Calabria boasts over 500 miles of pristine coastline, however, a visit to Sila National Park deserves a few days on your next trip to Italy. Driving along the Ionian coast can make you feel as if you’re experiencing everything Calabria has to offer, but that’s just a fraction of what the region has to offer.
A short drive inland and you’re almost immediately greeted with low hills and valleys that quickly merge with steep mountains. Let’s just say Calabria has a little bit of everything. Coast, hills, valleys, and mountains.
Much like California you can swim in the ocean (or sea) in the morning and go snowboarding in the afternoon. This is one of the reasons the region is so special.
Drive an hour inland from the Ionian coast and you enter mountain territory. The next thing you know homes and buildings designed for bursts of wind from the sea turn into homes and buildings with awkwardly pitched roofs designed to keep the snow off.
The change in structure from Caccuri to San Giovanni in Fiore happens almost hilariously fast, as if going through one tunnel or over one bridge means we’re entering a region. But, San Giovanni in Fiore gets snow and Caccuri well, not so much.
One of the absolute best Natural Parks (Parco Nazionale) in Italy is Sila National Park. Perched at an elevation of 6,325′ and with some of the purest air in Europe, Sila is a relatively undiscovered beauty.
However, more and more visitors arrive each year, and many southern Italians looking to experience snow head to Sila during the peak snowy months of January and February.
When To Visit Sila
You can absolutely visit Sila year-round. However, it’s best to plan your visit around the activities you enjoy most. Are you a hiker? Or would you prefer to lounge in the grass with a picnic? Or maybe sit in a restaurant while it snows outside.
Late Spring is the best season for hiking in Sila. Things are warming up but not too much. Things are still lush and the cows have reentered the fields! It’s also a great time of year for some horseback riding. There are many stables in the region, arranging something with a local tour guide ahead of time would be best.
Visit Sila in the summer if you’re looking to escape the heat of the beaches and coast. Sila has a high elevation so the difference in temperature is substantial. In July 2021 we had a huge heatwave, while it was 98F on the coast it was 78F in Lorica, Sila. Summer is also a great time to hike, bike, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Mushroom foraging, chicory (cicoria), brisk walks, and chestnut foraging. If these are calling your name then visit Sila in the fall. Sila is famous for Porcini mushrooms and they start popping up all over the place from the end of August until October. Therefore, autumn may be the best eating month, right after peak potato season that is!
If you enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and other outdoor winter activities then definitely visit from December to March. The peak months for snow differ from year to year, however, January usually seems to be the most fun for outdoor activities.
How To Get To Sila
It’s best to travel to Sila by car. South Italy in general, but specifically Calabria, has horrible public transportation. One of the ‘gifts’ Italy has given the region is abandoning it. Therefore, accessing Calabria has proven difficult.
The closest airports are Reggio Calabria and Lamezia Terme. Crotone is open as well, however, may have very limited flights. If flying in it’s best to rent a car and then head up to Sila.
If staying at a hotel you may be able to arrange a driver, however, you will need a driver once in Sila because things are quite spread out.
What To Do In Sila
Sila is a playground for both those that want to spend time outdoors and those that want to stay inside and eat. Or you can combine the two and have an epic picnic filled with loads of food from local delis.
As for activities, that depends on the season. You can go hiking, rent horses, go skiing, or peruse through the charming towns popping in and out of foods and jewelry shops!
What To Eat In Sila
When visiting Sila eat what the region can offer. It is mountainous, therefore, fruits and vegetables like watermelon, fennel, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini don’t grow super well in Sila. However, bitter greens and root vegetables are out of this world! And pork and beef are some of the best in Europe.
POTATOES. The grim reaper called and it’s our last meal, you know what’s on the menu? Potatoes from Sila. They are beautiful, small, perfectly round, rich, and have the most beautiful fluffy insides.
Potatoes from Sila are the unicorn of potatoes. They’re available year-round, however, are especially good from June to December.
Seasonal Vegetables Only, Especially Greens
Chicory (cicoria) from Sila is incredible. It hits peak season in Calabria in October and November, however, can last longer. Radicchio is available during the fall and absolutely delicious.
Salsiccia is Calabrian sausage. Ground pork mixed with peperoncino macinato (ground red pepper) and stuffed into a casing. In Sila, you’ll usually find it grilled, however, it’s also used in pasta and other dishes. Do not skip this delicious sausage!
While it’s popular in all of Calabria and can be found in other regions of Italy and even the U.S., nobody does salsiccia like the folks from the mountains. You do not want to miss out on this. When it’s grilled the fat is allowed to melt off in the perfect amount leaving juicy meat and spices ready to be eaten with bread.
Podolica Beef and Other Pork
For meat-eaters, when in Sila also try steak! Cattle roam free in almost all of Sila whenever there is no snow on the ground (usually March to November). Livestock, such as pigs, are usually in outdoor fenced spaces with an attached indoor shelter.
Italians, but Calabrians in particular, like their food as ‘natural’ as possible. Therefore, when visiting Sila you can eat meat with confidence as the animal was likely born and raised locally and organically.
In Sila, you’ll almost exclusively see the podolica cow. It’s extremely well-known and sought after as its milk and beef are of incredible quality. Podolica are enormous compared to regular dairy cows. They often have giant horns to match and can survive outdoors almost year-round.
You’ll often see the podolica perusing through the woods unattended, and if you’re lucky you’ll see one in the middle of the road. However, all that roaming can make the meat quite tough, therefore, it’s important that the meat is either dry aged or cooked by a pro.
Say hello if you see some cows, however, don’t touch them as those horns can do some damage. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a loose horse or two, their owners will find them!
Lastly, make sure you try some grilled pork chops and grilled pancetta. As stated before, the pork is of incredible quality. Mountain grilling skills are superior to seaside grilling skills (we said what we said). Thus, Sila is usually the best place to eat meat.
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