About Southern Italy: the Ionian Coast
The instep of Italy, between heel and toe, is an area for the traveller rather than the tourist. In these parts the word marina means a little hill town’s access to the sea, not a harbour crammed with yachts. Between Taranto and Reggio the road runs close to the shore, crossing the outfalls of gravelly torrent beds, the mouths of destructive watercourses which descend from the Apennines more in the manner of cataracts than rivers. No large towns interrupt the line of the route. When you stop you can sit or walk on a deserted beach and know how Robinson Crusoe felt. Round Cape Spartivento (‘Scatterer of Winds’) the sea breaks on wrack and dune, and a narrow ribbon of sandy beach goes on for ever, Mighty Aspromonte – the Apennines’ last fling – rears up from the water’s edge, an abrupt climax to the peninsular backbone. An Italian writer, Giustino Fortunato, calls it ‘a geological wreck sticking out of the sea’. Discriminating British travelers, George Gissing and Norman Douglas among them, found the area peculiarly exhilarating.
Between Taranto and Brindisi you cross chessboard layouts of cultivation. On this highway the charioteers and despatch riders of Rome travelled – it is none other than the Via Appia, part of the vital link between Rome, capital of the Western Empire, and Constantinople, capital of the Eastern.
If you happen to be driving the full round trip of Italy, down one side and up the other, this stretch of coast completes the circuit. The main road, of ragged-edged tarmac, is at least level all the way but beware potholes in villages. Many of the best places to visit are strung along it.
A few green sights are included. You see a village tumbling down the near-vertical face of Aspromonte and feel you must find out what kind of strange people choose that inaccessible spot to live in (often they are of Greek origin). When tempted into a foray to the interior, remember that you may find nothing to eat, little to drink and inhabitants struck dumb at the sight of a stranger; and that you will probably have to return by the same contorted road with tremendous seascapes for consolation.
Brindsi and Reggio Calabria have domestic air services and are also on main railway lines to Naples, Bari, Lecce and Taranto. The provincial Sud-Est line connects inland towns of Puglia and Basilicata with main-line stations at Francavilla Fontana and Metaponto (for Bari/Lecce and Potenza/Naples respectively).
Brindisi, Taranto, Reggio Calabria and Crotone are useful bases for renting cars. SITA (www.sitabus.it) and Ciccimarra Carlo (www.noleggiobusciccimarracarlo.it) are the principal bus operators. The private railway companies, Sud-Est and FAL (www.ferrovieappulolucane.it), run buses from their stations to surrounding villages and along the routes of closed lines. Ferry services, including fast catamarans, operate from Brindisi and Otranto taking in various destinations including Corfu – see www.ferriesonline.com.