Scalea: a gateway to the Mediterranean
This resort on the south-western coast of Italy, in the region called Calabria, is located at the northern end of a bay that also includes Marcellina, Santa Maria del Cedro and ends in the south with Cirella and its picturesque island. Scalea northern side includes the stunning Baia del Carpino and borders with the town of San Nicola Arcella and its beautiful bay. Along the coastline, the major thoroughfare is corso Mediterraneo, which is simply the stretch of the SS18 national road that crosses Scalea.
The back of the town is lined by the Apennines that include one of the largest nature reserves in Italy: the Parco del Pollino. As these peaks are snow-covered during the winter season, cross-country skying is an exciting activity available to those that have to take their holiday during the northern hemisphere winter months. Rafting down the Lao river, on the other hand, is practiced in summer. The Lao descends from the Parco del Pollino and opens into the Thyrrenian sea at Scalea.
"The Old Town"
Many towns along the Riviera dei Cedri (*) are built in a similar manner to Scalea's: modern buildings along the coast and a medieval town clustered along the slopes of a hill. This image shows Scalea old town or, as Scaleans (Ital. Scaleoti) call it, the "centro storico".
The town structure consists of buildings attached to each other and reached by stairways, rather than streets (see picture left). Hence the name Scalea, which derives from Ascula, Latin for to climb. Although the Latins founded the town, its name was later distorted into Askalos by Byzanthium who ruled the area, in alternation with the Longobards, until the Norman invasion in 1056. Scalea.it reports that Scalea is one of the most ancient towns in this part of the country as it was theatre to an ancient battle between the local populations of Thurini, Laini and the Lucani fighting for the control of the area, in 389 B.C.
Early Roman ruins are no longer in evidence in the town. However, the most important architectural features of Scalea range from the 9th century ruins of byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire/Late Empire) churches to the 16th century Torre Talao, with every century in between represented by various buildings such as patrician palaces, churches, convents and guard-towers.
(*) The term 'Cedro' translates with 'Citron' rather than 'Cedar' as common belief would have it. Botanically, the cedro or citron (Citrus media L.) is a citrus plant belonging to the family Rutaceae, whereas the cedars (Cedrus libani, C. deodara etc.) are conifers of the Pinaceae family. The confusion is probably caused by the Italian language where 'cedro' is used to refer to both, the citron fruit/plant or the cedar pines.
Although several towns along the north coast of Calabria are quite breathtaking in their beauty, Scalea is very popular as a holiday resort. Its central position with respect to the major holiday destinations along Italy south-western coast, as well as the narrowness of the peninsula at this point, make it into a convenient base for visiting the south Mediterranean.
Some beautiful resorts such as, Praia a Mare, Maratea, Cirella, Diamante can be reached within half an hour by either car or bus. Farther to the south one can reach some fashionable tourist destinations such as Amantea and Tropea (at Cape Vaticano). Once there, Sicily with its enchanting beaches such as Taormina's, is just a stone-throw away, or nearly so. On the other hand, if you don't wish to drive so far, you can stop by the harbour of Cetraro, north of Guardia Piemontese, where ferries should be available to the Eolie or Lipari islands (Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Stromboli and Vulcano). Salina is the island where the movie "The Postman" was shot. For the ferries to Sardinia and Corsica, you may have to get to the larger harbours of Salerno or Reggio Calabria.
A couple of hours drive east of Scalea can see you to the beaches of the Ionian sea in Basilicata. On the other hand, a little more than two hours drive north, will bring you to the archaeological sites of Paestum, near Salerno. A little further north, you'd be in Amalfi and Positano while, if you really want to drive a little more, you can get all the way up to Naples, Ischia and Capri.