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Italy

Calabria

Back in some distant June, I was sailing along the coasts of Calabria in a yacht. And all of a sudden the night breeze from the coast wafted to me an inebriating wave of scents: citrus-blos-som, of course, from the groves of orange-trees, lemon-trees and bergamot-trees along the stony river-beds that glistened whitely in the darkness. But also the sublime, heady note of jasmine, a flower that in those days was still cultivated along these coasts for it essential oil. And the next day, there was the unexpected sight of Pentedattilo, a village nestled in the hollow of a cliff shaped like a hand. Which reveals the image of its five stumpy stone fingers only when it is viewed from the sea, as the first Greek sailors discovered as they passed along these coasts. A coastline that is still almost totally unspoilt, bright and resonant shores edging the green background of plains dominated by the dark contours of the inland mountain ranges. Its ancient charm, nested in remote and secluded places, still remains intact. As it does on the rocky coasts - in those places where recurrent bush-fires have left little more than silky tufts of tussock grass - on which still survive, clinging to the cliffs, some magnificent clusters of Fenician juniper; and at the mouths of the wide river-beds, stony and pearlgrey, preceded by grey-blue cane-brakes rustling in the wind, where the querulous call of the sandpiper fills the air in the spring. Or as it does on the islands and promontories along the Tyrrhenian coast, where the lovely Mediterranean scrub is heady with the aromatic odours of myrtle, rosemary, lentisk, helichry sum and marine rockrose, in a symphony of scents distilled by the south-west wind and the sunlight reflected by the red-hot rocks. And where, beneath the surface of the sea, the golden gorgoniae, fiery-red paramuricidae, blue sponges and orange astroids proliferatingly pursue their many-coloured, flaming lives that make the underwater seascapes of Dino Island and the Isca Rocks (WWF Blue Oasis) an absolutely unique sight.

And the there are the clear, transparent waters where the pink and blue moonfish, rainbow-hued wrasse and dignified salpas play amongst the posidonia's ribbonlike leaves, and the sagacious octopus lies concealed in hollows in the rocks. And pearly pebbled shorelines for the noisy assemblies of royal seagulls, and sandy beaches where, impelled by the primeval voice of instinct, the great silent sea-turtles still return to lay their eggs.

And Cape Rizzuto marine reserve, where rare species such as the pharaoh bream and the tropical parrot-fish live in the shadow of the Castella manor-house. And the madrepora cladocora caespitosa evokes visions of tropical coral reefs.

And the river-mouths: the great stands of white poplars and alders, the lilac-flowered bushes of agnus castus, the reed-mace with its cigar-shaped blooms, water-lilies, greyish tamarisks and, in a brilliant rose-hued belt, the summer splendour of the oleanders whose pink flowers duet with the grey hues of the riverbeds and the sun-drenched, empty shores. Fulco Pratesi Where is Ogygia, the island where the nymph Calypso held Ulysses in captivity? And where in Scylla, the fearsome monster with twelve feet and six heads? Where is the land of the Phaeacians, where the lovely Nausicaa welcomed the shipwrecked hero? The answer to many of the questions posed by Homeric mythology is to be found on the coasts of Calabria: the isle of Ogygia is offshore of the Lacinian Promontory, today's Cape Colonna; Scylla is on the southern point of the Violet Coast; the kingdom of Alcinous is near the Gulf of Squillace. Ancient history too has much to tell along Calabria's shores: it was here that Magna Grecia's most famous colonies were founded and prospered: Sybaris (Sibari) at the mouth of the Crati river; Kroton (Crotone) slightly south of the mouths of the Netp, Locri Epizephiri to the north of Cape Bruzzano. T^fs extraordinary past has left traces scattered just about everywhere, only a few yeards from the shoreline, buried in the sand, standing on the cliffs, safeguarded on the sea-bed.

But Calabria's seven hundred and eighty kilometers of coasts (one-fifty of the Italian Peninsular's total shoreline) are not only a place of Legend and History. They also reveal most unusual natural features: the steep limestone cliffs of San Nicola Arcella, Cetraro and Sangineto,the harsh granite rocks of Cape Vaticano and Staletti, the imposing, airy precipices of the Violet Coast, the pebbly beaches of the upper Ionian seacoast, the very fine sand-beaches of Tropea and Soverato, the vast untrodden sands of the Crotone district and lower Ionian coast. The waters and seabeds are full of marvels, everywhere from the Shallows of Amendolara to the Strait, from Dino and Cirella islands to Cape Rizzuto Marine Reserve. And slightly further inland are forests and river gorges: monuments of rock, huge trees. 7 depart from Italy's most beautiful province with much emotion, wrote Frierich L. von Stolberg, (...) everything great and beautiful that other parts of the world possess singly can be found gathered together in Calabria"Francesco Bevilacqua".

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