The southern region of Calabria is beginning to make waves as a must-visit beach destination in Italy. Its headline act is the charming town of Tropea, with its vibrant, seaside feel and fabulous beaches. It’s already won over our Italy Experts, so here’s why Tropea should be topping your Italy bucket list…
“I love this area! It really does have a holiday feel to it, but it’s not too touristy. It has stunning beaches, very friendly people and a charming little town full of shops, bars and restaurants. It’s ideal for people who want a beach holiday close to a town.” Linda Kulka, Italy Expert
What to see
Tropea’s old town is one of the most charming in southern Italy, reminiscent of Sorrento for its little cobbled streets, fabulous views and seaside charm. It’s well worth a wander to shop for local produce, gelato and souvenirs – fill your beach bag with jars of peperoncino sauce and local limoncino.
Wander down towards the sea to gaze out at the Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery, perched on its own promontory at the water’s edge. If you’re feeling up to it, you can climb the winding flight of steps to its roof, where you can rest up in the little garden and snap some pictures of the magnificent coastal panorama.
“I loved the Hotel Residence Tirreno in Tropea. It has a really family-friendly feel with a lovely pool area. There’s a free shuttle bus into Tropea and to its own section of the beach, which takes a few minutes and runs multiple times a day, so it’s ideally situated.” Miranda Jump, Italy Expert
What to do
The Aeolian Islands are even easier to reach from Calabria than from Sicily. The outline of smouldering Stromboli is visible from everywhere in Tropea, and the town is the ideal jump-off point for a boat tour. You can reach Stromboli in an hour, and the Stromboli by Night tour is one of the most popular, when the volcano’s ever-bubbling lava is most vibrant against the night sky.
Calabria is home to some of the best beaches in Italy. Laid out at the foot of Tropea’s monastery is one of its prettiest; Tropea Beach is a sweep of pale-gold sand lapped by amazingly clear waters. It’s backed by beach bars and watersports, with the town’s restaurants and gelaterias within walking distance. For more inspiration, have a read of our post on the top 5 beaches in Calabria.
What to eat
Tropea is famous across the country for its red onions, or cipolla di Tropea. Sweeter and milder than the ones you’ll be used to at home, the onions grow incredibly well in Calabria’s climate, taking on a deep, purple-red colour. They crop up in all kinds of dishes, including pasta, pizza, sauces and even marmalade.
“Red onions are everywhere in Tropea – the roads are lined with tiny markets and stands selling them, and you can pick them up for around 50 cents a kilo. My favourite red onion dish is pizza con cipolle di Tropea. The onions are so sweet and work so well with the cheese and tomato!” Anna Vickers, Content Editor
Calabria is Italy’s chilli capital, so spice-lovers will find plenty of dishes with a kick. A real favourite is nduja, a soft, spicy sausage similar to salami, best enjoyed in pasta dish fileja con nduja.
Tropea’s old town is packed with restaurants, from tiny osterie tucked away down little alleyways to lively ristorante on the bustling main street. You’ll find many are filled with Italians, too – usually the sign of a good, authentic menu.
“We loved Ristorante Pizzeria Gargano in Tropea. It had a really friendly atmosphere, and the food and wine were fantastic – I loved the pizza with prosciutto ham.” Lara Crowe, Italy Expert
Feel like making it a multi-centre? Extend your trip and add a couple of days in the neighbouring region of Basilicata. This relatively unknown region of Italy has been gaining popularity in recent years, mostly thanks to the fascinating city of Matera. The city is home to the Sassi di Matera, a sprawl of cave-like dwellings that cover an enormous valley. The sassi are believed to be around 1,000 years old, and are one of Italy’s most unique, yet unknown sights. Find out more in our guide to Matera.
Alternatively, drive into pretty Puglia to explore its beaches, or unique towns like Ostuni and Alberobello, which is filled with beautiful trulli – little stone houses with cone-shaped roofs. It’s a long drive from Calabria – around 4 or 5 hours – but the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.
For more inspiration, take a look at our Calabria and Basilicata self-drive itinerary.