Tropea, in Calabria, the toe of Italy, is one of the country’s most lovely towns. It’s holiday heaven because the town has fabulous beaches.
Tropea is off the beaten track, and as such does not get too many foreign visitors. But it is well worth making an effort to get there, because this remarkable historic town, which sits atop a high sandstone cliff and overlooks the azure waters of the Tyrrenhian sea, is a perfect holiday destination.
Sun, Sand…and Authentic Italian Life
If you like to combine the seaside with a sense you’re experiencing real life as opposed to a creation for tourists, Tropea is a joy. It’s hard to think of another town in Italy that has its unique combination of ancient buildings and palazzi, daily hustle and bustle, and turquoise sea and white sand. Enjoy a morning looking at churches, or simply sipping cappuccinos in a cafe in one of the many lovely squares. Then after lunch, walk down a hundred or so stone steps, and sink your feet into soft white sand. And the sea couldn’t be more inviting: it is crystal clear and intensely blue, and from late May, it’s warm. Then when evening falls, climb those steps again, and enjoy a drink as you watch the sun set over the water, before eating supper in one of Tropea’s many excellent restaurants.
(People with mobility problems may well shudder at the mention of steep stone steps, however, it is possible to drive down to the beaches, while the main streets in the town are fairly level, and so fine for wheelchairs.)
Tropea began life as a prehistoric settlement. Fast-forward and historians have found it referenced in documents from around 559AD. Buildings of note to visit are its 12th Century Norman Cathedral, and its Franciscan monastery, while it has much in the way of classical architecture.
It has good restaurants, many of which offer fresh seafood. Accommodation is plentiful but you do need to book hotels and B&Bs in advance if you are planning to visit in July/August, when the Italians take their holidays. There are rooms to suit all budgets. A good 3-star hotel is the Terrazzo Sul Mare, while the Hotel Antica Tropea is a pleasant 4-star.
Day trips to the Aeolian Islands
If you don’t want to spend all your time on Tropea’s beaches, a fun day trip is to take a boat to the Aeolian islands of Stromboli and Vulcano, both of which have active volcanoes, and Lipari. Boats leave from Tropea’s harbor at around 9am and the trip is a full day. You spend between an hour and two hours on each island. The Aeolian archipelago is where, according to ancient legend, Odysseus encountered the Sirens, but today there is no need to tie yourself to the mast as you sail.
Getting There: Fly to Lamezia Terme
Tropea can be reached in several ways. If you have time and are touring Calabria, consider flying to Naples, hiring a car, and driving down. Allow 5-6 hours, and a good place for a stop-over is the town of Maratea in Basilicata, which is known as the town of 44 churches. You need to pick up the A3 motorway once you get into Calabria, and at Pizzo you turn onto the ‘bulge’, a rocky promontory which is home to Tropea. It’s a fairly slow road from Pizzo to Tropea, but the scenery is very pretty.
You can fly to Lamezia Terme airport, which is some 65 kilometers from Tropea. Again, follow signs from the airport to the A3, and turn off at Pizzo. It’s worth noting that the low cost airlines EasyJet and Ryanair fly to Lamezia from the UK in the summer months. Otherwise, it’s an airport mainly for internal flights, so you may need to fly to a bigger city in Italy and take another flight down to Lamezia.
Or, another very enjoyable, and slightly more adventurous, way to get there is to fly to Catania on the south east coast of Sicily, hire a car, drive north for an hour to Messina, and get a ferry across the Straits of Messina to Reggio di Calabria. Ferries are frequent and the sea crossing takes about 40 minutes. Reggio, Italy’s southernmost city, is charming, so it’s worth spending a day here. Then head north to Tropea – allow about 3 hours to reach Tropea from Reggio. Time permitting, another lovely town well worth stopping at on the way up from Reggio is Scilla.
Make Calabria a Priority
Calabria, the ‘toe’ of Italy, was for many years considered to be something of a Wild West, in no small part because of its association with the notorious criminal organization, the Ndrangheta. However, visitors have nothing to fear. It is a spectacular region, with fine towns and beaches, and inland, impressive mountain ranges with national parks. Its remoteness has left it largely unspoiled by tourism. But with low cost flights to Lamezia, that could be about to change, so it’s worth getting down to the deep south before everyone else does.