Stilo – the city of the Sun

While I’ve visited a few borghi in Italy, the borgo of Stilo is one of my favourites. You may wonder, “Well, what is a borgo/borghi in the first place, and secondly, where on earth is Stilo?!” So, I’ll first address that, before diving into what makes Stilo unique and beautiful.

A borgo:

A borgo is the Italian word for a village, it’s plural being – borghi/villages. Stilo being a village, is called a Borgo in Italian. It is located in the Calabria region in Southern Italy. What makes Stilo special, is that due to its special characteristics, it is recognised by the I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia, i.e. The Association of the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy.

The Association was created with the objectives of protecting, promoting and developing the villages recognised as the most beautiful villages in Italy, many of which were on the brink of being or were uninhabited in the recent past decades as the locals migrated to cities in search of better livelihoods. To be recognised by the Association, each borgo must meet certain criteria, used to evaluate them. The beauty and the culture of these borghi/villages and the rich heritage of their eternal monuments would have been lost over time, had it not been for the I Borghi Più Belli d’Italia.

Stilo is located in Southern Italy in the province of Reggio Calabria in the region of Calabria. Calabria is a region resplendent with the most varied and dramatic landscapes I’ve ever witnessed in Italy. One minute you’re looking at the villages perched on the hilltops trying hard to locate a road that really winds its way up there, while the other you’re looking at vast limestone landscapes effortlessly merging into the pristine blue Tyrrhenian Sea waters to its west or the Ionian Sea waters to its east.

What makes Stilo one of my favourites, is it’s fascinating geographic location, perched on the top of Mount Consoles, such that it offers many panoramic views of the vast landscapes surrounding it and meeting the Ionian Sea in the horizon. Stilo stands imposing amidst terraces of limestone, on a slope between olive groves and vineyards, where you can soak in these panoramic views from multiple views points in the village like from the Cattolica di Stilo or the Castle of Stilo.

For the history buffs, lovers of breathtaking panoramic views and the seekers of rustic village charm:

The Cattolica di Stilo is not only the most breathtaking monument of the village, but also a monumental masterpiece of Calabria and a Byzantine jewel that must be not be overlooked. Located at the edge of Stilo and perched on the top of the hill, the Cattolica is a beautiful Greek-Byzantine church, built in the 9th century with five bricked domes that are, in my opinion, unique to this region. The church is so simple yet so elegant! It is adorned by five cylindrical bricked domes on the outside and surrounded by nothing but nature! On the inside, the ceiling and the walls of the church are adorned by the frescoes, which covered the entire insides of the church back in it’s glorious days of the 11th century. What remains now are the remnants of these frescoes, yet so beautiful in their incompleteness, narrating tales of the significance of this Cattolica that it once was. Ringing the church bell inside is known to bring good luck; and as I rung that bell, all I wished – was for more people to witness this elegant church in the coming years! Perched on the top of hill, from the outsides of the church, you can soak in the marvellous panoramic views of the landscape, which seamlessly merge into the bright blue waters of Ionian Sea, making the location a perfect backdrop for that flawless #gram! Bonus – visit Stilo and the Cattolica before social media posts and blogs like mine make this rather untouched jewel so famous that your pictures are guaranteed to be photobombed 😉.

Cattolica di Stilo

To reach the Cattolica one must walk through the narrow alleys of Stilo, making the experience so calming and peaceful for a traveller that is looking to escape the touristic crowds that Italy is (in)famous for. The walk through the narrow alleys of Stilo made me travel back in time. We’d reached Stilo just past the lunchtime when the borgho and it’s residents may have been enjoying their afternoon siesta, thus giving the village a peaceful, sans-tourist vibe. Have you ever looked at the black-and-white photos of the famous Italian cities, wondering how beautiful and serene they once were?! Well, Stilo looks better than that even to this date with its mild dash of colours! And that’s what makes it so special.

As I traveled back in time while walking through the narrow alleys, we’d lost track of time, so much so that even the hunger pangs didn’t bother us until the walk back from the Cattolica! As the hunger pangs struck us again, it was time to feed ourselves, and what better way to understand the culture of the village than trying out its the local cuisine! Stilo is known for its homemade pasta, spun with the “iron” according to ancient use and seasoned with sauces having strong flavours, such as the goat meat sauce or for vegetarians – with a stuffed aubergine sauce. Both the varieties – vegetarian and non vegetarian – were truly delectable! I truly believe that if you haven’t tried the food in/from the Southern Italy, you don’t know Italian cuisine at all, and this dish makes it to the top of such Italian delicacies. As a matter of fact, there’s no such thing as “Italian cuisine” because every region in Italy, has it’s own cuisine, but that discussion makes up for another blog some other day.

While Stilo is fondly known as the city of the Sun, I’d also like to call it – the Borgho of innumerable panoramic views! Believe it or not, I’d urge you to see it to believe it. And talking about the views, another landmark here that deserves a mention is the Castle of Stilo, a Norman Castle, built on top of Mount Consoles. While we couldn’t visit this one as we were planning to chase the sunset at one of the beaches at the tip of Calabria, i.e. at the tip of the Italian mainland (coming back on that later in blog), the views from the castle are bound to be captivating for the mere location of the castle! Do visit if you can, and let me know how it was.

While these monuments in Stilo are sure to provide captivating views that will melt the hearts of the coldest of the cold and the most unromantic souls, other views in Stilo that are no less stunning are on the drive up the hill that takes you to Stilo, and from just about anywhere in Stilo from where you can see the hill base and the vast landscapes of mother nature that encompasses this Borgho like a cradle encompassing a baby!

For the romantic souls eternally chasing the sunsets:

I’m one such romantic soul that is eternally in search of spell binding sunsets. And what better sunset than one at the tip of Italian mainland! As we were staying in Tropea and visiting Stilo for a day excursion, it was time to head back, but not before chasing that remarkable sunset! While Reggio Calabria is unarguably the tip of Italian mainland, geographically speaking there are places further down south in Calabria which are at a lower latitude than Reggio Calabria, thus placing them at the very tip of Italian mainland, if I may dare to say so! There are a few beaches on this stretch of the lowest latitude point of the Italian mainland that make for beautiful uninterrupted sunset views, namely Palizzi Marina, Marina di San Lorenzo and Melito di Porto Salvo. We chose the Pallizi Marina beach, just in time for the sunset. And, while this wasn’t the best sunset that I’ve seen in my life, the uninterrupted sunset views certainly didn’t disappoint. The handful of beach visitors ensured just the right amount of crowds to enjoy the company of mankind while revelling in privacy and having the beach practically to ourselves.

What is it about sunsets that makes one retrospect and introspect about life? There I was, enjoying the beautiful sunset while retrospecting and introspecting about my life, concluding about how content and happy I was in that moment, knowing that I’ve seen everything on this Calabria trip that I’d wanted to, and yet being completely oblivious to the existence of the marvel that is MuSaBa, hiding in plain sight.

Located close to Stilo and another borgho – Gerace, MuSaBa is an open air museum spread over hectares of land, and is home to eclectic and colourful pieces of modern and contemporary art, architecture and mosaics – the great works of a great artist of our generation Nik Spatari. This open air museum is a haven for any artist or an art aficionados. And how I regret having not known about it earlier! Artist or not, art lover or not, this museum can brighten up any dull day and shall not be missed on a trip to Calabria. I’m so fascinated by the mere images I’ve come across on it’s website and Google, albeit only later, that it compels me to take another trip to Calabria to specifically pay a visit MuSaBa. To know more about Nik Spatari, MuSaBa, it’s opening hours and entry fees, please visit its MuSaBa.

Where to stay in Stilo:

If you’d like to experience the rustic charm of Stilo, it is a good option to stay a night or two in Stilo. There are only a handful of hotels and homestays in total, all for a decent quality and price. However, if you’d prefer a day excursion to Stilo like we did, the best options in the vicinity would be a hotel/homestay/resort at the beach – Monasterace Marina or Riace Marina. As Calabria is blessed with a long coastline, there’s no dearth of beaches. As a result, we found these beaches practically empty, and that too on a pleasantly warm September afternoon. Just imagine having a sandy beach with clear blue waters all to yourself! And to spoil you with more options, most or all beaches on the east of Calabria exposed to the Ionian sea are mostly sandy, like the aforementioned. Other good options to stay will be Tropea, Pizzo or Scilla, from where you can drive to Stilo for a day trip (taking up to 2 hours of drive one way from any of these 3), I will personally recommend to stay at either of these 3 towns. These are extremely beautiful beach towns, ones that Calabria is particularly famous for, thus offering plenty of good options of restaurants, hotels/homestays, guided day tours/hikes and even water sport activities.

How to reach Stilo:

Stilo, though may look hard to reach on the first look, is worth a bit of extra effort. If you’re flying into Calabria the two nearest airports to Stilo are Reggio calabria and Lamezia Terme. Stilo is easily reachable by car from either of these cities. If these two cities are not on your itinerary and you’re instead staying at one of the more popular Calabrian towns like Pizzo, Tropea or Scilla, again taking a drive to Stilo from any of these towns is a good option. Do note that as Calabria is full of hilly terrains, it’s good to reserve at least one whole day for the day trip to and back from Stilo, accounting to a relatively more time consuming drive to Stilo. But on your way to Stilo and once you’re there – rest assured to be gifted with abundance of beautiful landscape views, the Cattolica and the all in all a borgho rich in culture and heritage for an Italian experience as authentic as it can get!

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