Tropea and beyond
Before this recent trip to Calabria, I had traveled once to the region, back in the 1980s, but I’d gone only to Lido di Catanzaro where my boyfriend’s family had a house, so I didn’t see much. On this trip (early September) my cousins and I based ourselves in Tropea: Calabria’s loveliest seaside town.
I relished Calabria’s wild beauty, the welcoming spirit of the people, the glorious sea; and as a historian I also loved the experience of Greek myths floating into my head as I visited locations that the Greeks colonized way back in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. The ancients Greeks claimed that Hercules founded Tropea, after fighting off giants there, and that he called it Tropheum.
Other Calabrian towns featured in Greek myths are Scilla where the sea monster devoured some of Odysseus’s men, and Sbyaris which we did not visit. Sybaris achieved unprecedented wealth as a Greek colony, due to the richly fertile land, and the citizens developed a sumptuous lifestyle, which included a taste for fancy cooking. Apparently cooks who could invent exquisite dishes were highly regarded.
This luxury-loving colony is where our word sybaritic comes from. I wonder if Sybaris influenced the Italian appreciation for excellent cooking that followed centuries later.
I digress. Back to Tropea: Our rental apartment was in the center, next to the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, a pedestrian street that ends marvelously at a railing that stops pedestrians from falling over a sheer cliff edge. Here, everyone likes to hang their head over for a view that a soaring eagle would have, to white sands and turquoise waters far below.
Tropea has a plentitude of twisting streets and white-washed alleys, with outdoor tables tucked into corners, next to flower boxes of purple pansies. The Corso has a plethora of shops selling local products, bathings suits, sarongs, and most importantly, lots of caffes offering tartufo, affogato, and other gelato-oriented delights.
The buildings are mostly a sandy-colored stone, presumably hewn from the same rock as the cliffs upon which the town was built. After all the earthquakes in the region, it seems astounding that the town still stands, particularly the facades that rise so impossibly from very edge of the cliffs.
Eating and Drinking
Our favorite caffe for tartufo, (and they had mighty good waffles too) was Caffe del Corso—they’ve got a larger establish across the street but we tended to hang out at the small one. On our first vist, the lovely owner, upon hearing that my cousins were Colombian, brought us some special cookies to go with the array of other goodies we were consuming in true sybaritic fashion.
Tartufo, a dessert made from gelato in a dome-shaped chocolate-hazelnut mold with a creamy mousse-like center, was invented in Pizzo, a town just north of Tropea and thus all the caffes in these parts are clamoring with tartufo offerings.
For dinner I liked Le Volpi e L’Uva (in a alley in the town center) or Quei Bravi Ragazzi. The latter has two locations, one is on Piazza Vittorio Veneto and there’s a newer one nearby on Via IV Novembre. At the end of our meal there, (I had an excellent pasta con mollica e acciughe) the guy at the bar offered us frosted shot glasses of the famous local liquor, Vecchio Amaro del Capo.
For organic fresh squeezed organic juices, head to A Tu Salud, in Piazza Vittorio Venetto, run by a woman from Spain who is super helpful.
For cocktails Al Migliarese in Largo Migliarese is the place to go. The drinks are pricey but innovative, and very good. The outside seating on comfortable cushioned benches in the white-stone piazza is charming.
Beaches in town
Tropea’s beaches are consistently ranked among the cleanest in Italy. The main beach (the one to the right of the Sanctuary that you look down onto from the railing up in town) has good sand, (no pebbles) and offers both a “free” section and a lido with a lounges, umbrellas and beachside eatery. To the left of the sanctuary the beach is also nice and sandy, and one can choose a from an array of lounge & umbrella establishments.
By walking along the Via Lungomare, past the campsite, you can reach another section of beach and more lidos to choose from. Turn to the right when you see a sign for Aquamarine Beach Club. This is an attractive turquoise restaurant on stilts with lounges below and is a beautiful place for lunch.
Just to the right of it is much more simplistic establishment called L’Oasi, with a small wooden deck and a palm frond roof—reminding my cousins of something on a Colombian beach. After I began to chat with the owner, he asked if we’d like some wine, and then proceeded to hold plastic glasses under a spigot on a wooden barrel and hand them to us.
We pulled up stools and spontaneously hung out with our not-planned-for afternoon wine. We returned on my birthday, rented out their lounges, and had grilled fish off plastic plates, and a free half carafe of wine was offered.
This is a great hang-out that feels local and genuine. My only problem with it is that the beach in front of it is very stony next to the water, and I found it difficult cross to them in order to get into the sea. For sandier beaches stick to ones on either side of the sanctuary.
The impressive volcanic island of Stromboli is a consistent part of one’s views of the sea from Tropea. We took an afternoon trip there which included an night-time volcano-erupting spectacle.
Our boat hovered in the dark water just off the island, and we waited, watching intently for about thirty minutes before it happened. Suddenly a stunning bolt of bright red fire shot at least 50 feet into the sky. It was like being in the presence of a fire goddess. This trip is called Stromboli by Night and can be arranged at any of the many tourist offices in town or just ask at your hotel/B&B. Our apartment owner got us the tickets.
Beaches out of town
Michelino Beach just north of Tropea in Parghelia is not to be missed—it may be the loveliest beach on this coastline.
To get it to it, park in Parghelia on or near Viale Luigi Razza. The path goes under the rail road tracks and then passes by Pousada Michelino, an outdoorsy restaurant/bar with lawns and different nooks with couches and hammocks. There are no facilities at the beach so if you want food and drink, this is the place.
The path brings you to a series of relatively steep stairs that deposit you on the beach. My cousin said the water here was the clearest she had ever swam in. It’s such a glorious spot that upon our walk back, we stopped in for a second time at Pousada Margherita where I asked them about property for sale.
Le Grotticelle Beach south of Tropea on the promontory called Capo Vaticano is another gem. Driving there, google maps navigator got confused and it took us down an extremely precipitous road which we then had to take all the way down, in order to turn around. The road you want is called Località Grotticelle. Some reviewers of this beach say that its too crowded and not clean. For us in September it was great.
There are quite a few lidos and places to eat, and paddle boats can be rented. I was interested to note that from this beach we could not longer see the island of Stromboli. Here one looks toward the Aeolian islands that lie south of Stromboli. When driving over Capo Vaticano you will pass road-side stands and if you like low prices, I suggest stopping to load up on the famous Tropea onions, tomatoes, and local wine.
We did a day and a half car rental from Tropea Sub in Via Libertà and I was pleased with their service. Go to this post for more about driving in Calabria.
Another thing I highly recommend doing in Calabria if you appreciate art and history is to see the Bronzes of Riace. Read about them here.