Living La Dolce Vita in Fiumefreddo Bruzio
I love my mum & stepdad because they're funny and smart and because they're my parents, sure, whatever. I really love them because about 10 years ago they bought a house in Italy and it means I'm given the opportunity to go and bathe in the southern Italian sunlight a few times a year - opportunities that, for some reason, I haven't always taken up.
Their house is tucked away right on the toe of Italy in a village in the area of Calabria called Longobardi. It's breathtakingly beautiful and quiet and calm - all things that at my ripe old age I see as enormous positives, but for my teenage years I saw as just about the worst way to spend my holiday time. Pre-free EU 4G, I was cut off in a world of trees, empty beaches and weird food. I was basically Tom Hanks in Castaway.
And yet recently, funnily enough, I've changed my mind on all that. Spending a week reading as many novels as would fit in my hand luggage while drinking locally brewed wine in a silent cove? SIGN ME UP.
Unfortunately, though, the area of Calabria doesn't get the love it deserves. People go to northern Italy, or the lakes, or maybe make it down to Naples or zip straight to Sicily, but the southernmost tip has been largely ignored by British tourists and press alike. This has huge benefits of course - you can always get a table in the best pizza spots, the aforementioned beaches are empty and everyone actually speaks Italian so you do have to at least try and have a go (something I am totally crap at, but trying).
But it does also mean that these most incredible vistas and hidden villages don't get the recognition they deserve. So, after being hounded with questions as to where this magical place I had visited was, here's my whistlestop guide to Maz & Daz's little corner of Italy...
Part One: Fiumefreddo Bruzio
Villages on the coast in Calabria have two bits - the 'Bruzio' and the Marina. This may be a thing all around Italy but I'm not sure and my Italian doesn't stretch far enough for Google to give me a decent answer. Either way - the Marina is, duh, the bit by the sea, and the 'Bruzio' bit is up in the hills but directly behind it. Fiumefreddo Marina has some lovely little restaurants and fruit shops, but the Bruzio is where the magic happens...
Voted the sixth most beautiful village in Italy, home to the frankly magical Castello Della Valle (built in 1201), incredible churches, idyllic views, the cutest and narrowest cobbled streets lined with cafes and fruit stores - and the best gelato around. The Wikipedia page is one sentence long, but that doesn't mean it's not a fascinating place.
Once you've wandered through the squares and streets, you'll hit a square with one of the most breathtaking views I saw all week. Stretching for miles in each direction with the bluest sea you ever did, er, see, there's also this statue of a woman surfboarding (I have never got to the bottom of why), and a gloriously cute little cafe that serves homemade gelato, coffee and glasses of prosecco for one euro. Also: prosecco isn't basic here, because it's Italian, duh. So drink it to your heart's content...
On the way back, you'll find Castello Della Valle. Built in the 13th Century, the entrance was built in the 15th in the Renaissance style and it's got murals from Salvatore Fiume - the man who gave his name to the town. The ruins are beautiful, but it didn't get this way through a bit of battering from the weather - it was besieged in 1806 by French troops and nearly destroyed entirely. Luckily, it remains, and it's now a wedding venue-cum-tourist attraction (and the best Instagram spot in town).
If you fancied staying here, you'd 100% need a hire car (in fact, that's true of the whole region) or be a Tour De France-level cyclist as it's seriously up in the hills, but I would wholeheartedly recommend Residenza d'Epoca Borgodifiume. Up in one of the old stone houses with several floors and a wrought-iron breakfast terrace that looks over the bays and a homemade, organic menu, it made it into the Sunday Times last year so books up fast these days... and at around £60 a night, it's not hard to see why!