Camigliatello Silano is an Alpine-like village in Calabria in Southern Italy, just a short drive from Cosenza, the provincial capital. A food lovers’ paradise that’s much loved for its wonderful wild mushrooms, Camigliatello was a stop on the Italian grand tour and is a fantastic base for exploring the lakes and forests of Sila National Park.
When autumn arrives in the northern hemisphere, no matter where we are in the world my thoughts turn to Calabria – Italy’s southernmost mainland region and one of the country’s most off-the-beaten-track destinations – and Camigliatello Silano and its 50 year-old October wild mushroom festival, Sagra del Fungo, held from 11-13 October this year.
My annual yearning to return to Calabria to road trip the region, stopping at unspoilt beaches, picturesque national parks and atmospheric hilltop towns, was helped along by a meal at a new Italian restaurant yesterday here in Siem Reap. Il Vicolo is helmed by a local chef and his Rome-born business partner who imports Italian products such as Calabria’s wonderful ’nduja, which I got to savour for the first time in a long while.
A Calabrian specialty, ’nduja is a spicy, spreadable sausage paste made from roasted Calabrian red peppers, spices, and pork belly, shoulder, and tripe. One of our most memorable Calabrian eating experiences on our first trip in 2008 to research the first English-language Calabria guidebook was trying ’nduja for the first time. The other: overdosing on heavenly truffles and porcini mushrooms as guests of a baron and baroness at La Tavernetta in Camigliatello Silano.
For the last decade I’ve been predicting that Calabria will be the next Puglia, the next destination to be ‘discovered’ by travellers. 2020 has to be Calabria’s year. Get there now and when you do go gorge yourself on mushroom ravioli in Camigliatello Silano and ’nduja in Spilinga.
Camigliatello Silano in Calabria, Wild Mushrooms and the Italian Grand Tour
If the idea of checking into the baronial residence of Torre Camigliati, pictured above, isn’t reason enough to entice you to Camigliatello Silano in Calabria, Italy’s southernmost mainland region, then delicious local specialties should be, such as local truffles and porcini mushrooms, which come in all forms from fresh wild mushrooms in season (right now) to pastes and oils, along with smoked cheeses, prosciutto, preserves, and Calabrian wine.
Local specialties cram the shelves of shops on Camigliatello Silano’s main street, while the town also plays host to a number of food festivals, including the autumn mushroom festival, Sagra del Fungo, established in 1969, and a potato festival, Sagra della Patata della Sila, held annually since 1978. The events including tastings, stalls selling local crafts and other products from the region and greater Calabria, as well as folk dancing and music.
Other than sampling scrumptious Calabrian specialties, there are plenty of things to do in Camigliatello Silano and the surrounding area, including hiking, horseriding, mountain biking, canoeing, boating, fishing, or, in winter, skiing and snowboarding. Just make sure to fill a picnic basket with local treats before you set out.
One of the many things that make Camigliatello Silano such a fascinating destination for us though –as you’d expect from a couple who started a travel site inspired by the grand tour – is Calabria’s grand tour history, which you can learn about at Torre Camigliati and Parco Old Calabria.
The Grand Tour in Calabria
From the 18th century onwards, intrepid travellers set off from England, and later North America, on their European grand tours. Their aim was to discover Europe, and Italy in particular, and by doing so to educate themselves – through language, archaeology, painting, music, and literature – in the art of knowing and of being cosmopolitan.
It was commonly thought that most travellers on a grand tour curtailed their epic years-long journey at Naples, with only the most intrepid adventurous travellers venturing by sea as far afield as Sicily, skipping Calabria due to its poor road network and roving bandits.
English writer Norman Douglas (1868-1952) was one of the more fearless grand tourists and he spent a considerable amount of time in Calabria, travelling the length and breadth of the region in 1907, 1911 and again in 1937, observing, interviewing, and reflecting as he went, and maintaining scrupulously detailed travel diaries in the process.
Calabria, after all, as challenging as it could be, was the perfect destination for grand tourists. The region once belonged to the mighty Magna Graecia civilisation and had a long association with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Calabria was rich in archaeological treasures, dotted with exquisite Byzantine churches, Carthusian monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals, which hid a wealth of vibrant frescoes, illuminated manuscripts and splendid paintings.
Calabria offered an array of landscapes of the kind that the grand tourists, romantics at heart, found so alluring, from craggy coves and creamy beaches to wooden forests and dramatic valleys, along with mysterious mountaintop villages, home to mystical religions and secret societies, that their insatiable curiosity propelled them to explore.
A typical grand tourist, Douglas fell in love with the untamed nature of Calabria, its complex layers of history, unspoilt natural beauty, its proud people, and their intriguing traditional customs.
He wrote: “… it was exhilarating to traverse these middle heights with their aerial views over the Ionian and down olive-covered hillsides towards the wide valley of Crati and the lofty Pollino range, now swimming in a midsummer haze.”
Douglas’ book Old Calabria (1915) is probably the most comprehensive travel narrative ever written about Calabria. Other travellers who traversed Calabria included Edward Lear, Alexandre Dumas, Henry Swinburne and George Gissing.
Parco Old Calabria at Torre Camigliati
As part of a larger project to revive the grand tour in Calabria and other parts of Southern Italy, wild parks, gardens and other places have been dedicated as Parchi Letterari or literary parks.
These literary parks are atmospheric locations encountered by great authors and poets, from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa to Luigi Pirandello, that so inspired them that they created literary works that immortalised the place.
The leafy parkland of Torre Camigliati, the grand ancestral home and hunting lodge of the noble Barraco family, is one such parco letterario. What does this actually mean for visitors to Parco Old Calabria or guests who check into the former baronial residence that is Torre Camigliati?
It means you can wander the beautiful grounds to your heart’s content, inhale the aromatic air, and stop to smell the wildflowers, preferably with a sketchbook, book of poetry – or a copy of Norman Douglas’ Old Calabria, available for sale at the gift store in the cultural centre at Torre Camigliati.
The splendid stone building also has a library, multimedia centre, and a photo exhibition inside illustrating the Calabrian grand tour. To take full advantage of the experience, check in to Torre Camigliati for a couple of nights then grab a copy of their Calabrian grand tour Itinerary and set off on your own adventure.
Where to Stay in Camigliatello Silano
Our top recommendation for where to stay in Camigliatello Silano is undoubtedly the handsome 18th-century baronial hunting lodge, Torre Camigliati, set within a bucolic scene of pristine forest and fields dotted with wildflowers. The rooms in the stone building are surprisingly cosy, even in autumn and winter, the inviting den has an open fireplace and lots of fascinating books begging to be browsed, and the gardens are absolutely gorgeous, making the lodge a grand place to hang out for a few days of walking, reading and mushroom picking. Aside from accommodation in the main building, there are apartments with fireplaces and kitchens.
Parco Old Calabria, Camigliatello Silano
Hotel Aquila & Edelweiss
If you can’t get into Torre Camigliati or prefer to be in town, Hotel Aquila & Edelweiss is a charming, family-owned and family-ran hotel that has all the comforts of home. The old-fashioned feel extends to the restaurant, which is home to some of the best Calabrian food in the area; see below. We love the curved retro bar, vinyl banquettes and vintage ceiling lights.
Viale Stazione 15, Camigliatello Silano
Where to Eat in Camigliatello Silano
What was once a rustic old tavern has been transformed into the most modern of Camigliatello Silano’s restaurants – and one of Calabria’s best restaurants – by father-son team Pietro and Emanuele Lecce. Bold colours adorn the walls and bold flavours are evident on the plates. What remains of the old is respect for fresh local ingredients and respect for Calabrian culinary traditions and hospitality – evident in the complimentary snacks and pre-meal wine tasting in the cellar. Ask for recommendations but hope that the four-course mushroom menu is available and that it includes the porcini salad of paper-thin mushrooms drowning in divine virgin olive oil and salt; raviolini with porcini mushrooms and truffles, which have been on the menu since 1988; fried potatoes with porcini mushrooms and truffles; and the main course, a massive, magnificent, roasted whole mushroom, which is the best mushroom we’ve ever tasted in our lives. Or, tell the chef who do his thing and just let them feed you. There’s a breathtaking vintage wine list as well.
Campo San Lorenzo 14, Camigliatello Silano
Hotel Aquila & Edelweiss
It’s no secret that the best traditional Calabrian cooking in town is here at this family owned hotel. Chef Angela Valente knows all the secrets of the mountains. Soups such as her zucchini, chick pea or borlotti bean are the stuff of legend, as is any pasta that’s handmade that day, especially her ravioli.
Viale Stazione 15, Camigliatello Silano
Things to Do in Camigliatello Silano and Surrounds
Learn About Immigration at La Nave della Sila
Stunningly set in a beautifully renovated barn at Parco Old Calabria, Camigliatello Silano’s main cultural attraction is this superb museum of immigration, ‘The Ship of Sila’. Through the innovative use of striking graphics, photographs, and atmospheric audio and video, the fascinating exhibition charts the mass emigration of Calabrians to the USA, Australia, Canada and Brazil. An interactive kiosk allows visitors to explore their family histories, and there’s a library and café.
Parco Old Calabria, Torre Camigliati, Camigliatello Silano.
Hike Sila Grande National Park
Hiking is one of the most popular park activities and a small booklet, A Piedi in Sila Grande (Italian only), available from Pro Loco offices, sets out detailed itineraries for walking and hiking in the park. Hikes begin, for example, from Camigliatello at Torre Camigliati (1hr to Croce di Magara), at Cecita (1.5 hrs to Serra La Vulga at 1298m), Moccone (1.5 hrs to Serra La Guardia), and Fossiata (1.5 hrs to Macchialonga at an altitude of 1311m). The ProLoco office or hotel staff can connect you with professional guides for hiking, horseriding or mountain biking excursions through the park.
Gawk at the Giant Ancient Trees
Wander under the incredible canopy of Calabria’s tallest and oldest trees at I Giganti Della Sila Reserva Naturelle just outside the village of Camigliatello Silano, along a pot-holed road (muddy after winter), near Croce di Magara. Thought to be an ancient species, the magnificent pine trees here are said to be some 400 years old and up to 45m high and some have a two-metre wide base. There are 56 pines, in addition to maple, beech and chestnut trees. Camigliatello Silano also has a chestnut festival. Sign-posted, it’s 3km off the Cosenza-Crotone Road,a 10-minute walk from the car park.
Ski and Snowboard at Campi da Ski
Just a kilometre from Camigliatello, this ski complex offers winter-sports facilities, ski schools, a fully enclosed modern chair lift, and you can rent ski equipment from the wooden cabins in the car park. It can’t compete with Northern Italy’s ski centres, but a day here can be fun. The drawcards are the beautiful forest setting and proximity to Camigliatello Silano.
For more ideas to exploring the region see our suggested road trip routes and Calabria itineraries. Have you been to Camigliatello Silano? We’d love to hear your recommendation for where to stay and eat and things to do in Camigliatello Silano.