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  • Writer's pictureSu Guillory

Serrastretta: A Village Rooted in Customs

"Trees communicate," Giuseppe Palette said, "They tell each other what they need, and whether there are dangers coming. They support one another."

Giuseppe was speaking about trees because he lives in a town that has relied on wood for its livelihood for centuries...but he was also speaking about the community of Serrastretta. As a representative of Edrevia, an association that promotes the region in and around Serrastretta, he is passionate about this connection, this sense of community. So, it seems, is everyone else in the town.

How did we (Dora and Su) end up in this tiny mountain town located 900 meters above sea level, nestled in the mountains halfway between the Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts?

We were invited to get to know Serrastretta and its many delights by Marisa Gigliotti, representative of the Comunità Slow Food degli amici della casa di Marisa e di Mimmo per Terra Madre (a Slow Food community). Marisa was born and raised in Serrastretta, and today, acts as an informal advocate of the town.

Serrastretta: City of Chairs

Serrastretta, located in the Catanzaro province of Calabria, is known as la città delle sedie, or city of chairs, because for centuries, the town made its living by handcrafting wooden chairs.

You can tell a chair is from Serrastretta by the design imprinted on the chair back; there was a single design with a seashell/flower in the center that all the chairmakers in Serrastretta used as their signature. The design was carved into metal and then stamped onto the chairback.

Today, the craft of chairmaking still exists, though not to the levels of the past. Restaurant owners and homeowners still seek out the artisans for custom-made chairs, though, sadly, some opt for China-made woven seats over the more expensive handmade versions.

As we wandered down the town's main street, we saw colorful chairs with geraniums blooming from the seat that served as a reminder of what roots this town to its past.

La Faggeta di Condrò

Naturally, you would expect to find a lot of trees near a town that thrived on chairmaking for centuries. Near Serrastretta you'll find la faggeta di Condrò, an enchanting beech forest.

The wood has long been used for the chairs made in Serrastretta, though today the forest is protected and the amount of lumber cut down is controlled to preserve its natural resources.

Walking through the forest, there was a sense of calm, and yet a strange energy was thrumming through the trees. Perhaps they were alerting one another to the arrival of strangers. A few birds peeped from hidden spots among the branches. A small creek trickled by.

Just a short walk from the parking lot, we encountered a dark shadow that, as we discovered once we got closer, was actually a large stone covered in moss and ferns.

photo credit: Miguel Talanti

Called la pietra dei Margari, this giant stone is steeped in legend and mystery. Word has it that pirates buried treasure beneath it, but to find the treasure, there's a complicated ritual that involves walking around the stone several times in a certain manner and capturing a snake that appears. could consider the treasure to be more ethereal. There's definitely an energy emitted from the rock. Many have come to it for healing and to absorb its powerful energy. We took a turn and we all felt rejuvenated after touching the stone.

There are events like music concerts, meditations, and festivals held in the forest each summer. Learn more here.

Flavor and Tradition

While a butcher shop might not sound like it should be on your itinerary while in Calabria, you haven't yet met Giacomo Gigliotti. Something of a local wunderkind, this young man has embraced the traditions of raising animals and curing them into Calabrian favorites like guanciale, soppressata, 'nduja, capocollo, and more.

But you can find a butcher on every corner in Calabria, so what makes Giacomo and his Azienda Agricola so special? Not only has he forsaken more convenient and modern methods for smoking meats and remained true to ancient tactics, but he's also an avid spokesperson for his craft and for the Slow Food movement. He has given many gastronomical presentations throughout Calabria and is happy to talk about his craft.

And speaking of food, halfway through our Serrastretta adventure, we stopped for lunch at Agriturismo E Turre. The farm/hotel/restaurant consists of several buildings dating as far back as 1860.

We opted for a "light" aperitivo-style lunch (a "light" meal really doesn't exist in Calabria!) and what we got was plates and plates laden with locally-cured meats, cheeses, to-die-for braciole di patate (potato croquettes), fritelle (vegetable fritters), and, of course, lots of wine.

Back to the Basics

So as not to end up in a food coma, we moved on to our next destination: l'orto nel bosco, a project of permaculture, natural living, and self-sufficiency.

This garden (really, a small farm) is run by a young couple, Andrea and Michele. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by half a dozen friendly dogs, a handful of cats, a couple of chickens, and two suspicious geese.

Andrea welcomed us warmly and invited us into the work kitchen where crates of freshly-picked strawberries enticed us, ready to be turned into jam.

She explained that the farm was self-sustaining, and how they used most of what they grew or raised and then sold the surplus to friends.

The couple also makes cheese and harvests flowers and herbs like malva to dry for teas or use for herbal remedies. There are no televisions. No internet. No signs of modern life. And they wouldn't have it any other way.

"Not a lot of people can imagine being self-sustaining," Andrea told us, "but it's very gratifying."

We're Not Out of the Past Yet

Calabria is a paradox. While it's modern in every sense, there is still a strong pull to the past. And so our tour of Serrastretta continued at the Museo della civiltà contadina di Serrastretta (museum of rural civilization).

Here we learned about the ancient art of turning ginestra (broom) plants into thread and fabric. It was then weaved on a loom called a telaio.

We were told that, until fairly recently (100 years ago), families would accumulate linens like bedspreads and towels over the young life of their daughter. When it came time for her to marry, they would present an itemized list of the linens along with their prices to serve as the value they offered for her dote, or dowry. The higher the value, the more appealing the bride as a match!

The museum also displayed clothes from different eras, as well as traditional Calabrese costumes.

A Dose of Dalidà

Serrastretta, in addition to all these interesting things to see and do, is the home of the famous singer and actress Dalidà. Born in Egypt and raised in France, Dalidà's family was from. Serrastretta.

She graced the small village with a visit in the 1960s, where she shook hands and posed for photos with babies named after her. The photos are on display at the tiny museum hosted by the Associazione culturale Dalidà di Serrastretta.

A Literary Gathering

The end of our visit was spent at a special event held in the piazza of Serrastretta called "La Donna al Telaio." Our gracious host, Marisa, spoke with Luigia Luliano, author of A Cannunera, a book that delves into the interesting world of the telaio. The book is filled with history, as well as images of traditional patterns for cloth weaved throughout the centuries.

Dora and I drove home in silence through the winding mountains, lost in thought about the adventures we had there. Serrastretta is a delightfully authentic corner of Calabria that well deserves a visit.


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