greco-Roman times.
The Cammino Basiliano® finally comes to its conclusion in Reggio Calabria, with a fabulous seafront location and unforgettable views to Sicily across the Messina Strait. Drink them in.
It is important to prepare carefully for any hiking trip, which means taking sensible precautions and making sure you have all the equipment and provisions you’ll need. Be sure to take enough layers to stay warm in case the weather turns; likewise, carry enough water to see you through. Depending on the length of your hike, it’s also wise to pack a first-aid kit, penknife, map and compass. Because the trail may not always be visible or clearly marked, it pays to download the GPS trail onto a mobile device – or better still, print it off – and remember to charge your battery before setting off! The Cammino Basiliano® APP is also available on iOS and Android stores.
On the Cammino Basiliano® website, you’ll find a useful data sheet that marks the different trail sections as either T (“tourist”), E (“Excursionist”) or EE (“Expert Excursionist). These categories are designed to help you choose a route to suit your ability, physical fitness, kit and hiking knowledge. When covering new terrain, it’s not the time to test your limits: being stranded on a mountainside as darkness falls can quickly become perilous. Hike in a group of at least two people wherever possible; there are areas of the trail with limited or no mobile reception, so getting help can be tricky. Let someone know your planned route, and when you intend to arrive at your destination, before setting out.
After heavy rain or flooding, rivers and streams may swell to dangerous levels. Don’t attempt to cross the waterway – even if that means leaving the trail. Instead, divert from the path and find a public road to see you safely across. Lastly, do your research into where to stay – and eat – along the route. Some sections of the Cammino Basiliano® have a good selection of accommodation and eateries; in more remote areas, the options can be sparse. Depending on what time of year you plan to visit, it is worth booking in advance. For further information, contact the Cammino Basiliano® directly using the contact form on their website.
The Cammino Basiliano® is a tremendous hiking route, with superlative offerings for nature lovers, culture vultures and anyone looking to get in touch with their spiritual side. Snaking through the Calabrian countryside and traversing four mighty massifs, the trail offers insights into the area’s long history and authentic southern Italian communities. And with plans to extend the Cammino in the future, there’s plenty more to look forward to.
Top image: The Byzantine Cattolica of Stilo © fotografos/Shutterstock
This article was produced in partnership with the Cammino Basiliano®