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E - 44 : Deckchair Galore!

After a few blogs about Malta, have to return to Greece again – the end of our journey this year. Still have to write about Greek wines and ancient Greek medicine. What could I cover that is in between? The Calabrian coast with its miles and miles of deck chairs.

The Praia et Mare Beach on Calabria's north coast - about 160 km south-east to Salerno

For centuries, Calabrian beaches were deserted. When the Greek arrived in the 8th century BC, they did not exist yet, the Romans did not travel but stayed home, the Genovese kept a safe distance because these waters were dangerously shallow. These beautiful beaches had no economic value.

Tourism would eventually change that. Railway lines to Bari and Reggio di Calabria were opened in 1868 and 1895 but the south of Italy was still too far away. The distance between Milan and Reggio di Calabria is 1’244 km - almost 30 hours of travelling time. Also, the 19th century was too early for tourism. At that time 30% of Italy’s population was so poor they had to emigrate to the Americas to make a living. The tiny upper class of Northern Italy who could afford to travel went to Istria (C + 16 ) - only a few hours away.

The Invasion of Calabria in Southern Italy in late 1943

The beautiful beaches of Calabria were discovered in 1943 when the British and Canadian Armies landed in mainland Italy and pushed north along the Calabrian coast. Embedded English and Canadian journalist wrote in the Anglo-Saxon press about Calabria's beauty and the tragedy of fighting in such a beautiful place. People started to notice the long sand beaches, the mountains and the hills dotted with ancient temples and medieval towns.

Italian GDP per Capita numbers fro 1860 to 2000

It would take the reconstruction after the Marshall Plan to launch mass tourism in Italy. By 1960, Italy’s GDP reached the pre-war levels of US GDP. As in the US, cars became affordable for the middle class. Fiat launched its popular family car Fiat 1100 in 1953 and followed up in 1957 with the Fiat 500, a car for the younger families.

Fiat in Turin produced the Fiat 1100 from 1953 - 1959

With the cars came the Highways. Autostrada No 1 from Milan to Naples (760km) was opened in 1964, Autostrada No 14 from Bologna to Taranto (744km) followed in 1966. The south of Italy was now less than 10 hours away. Who left Milan at 6 am could have dinner on the beach of Crotone by 18.00 h. The prospect was too tempting to ignore. Italians packed their families into their tiny cars and went south - summer after summer.

Italy's modern Autrostrada network - mostly built between 1960 and 1980

Families even drove with their tiny Fiat 500 to the South

Of course, other nations also figured out that Italy was a great spot for holidays. Fellini's movies "La Dolce Vita" and "Roma" were widely watched - and admired. The opening of the new highway over the Brenner Pass shortened travel distance from Munich to Bologna to a good five hours. The Germans joined the Italians in their summer track.

It does not take a genius to figure out the business potential for the south. Hotels and little restaurants opened everywhere, mostly small and family owned. Museums and Tourism Offices followed. Guides offered their services. Travel brochures were printed. Finally, the south had found a way to earn its own money - at least during the summer months.

You never meet a single deck chair - they come in clusters

The sudden influx of northern Italians (and very well organised Germans!) created new challenges. Everybody wanted the best spot on the very same beach. Families solved it first. One member had to sacrifice sleep, plant the foldable camping chairs at 6 am on the favoured spot and defend it until the other family members crawled out of bed - a game the Germans usually won. Clever Calabrian folks soon offered to do a better job to their fellow countrymen. Then they also came up with the idea to offer deck chairs - the foldable camping chairs could stay in Milan. Before you knew it, we got the deck chair operators we find now everywhere. When two operators argued about beach-space they both claimed, the local mafia would happily settle the dispute.

Deck chair paradise guarantees peace and late getting up times for all beach buns

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