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The Castello Argonese
The Castello Argonese

People often ask: should I skip Crotone? In fact, I'd suggest adding Crotone to your itinerary; it's an undiscovered gem with a charm that's not immediately apparent. It's true that Crotone may not be as well known as other destinations, but that's precisely its appeal. You will have the chance to discover the hidden beauty that is only briefly mentioned in guidebooks, hinting at the unspoilt and authentic experience that awaits the curious traveller.

I found something special in Crotone, especially if you scratch a little beneath the surface, literally dig into the ground, for here in the 'heel of Italy's boot', on Calabria's Ionian coast, lies the ancient city of Kroton. Its rich history and beautiful beaches with turquoise waves attract visitors who wish to experience the essence of Magna Graecia—to smell, taste, and feel it. You can do it at Crotone!

pilaar van de tempel van Hera Lacinia

The Ionian coast of Calabria: a historical prelude to Crotone and Magna Graecia

Although Crotone was founded around 710 B.C. as the Achaean colony of Kroton, it was already inhabited by various tribes for centuries before that. Its past is filled with tales of ancient Greece, making it a treasure for history buffs. One of the most famous figures from Kroton is Pythagoras, the legendary mathematician who founded a school there. This school was not only a place for the study of numbers, but also delved into the fields of philosophy, science, music and, above all, politics.

Castello Aragonese

The golden age of the city was the 6th century B.C., when it became a powerful city-state, famed for its athletes, especially the legendary Olympic wrestler Milo of Croton. We know that Milo carried a calf on his shoulders to the Olympic Games in Delphi (Greece), and when he arrived, the calf had grown into a full-sized bull he carried around his neck. But like all ancient cities, it was fought over and conquered by the Greeks, the Romans and later the Byzantines, Normans and Bourbons.

Castello Aragonese 2

Why did Hercules build the temple of Hera Lacinia?

According to legend, Hercules built the temple of Hera Lacinia, also known as Juno Lacinia, as penance for killing his friend Lacinius in the 5th century B.C. The temple originally had a roof of marble slabs. A few hundred years later, Hannibal placed a plaque on the wall to commemorate his victory in the Punic War. Another 100 years after that, a Roman general dismantled the marble tiles from the roof to use in a new temple in Rome.

Tempel Hera Lacinia

The Roman Senate was displeased and ordered him to return the tiles. The tiles remained on the ground for centuries as no one knew how to rebuild the roof. Until the 16th century, the temple was almost completely intact. Sadly, only one column is still standing. It's likely that the temples were dismantled, and their materials repurposed for other buildings at the time. I recommend visiting this website for those who want to delve deeper into this history (you may need a translate program).

Binnen de muren van het Castello Aragonese

The Must-See Attractions in the Province

The Aragonese Castle: A Landmark of Crotone's Past in Calabria

Le Castella is a picturesque area on the Calabrian coast, near the town of Isola di Capo Rizzuto. It is part of the Capo Rizzuto Marine Reserve, the largest of its kind in Italy. On a small peninsula along this coast stands a magnificent castle that cannot be overlooked.

The castle, now known as the Aragonese Castle, dates back to the Greek colonisation of southern Italy, then known as Magna Graecia. The Greeks built a fortress on the peninsula in the 5th century BC, which was later used by the Romans. At one point, the fortress served as a refuge for the Carthaginian general Hannibal and his troops during their retreat from Rome in the Second Punic War. After the fall of Rome, the area was ruled by various kingdoms, empires and peoples such as the Normans, Byzantines and Angevins. Each of them used and expanded the fortress over the centuries. The castle was inhabited in the early Middle Ages, but was abandoned in the 9th century after an attack by Arab troops. During the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1297, the area was also the scene of an important battle. The tower was built at that time by the Angevins. They ruled the Kingdom of Naples.

Castello Aragonese di Le Castella - Via Castello, CAP 88841 Le Castella, Isola di Capo Rizzuto - Openinghours: Tuesdays 08:30–13:00, Wednesdays 08:30–13:00, Thursdays 14:30–19:00, Friday Saturday and Sunday08:30–19:00, Closed on Monday.

The National Archaeological Museum: A treasure of Calabrian history

This is the place where you can get a vivid picture of the history of the city. From remnants of its Greek past to finds from Roman times, the museum displays the rich heritage of the city. In this area, all you have to do is stick a shovel in the ground to bring up something from the ancient world. A few years ago, a golden crown of Juno/Hera was discovered here, which is now the centerpiece of the museum. A nearly identical crown was found two centuries ago at the temple of Juno in Agrigento, Sicily.

Kroon van Hera Lacinia

The National Archaeological Museum of Crotone: - Via Risorgimento 11, 88900, Crotone, Italië - Website: 

The Cathedral of Crotone: A Historical Sanctuary on the Ionian Coast of Calabria

Located in the heart of the old city of Crotone, this Romanesque cathedral was built over the ancient temple of Hera Lacinia. It houses a Byzantine icon of the Madonna of Capocolonna, which is highly revered by the local population.

The Archaeological Park of Capo Colonna: A Glimpse into Ancient Calabria

This park is about 10 km from Crotone. It is where a temple dedicated to Hera Lacinia once stood. All that remains of the once magnificent structure is a single column that stands proudly against the backdrop of the Ionian Sea, a symbol of the city's indomitable spirit. Hera / Juno, as you might know, was the wife of Zeus and the goddess of fertility. In the archaeological park, you will be able to see the outlines of the most important buildings that were part of the temple complex.

Charles V's Castle in Crotone: A Fortified Heritage Site on Calabria's Ionian Seaside

Kasteel van Karel V

This medieval fortress offers panoramic views of the city and the sea. Built by the Spaniards in the 16th century, it played an significant role in the defense of the city. It's actually a bastion built on a fortified rock on what was, until 840 AD, the ancient acropolis of Kroton. It would have remained completely intact had it not been for a series of earthquakes in the 19th century.

Outside Crotone you'll find the largest olive groves in Italy. In the town itself, a giant chimney still stands as a reminder of an old liquorice factory, while in Cirò Marina, the second town in the province, there are still the Saracen markets where Turkish merchants used to sell their goods.

The Plight of Boat Refugees in Crotone: A Current Chapter in the Ionian Coastal Saga

My trip also took me to the Santa Anna refugee center in Crotone, a silent witness to the heartbreaking tragedies of the Mediterranean migrant crisis. Here, countless souls, desperate for a new start, risk their lives on flimsy rubber dinghies to cross the treacherous sea. The icy winds in winter and the scorching sun in summer, together with the vast, unpredictable Mediterranean, create a bleak backdrop. As we drove back to the castle of Crotone, we saw migrants trudging along the two-lane road, heading to the seaside resorts where they hope to earn a little pocket money. But in the midst of all this gloom, there is a glimmer of hope: Mimo Lugano, Mayor, supports the immigrants in times of need.

The Unique Beaches of Crotone: Calabria's Pristine Ionian Coastline

Uitzicht op Salotto Aragonese

Crotone isn't just about history. First and foremost, the land is constantly being eroded by the Neto River, which originates in the Sila Mountains, once a favorite haunt of Virgil. Nature has also blessed the region with a stunning coastline. The beaches here, with their fine golden sand, are embraced by the Ionian Sea. This creates a spectrum of blues that seem to merge with the horizon.

Many small coves and popular beaches have been created by erosion. Some of these beaches have also made history, as they were once the hiding places of the Greek fleet, which was set on fire by the sailors' wives, who were tired of the frequent absences of their husbands.

Some of the most beautiful beaches are undoubtedly the untouched beauty near the Aragonese Castle in Le Castella, Spaggia Saraceno, and Santa Domenica - they attract travelers from all over. The azure waters of Punta Alice and Capo Colonna Beach sparkle under the sun against a deep blue sky.

Snorkel adventures in Calabria: explore the underwater wonders off the coast of Crotone

Even off the coast, there are countless shipwrecks of Turkish, Greek, Roman, Spanish, and Venetian vessels that undoubtedly contain valuable artifacts.

The water is crystal clear, thanks to the Ionian deep-sea current that keeps the seabed unpolluted. There is an abundance of marine life and the sea is therefore ideal for snorkelling. The beaches, with their dunes and Mediterranean vegetation, are pristine, especially since Crotone is somewhat off the beaten path, shielded from the commercialization found elsewhere.

Marine Protected Area of Capo Rizzuto: This is a haven for nature lovers. Covering more than 14,000 hectares, it's one of the largest marine reserves in Italy. Its contrasting landscapes provide a unique habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, from sandy beaches to rugged cliffs.

Area Protetta Marina Capo Rizzuto, Diving centers - https://www.riservamarinacaporizzuto.it/index.php?id=30

Is Crotone worth the trip?

Should you visit Crotone or, as I started this story, could you skip it? Much of the town is modern, with some older streets in the center around the cathedral, but I wouldn't make a detour just for that. However, there are enough interesting finds and history in the immediate area to justify a visit, especially out of season when you have the beautiful beaches practically to yourself. A lot of the hotels are closed, but some of the better ones stay open and will give you access to a private beach. Also, take a trip to the wine region; it's well worth it.

Dining Out in La Castella and Crotone

Fish Dish Chef Ercole in Crotone

For a beautiful view of the castle, you should be here:

Aperitivo at Salotto Aragonese - Via Duomo, 2, 88841 Le Castella, Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Italy - +39 0962 795013
Vista Restaurant - Piazza Ucciali' 8, 88841 Le Castella, Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Italy - +3909621723475

Chef Ercole's 0km restaurant is probably the best in the area. Highly recommended and right by the sea. Chef Erocole and his four siblings offer exquisite 0km dishes. Your plate will be filled with fresh seafood from the Ionian Sea. The restaurant faces the Crotone beach and attracts well-dressed Italians on Sundays for christenings and wedding lunches. To order, you can choose from a range of specialities that are quickly brought to the table and washed down with the local Ciro wine. Sardines with fennel seeds, produced locally. Sardella, which I have been told is a baby fish with Calabrian chilli peppers. Sardella is very specific to the area and you can't eat it anywhere else. The ricotta eggplant nero di seppia is a personal favorite, as well as the pasta with stracciatella cheese, Tropea onions in a pumpkin sauce.

Sardines with fennel and pasta with pumpkin sauce
Ristorante Da Ercole - Viale Antonio Gramsci 122, 88900, Crotone - Tel. +39 0962 901425 - Website: https://ristorantedaercole.com

La Figlia di Annibale is a renowned restaurant in Crotone, known for its Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant has received positive reviews for its dishes and has a rating of 4 out of 5 on Tripadvisor. It is conveniently located near the coast, making it a popular choice for both locals and tourists. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, with seafood being a prominent feature on the menu.

La Figlia di Annibale - Via Emanuele di Bartolo, 20/22, 87062, Crotone, Italy - Tel. +39 0962 903082

Other Good Restaurants in Crotone Include:

Ristorante Tenda Ampollino - Via Nazionale, Trepido, Cotronei (KR) - Tel. +39 3393752159
Agriturismo Il Casale - Località Vigne, Contrada Sulleria Frazione Vigne Verzino (KR) 88819 - Tel. +39 347-651-5654
Aperitivo at Salotto Aragonese - Via Duomo, 2 88841 Le Castella, Isola di Capo Rizzuto - Tel. +39-0962-795013
Vista Restaurant - Piazza Ucciali 8 - 88841 Le Castella - Isola di Capo Rizzuto - Italy - Tel. +39 09621723475
La Scogliera - Isola di Capo Rizzuto - Località Le Castella Via Scogliera - Tel. +39 0962-795071
L'Ancora - Località Capo Colonna - Via Hera Lacinia 193 - Tel. +39 3279446703
Poseidon-Cooperative Pescatori - Via del Porto, 4-5 88841 Le Castella (KR)
Fattoria-Il-Borghetto - Isola-Capo-Rizzuto Località-Capo-Bianco - Tel. + 39-0962-793019

I stayed at the Hotel Ristorante Lido degli Scogli, which is an elegant but exceptional four-star resort with excellent cuisine, situated right on the coast, opposite its own (free) private beach. It's full of recycled art by the artist Mario Sposato. There's even a small museum of eccentric art in the garden. The hotel rooms are tastefully decorated with a classic touch. The bathrooms are large, even in the annex, but I recommend getting a room in the main building. The on-site restaurant specializes in traditional Calabrian and Mediterranean cuisine. Fresh seafood is served daily. There is a breakfast buffet with a wide selection of sweet brioche, cakes and fresh pastries, typically Italian.

Artworks by Mario Sposato in the hotel
Hotel Ristorante Lido degli Scogli - Viale Magna Grecia 49, 88900 Crotone, Italy  - Book and Prices
Hotel Ristorante Lido degli Scogli

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Sleeping in Crotone

Hotel Casarossa - Viale Magna Grecia 98, Crotone - This enchanting hotel near Capo Colonna, with its charming rooms, lovely terraces, and beautiful gardens, offers breathtaking sea views and exudes charm and elegance. - Rooms & Rates
Agriturismo Torre Scifo - Località Capo Colonna, Via Eracle 27 - The charming wooden chalets, nestled in a picturesque organic farm, offer a peaceful escape surrounded by the beauty of nature, with cozy accommodations and breathtaking sea views. - Rooms & Rates
Hotel Ristorante Lido degli Scogli - Viale Magna Grecia 49 - 88900 Crotone, Italy - Tel. + 390962 28625 - Rooms & Rates