My Calabrian hideaway

David Kernek found perfect peace and quiet on a farm holiday in Italy's deepest south

Think about Italian holidays, and what comes to mind? Tuscany, Venice and Rome certainly. Florence and the northern lakes perhaps, and possibly Rimini's beaches of baking flesh.

But there is another Italy which, if not undiscovered - it was settled by the ancient Greeks and it's been governed and plundered over the centuries by Normans, Saracens and Byzantines - is unknown to or at least forgotten by many British Italophiles who think la dolce vita starts at The Veneto and stops at Sorrento and Capri.

The pool on the terrace at I Monaci

It's Italy's deepest south - the sturdy boot below the peninsula's shapely calf, a semi-tropical land scorned by go-getting northerners in Milan and Turin for its economic backwardness but much visited by them when in August they fly, drive or train it down to roast on the country's best beaches or hide away in farms and villas on its forested hillsides.

Known as the mezzogiorno - a reference to the scorching power of the southern mid-day sun - it's the escape of choice for toiling money-makers in Italy's industrial centres. It was our escape too, when earlier this year in search of sun, serenity and solitude we headed for Torre di Ruggiero, in Calabria, slap bang in the middle of the toe of Italy and about an hour's drive from the peninsula's east and west coasts. Well, it's about an hour's drive if, like me, you tackle its impossibly curvy roads with the greatest possible care - when in Italy, don't drive as the Italians do.

Three of the four resident dogs

Our self-catering holiday home for the week, arranged by southern Italy specialist Long Travel, was at I Monaci, an 86-acre family farm and estate near the small and sleepy village of Cardinale and a gloriously green valley. That valley was our big surprise in a region where many of the landscapes are so burnt and barren as to make ideal locations for spaghetti westerns. But in central Calabria, winter rains sustain lush forests and highly productive farms producing, at I Monaci, apples, hazelnuts, oranges, kiwi fruits and timber.