7 reasons you should hike Italy’s Cammino Basiliano

The fabulous Cammino Basiliano® is southern Italy’s newest long-distance hiking trail, snaking for nearly 1500 kilometers through the sun-baked region of Calabria. The route begins in Rocca Imperiale, just across the border from Basilicata, the neighbouring region to Calabria’s north, and finishes up in Reggio Calabria, opposite Sicily.
The village of Pentedattilo. Photo: Marco Barone/Shutterstock
The village of Pentedattilo. Photo: Marco Barone/Shutterstock

Taking in a series of stupendous mountain chains, the route is named after an order of Basilian monks – who left their mark in the collection of precious monasteries and shrines you’ll admire along the way. Religious landmarks aside, the route offers up splendid scenery, historic hamlets, local color, and – of course – fine Italian cuisine. 

Here’s 7 reasons you should hike Italy’s Cammino Basiliano®.

1. Spectacular scenery

Tracing the Calabrian Apennines through southern Italy (the ‘toe’ of the boot), the Cammino Basiliano® takes in a diverse range of jaw-dropping landscapes. The route can be conveniently split into four sections, each dominated by a rugged mountainscape shaped by the Pollino, Sila, Serre, and Aspromonte massifs. A number of towering peaks on the Cammino top 2000 meters, where tuff caves have been dug into rocky crags, forested slopes drop into deep ravines, and dappled paths shaded by giant chestnut trees make walking a delight. In parts, the mountains give way to wide plains, sweeping coastal views, and turquoise waters – overlooking the Gulf of Taranto, the Gulf of Squillace, and the Messina Strait at the route’s end in Reggio Calabria, which sits just across from Sicily. In other sections, the landscapes take on a vaguely Scandinavian look, especially near the Lago Ampollino reservoir, framed by pine trees. It’s all achingly beautiful – breathe it in. 

Landscape of Pollino. Photo: auralaura/Shutterstock

2. Spiritual sites

Unsurprisingly for a route named after an order of monks, you’ll find a dazzling array of religious landmarks and spiritual sites along the Cammino Basiliano®. While there are of course plenty of monasteries – standouts include the Abbey of Sant’Adriano, the 6th-century Monastery of Vivarium at Squillace, and the 11th-century monastery in Bivongi – you’ll also find mountaintop shrines, small churches, and handsome cathedrals. And they vary in style and character, too, shaped by the civilizations who have made the region their home over the centuries, from the Bruttians to the Oenotrians, Greeks to Romans, Saracens to Normans. Don’t miss the Shrine of Madonna della Armi, underneath a towering mountain peak; Rossano’s cathedral, harboring a Unesco-protected 6th-century Byzantine Gospel Book; or San Giovanni in Fiore’s 12th-century abbey. Badolato’s Church of the Immacolata is another standout, as are the early hermit caves found in the underbelly of Mount Consolino. 

 Rossano, Calabria. Photo: Fabio Renzo/Shutterstock

3. Authentic Italy

Taking in the rural Calabrian countryside, the route passes through numerous small towns, villages, and hamlets: this is southern Italy at its most authentic. Meet resilient locals whose families have long lived in Calabria’s valleys and mountainside villages, preserving their traditions along the way. Learn about their holidays and festivals, rites and rituals, and delicious local cuisine. Flavors of the region to look out for include musulupa, a cheese carved to resemble an amulet, served at Easter; cuddura, another highly symbolic Easter dessert; the Christmas crispella (essentially fried pasta); and the Calabrian cedar fruit. Staying at a family-run B&B and eating at the local trattoria is the best way to experience warm, heartfelt Italian hospitality. 

Big yellow cedar at the fruit market. Photo: Curioso.Photography/Shutterstock

4. Local handcrafts

Handcrafts have long thrived in the Calabrian region. Learning about them – and picking out a one-of-a-kind souvenir for a loved one back home – is a great way to get beneath the skin of the local culture. The skills of local craftsmanship, making use of raw materials in the area, have been passed down from generation to generation here. Discover fine Calabrian ceramics on the Cammino Basiliano® at the Ditto Ceramic Artisan workshop, where the family trade turns out handmade pieces using a wood oven. Alternatively, visit the Leo Wool Mill, the oldest in Calabria, in operation since 1873. Designs range from luxury scarfs to ponchos – and today, face masks. Gino Fuoco is another talented local artisan, a wood-worker who makes baskets from chestnut, traditional cheese moulds, kitchen utensils, and goat and cow collars. There’s no better way to shop, with the added benefit that you'll be supporting local communities, real craftsmanship and slow fashion.     

Calabrian ceramics. Photo: Andrei Molchan/Shutterstock

5. Greek communities

In the final section of the Cammino Basiliano®, which takes in the rocky peaks of the Aspromonte massif, you’ll find the last surviving Grecanici communities in Italy. Speaking a Calabrian-Greek dialect, the Grecanici are descended from the ancient and medieval Greek populations that once covered large swathes of southern Italy. Visiting these remote Greek enclaves today gives a fascinating insight into their culture and heritage. Gallicianò is one of the best examples, a 60-strong community with the orthodox Church of Panaghìa tis Elladas, dedicated to Madonna di Grecia. Another is Pentedattilo, whose very name derives from the Greek ‘Pentadaktylos’ (meaning ‘five fingers’), a reference to the weird and wonderful rock formations on which the village is built. Pentedattilo was likely used as a defensive fortress in Greco-Roman times, later becoming an important religious centre during Byzantine rule. 

The village of Pentedattilo. Photo: Marco Barone/Shutterstock

6. Sustainable tourism

Hiking the Cammino Basiliano® is a great way to holiday with a green conscience. Walking a long-distance trail means staying longer in the destination, allowing visitors to undertake meaningful cultural exchange and to contribute to the local economy. There’s ample opportunity to learn about Calabrian culture and the environment, musing on what makes the landscapes and habitats you pass through so special that they are worth protecting for future generations. It’s all about immersing yourself in nature while taking part in a green activity.   

Scilla town and the green hills of Aspromonte National Park. Photo: Aliaksandr Antanovich/Shutterstock

7. The healthy choice

It’s not all about supporting the environment and local communities – it’s also about the healthy choice for you! Choosing to hike the Cammino Basiliano® – or a part of it – is great for the mind, body and spirit. Aside from being great exercise, building your fitness and imparting mental-health benefits, it’s also a safe bet in the time of coronavirus, given all that outdoor space makes social distancing a breeze. That said, be sure to take all the usual safety precautions, both in relation to Covid-19 and the usual good-hiking practices. Bring a mask and hand sanitizer; invest in the right clothing and equipment; and plan carefully to make sure you know where you’re going and what your timings will be. Getting stranded on a mountain peak when the sun goes down will make your holiday memorable for all the wrong reasons. Download the Cammino Basiliano® APP, available on iOS and Android stores, to keep abreast of your journey. For further information, contact the Cammino Basiliano® directly.  

Hiking the Cammino Basiliano® is a bucket-list trail that will stay in your heart long after you’ve returned home. It’s real food for the soul, from gazing out over tremendous views to meeting friendly locals and, well, all that delicious Italian food. Get stuck in.  

Calabrian donkey. Photo: Sara Babusci/Shutterstock

This article was produced in partnership with the Cammino Basiliano®