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E - 173 : Calabria's Endless Beaches

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

There are many similar beaches in Calabria with the orderly and rentable deck chairs

One of the few things the Genovese Merchants did not appreciate when sailing along the Calabrian coast were the long beaches with very few ports along the way. Not having the technology to cross open waters, they hopped from port to port, 30 miles every day. When there was no port within that distance, they were forced to carry more drinking water and reduce their cargo – something these money minded men disliked tremendously.

Castella near Crotone - one of the places Genovese ships stayed over night

The long beaches are the result of millions of years of erosion of the Calabrian mountains. Whilst the region is dry and arid during summer and fall, Calabria gets a significant amount of precipitations during wintertime. The mountain peaks are high and most of them are covered in snow from December to March. Over time, the many rivers carved out steep valleys and created the sharp ridges the Normans loved so much for their castles.

Aspromonte National Park on the southern tip of Calabria

Where the Calabrian rivers hit the Ionian seas, they formed their little deltas where water and sediments fanned out. Over millions of years however, these deltas merged and today it is quite difficult to see where one delta starts and the other ends. The south westerly current which prevails most of the year did the rest. From the little deltas the sea current carries gravel, sand and mud along the coast and creates these long flat beaches which we find on today’s Tourism prospects.

What looks like perpetual beauty for untrained eyes has a dark side though. Under water treacherous sand banks form which can easily damage the hull and the keel of a larger boat. The Genovese knew this of course and kept a safe distance from these beaches. There was nothing there that attracted them anyway. In Medieval times, sand and gravel had no value. The same was actually true for the Ionian settlers of Magna Graecia. They were interested in the fertile deltas not the beaches and built artificial harbours as the one in Sybaris we are going to visit.

Soverato Marina Beach gives a good idea how the sea currents shape the beaches

Today values have changed. Since the 1950ies, Italy developed its beaches for the European middle class. Summer in Rimini was one of first holidays Germans could afford. And they came. Rolling south in their VW Beetles on the Highways every summer – benefitting from an infrastructure put in place by Nazi Germany – they came. Even today, German tourists make up 20% of all of Italy's foreign visitors (51.6m). The goal was to reach a beach and secure a chair before anybody else. We all know the jokes about who gets up at 6.30 am to put a towel on the favorite beach chair but arrives only at 10.30 am after a lengthy breakfast.

Spiaggia del Capanello in Calabria - typical summer scene - anybody does not need a tan?

Jokes aside, tourism is today one of Italy’s most important economic sectors. It contributes almost 14% to GDP and suffered tremendously last summer when foreign visitors who make up half stayed away due to Covid-19. In regions like Apulia, Calabria and Sicily, tourism is even more important. Its share of GDP is significantly higher. Tourists come to the south for about 3 months. In 2019, Calabria with a population of only 1.9m had 3.3m visitors and 9.2m guest nights. Without tourism it would not count for much. With a GCP/Head of only 60% of Italy's national average it would lose people even faster than it already does.

Genovese Merchants looked at these beaches as nuisance – today they are worth gold. When we laugh about people who reserve their beach chairs with towels, we should not forget that they bring revenues to a region that has limited opportunities to earn money.

Endless beaches - as the title says

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