Travelling the Cammino Basiliano: the Serre and Aspromonte massifs

updated 2/2/2021
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The Apennine range in Italy provides fertile grounds for exploration, with tremendous mountain vistas and atmospheric hillside villages. Running down the spine of peninsula Italy, there’s plenty of excellent hiking to be had all over the country, but why not check out the Cammino BasilianoⓇ in Calabria?  

Here, we explore the second half of this epic walking route, covering the Serre and Aspromonte massifs. Characterized by towering peaks, rocky spires and dense woodlands, the scenery is some of the most inspiring in Italy. Combined with the first two sections – the Pollino and Sila massifs – the trail loosely follows the reaches of an order of ancient Basilian monks. And that means monasteries aplenty – as well as cave shrines, Latin churches, imposing fortresses and colourful local communities. 

Byzantine Cattolica of Stilo © fotografos/Shutterstock

Why you should visit the Cammino BasilianoⓇ

The Cammino BasilianoⓇ is southern Italy’s newest hiking route, taking in the stonking Calabrian countryside and countless atmospheric towns and villages. There’s no better way to soak up the authentic Italian culture than by exploring on your own two feet, with time to savour the gorgeous landscapes, warm hospitality, delicious cuisine and ancient landmarks. To walk Calabria’s Cammino BasilianoⓇ is to travel the slow way, hiking forested hillsides and navigating rocky mountaintops, stopping to admire local handicrafts and the monasteries, shrines, castles and churches that pepper the route. 

Overview of the route

Map of the Serre and Aspromonte sections of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ (and shown on a map of Italy in the top left corner) © www.camminobasiliano.it

The second part of Calabria’s Cammino BasilianoⓇ, shaped by the Serre Calabresi and the Aspromonte massif, heralds rugged mountainscapes, dense forests and enigmatic Greek-speaking communities.

The section through the Serre Calabresi starts at San Floro before heading to Squillace, offering sweeping vistas over the gulf of the same name. The route then passes a smattering of ancient villages before reaching Badolato, with more fine coastal views. The town itself was founded in 1080; while you’re here, be sure to check out the Church of the Immacolata. Pack in enough time to do the Byzantine Valley of the Stilaro justice: it is worthy of an extended stop, with a trio of notable villages. Bivongi boasts a magical 11th-century monastery; Stilo, hermit caves and the Cattolica of Silo; while Pazzano is famed for the Monte Stella shrine in a natural cave carved into a mountain peak. Winding its way past the Hermitage of Sant’Ilarione in Caulonia, founded by Eastern monks, the section ends in Gioiosa Ionica. 

The village of Badolato © monticello/Shutterstock

The final section through the Aspromonte massif reveals some of the most interesting settlements in the region. The last surviving Calabrian-Greek villages cling to rocky hillsides towards the trail’s end, where Greek traditions passed down through the generations continue to flourish. 

The fourth and final part of the Cammino begins in Gerace, before passing through Bianco – home of Greco wine – to Samo, springboard for a number of memorable sights in the area. Picking up a path that belongs to the “Way of the Englishman”, following in the footsteps of renowned artist and illustrator Edward Lear, the trail climbs to Bova, the capital of Greek Calabria. There are plenty of prehistoric archeological finds in the vicinity to explore, in particular in proximity to the Norman castle, as well as a number of fascinating Greek-speaking communities. Gallicianò and Pentedattilo are two of the best examples, where you’ll find people living by the traditions of their ancestors, in part preserved by their splendid isolation. The route continues to Motta San Giovanni – with the remains of the Castle of San Niceto, a Byzantine beauty from the 11th century – and finishes up in Reggio Calabria, just across the Messina Strait from Sicily.   

Greco bianco grape harvest, Calabria © Dionisio iemma/Shutterstock

Serre Calabresi highlights

Squillace

Located near the start of the Serre Calabresi section, and enjoying a magnificent location overlooking the Squillace Gulf, Squillace has ancient origins and plenty of fine historic architecture to prove it. The Duomo, Palazzo Pepe and Chiesetta of Santa Maria Della Pietà are all worth admiring. Squillace is also renowned for its ceramics production, so be sure to pick up some exquisite terracotta pieces while you’re in town. For simpler pleasures, hit the gorgeous beaches of the Ionian coast.  

Stilo

Nestled in the Valley of the Stilaro, Stilo has a number of attractions to recommend it. The village itself dates back to the 6–7th centuries, when hermit monks took up residence in local laure, natural caves in the belly of Mount Consolino. Aside from its fortified medieval citadel, Stilo is also home to the most important Byzantine building in the area: the Cattolica of Stilo. Built in the 9th century, the Cattolica is a national treasure, laid out like an inscribed cross. 

View on the road between the coast and Stilo, south Calabria © Jan_Mach/Shutterstock

Monte Stella shrine

Spiritual landmarks don’t come much more magically sited than the Monte Stella shrine, located in a natural cave carved into a mountain peak. Inside, there’s a 16th-century marble statue of the Madonna della Stella, as well as some fabulous 10th-century frescoes. 

Aspromonte massif highlights

Gerace

The section’s start point, Gerace, is well worth checking out in earnest for its Norman castle, majestic 11th-century cathedral and impossible pretty Piazza delle Tre Chiese. Founded in the 10th century, Gerace was a defensive stronghold of the Byzantine Empire, and much of its medieval centre remains intact and perfectly preserved to this day. The Porta del Sole, one of the ancient city gates, offers splendid views of the valley below, and beyond it the Ionian Sea. 

Aerial view of Gerace © Polonio Video/Shutterstock

Samo

The small town of Samo is an excellent base for visiting a number of fascinating sights in the area. From here, it is possible to walk to the abandoned village of Africo Vecchio – destroyed by a series of earthquakes, landslides and floods – and venture into Aspromonte National Park for its dramatic mountainscapes and rocky pinnacles. It’s also worth striking out for nearby Staiti, home to one of the area’s finest Byzantine-Norman monuments: the 11th-century Church of Santa Maria dei Tridetti. 

Pentedattilo

You’d be forgiven for thinking the primary draw of Pentedattilo was its scenic location, clinging to the hillside below a series of towering rocky spurs. Though its spot on Mount Calvario is indeed spectacular, prompting its use as a fortress in Greco-Roman times, it’s the enduring Greek culture that makes Pentedattilo so remarkable to this day. Today’s town of 40 inhabitants is one of the last remaining Grecanici villages, Greek-speaking Calabrians descended from ancient and medieval Greek communities that were once widespread in southern Italy. Spend some time here and immerse yourself in the local culture.    

Pentedattilo © Polonio Video/Shutterstock

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Tips for walking the Cammino BasilianoⓇ

Depending on the time you have available (and your hiking ability), you may want to walk a section of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ, rather than the full 1390-mile extent. Make sure you think ahead about accommodation and food stops, and book in advance for total peace of mind. 

Prepare for the Cammino BasilianoⓇ as you would any other long-distance hiking trail. Follow all the usual hiking precautions: travel as part of a group wherever possible, don’t venture from the designated route, and be sure to pack the right equipment – and enough water and other provisions to keep you going. Read the important notes section on the Cammino BasilianoⓇ website before you hit the open road (well, trail). 

Whether you’re after a complete overview of the Cammino BasilianoⓇ, or a detailed breakdown of the first half of the route – covering the Pollino and Sila massifs – Rough Guides has got you covered.  

Top image: Pentedattilo in Calabria © Polonio Video/Shutterstock

This article was produced in partnership with the Cammino BasilianoⓇ

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created 2/2/2021
updated 2/2/2021
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