If you're traveling to Sicily, try to schedule at least a day in Calabria on your way to the ferry. The very tip of the mainland is enchanting territory, as Homer knew. Although the A3 Autostrada makes driving here much easier than elsewhere in Calabria, you might want to consider traveling by train so you can fully enjoy the breathtaking seaside views. Stop for a while in Bagnara, a quaint fishing village with some very interesting workshops that build and repair boats. Bagnara is also famous for its fantastic pastries and its women, who have been the breadwinners for centuries. Local folklore has it that long ago, since it was illegal to sell salt privately, the women of Bagnara made their own clandestine salt flats on the sandy coasts, then hid the contraband merchandise in their voluminous black skirts and sold it to smugglers with whom they rendezvoused on the beach on moonless nights. Salt is still sold by federal monopoly in Italy, so you might want to think twice before taking a nocturnal stroll on the beach in Bagnara!
Just down the road is Scilla, perhaps Calabria's most picturesque fishing village. If you've read The Odyssey, you'll remember what a terrible time Ulysses had getting past Scylla and Charybdis, which flank what is now known as the Straits of Messina. When the atmospheric conditions are right, you can stand in Marina Grande, gaze out towards Sicily and see the Fata Morgana, an eery mirage that seems to be the city of Messina reflected (right-side up) in the sea waters.
What definitely is not a mirage is the delightful neighborhood of Chianalea, where a narrow row of pastel-hued houses are squeezed between the highway and the beach. Scilla also has an elegant 17th-century downtown and an imposing castle, whose ramparts offer a great vantage point for La Chianalea.
From here there are two ways to get to Sicily: by ferry from Villa San Giovanni or, the longer route, from Reggio Calabria. The road is lined with lush orchards and comfortable summer homes, and the air is filled with the perfumes of exotic flowers, sea air and, in late summer, of ripening figs. After this kind of sensational beauty, there's little reason to recommend a visit to Reggio Calabria, the provincial capital. The 1908 earthquake Axel Munthe describes in his Story of San Michele virtually leveled the city, leaving a modern urban nightmare (complete with Calabrian-style traffic jams). If for some reason you find yourself here, take a taxi to the Museo Nazionale, where you can view the famed Bronzes of Riace and many other interesting archeological finds. If you have an hour or two to spare, consider driving further south along the wonderful coast, perhaps as far as Bova, where you can turn inland to visit Bova, Condofuri, Roccaforte del Greco and Roghudi, an enclave of towns where the local dialect stems directly from ancient Greek.
The Museo Nazionale is at Piazza De Nava 26 and is usually open Tues-Sun. 9am-7pm. It was recently closed for restorations so before you go, call ahead (0965/812255) to make sure this work has been finished.
Car ferries to Messina leave often from Villa San Giovanni (20-minute trip) and Reggio Calabria (50 minutes). Railroad ferry service is from Reggio.