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Sitting on the Tyrrhenian Sea and with a splendid view of the Aeolian Islands, this stretch of coastline is a favorite summer holiday destination for-in-the-know Italians and almost completely off the tourist tracks.
Often called the “Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”, this region is home to onion farmers and artisans following ancient traditions, along with young talents that recently came back home from the Northern regions to help Calabria grow.
The best way to explore the area is to hire a car or a vespa, to be able to visit all the beaches, viewpoints and the many towns rich in history. We recommend visiting in June or September to avoid crowds.
Our four days tour starts with the arrival at a beautiful boutique hotel, Villa Paola.
Set on a quiet street only a few minutes away from Tropea, Villa Paola was once a monastery from the 16th century, later transformed into a 12 rooms boutique hotel. As soon as you step foot in the courtyard, you’ll be welcomed by the smell of orange and lemon trees and birds chirping. The hotel features lush gardens with rare cacti, a panoramic swimming pool and several terraces perfect for a moment of peace and quiet. From Villa Paola it is possible to reach Tropea, its main beach and Marina by foot, walking among the vegetable and fruit garden.
The homemade breakfast is served daily at the restaurant or on the main terrace with views over Tropea and it takes pride in being 100% Calabrese.
Tropea, perched above the Tyrrhenian Sea, has much to offer from its stunning beaches, a charming historical center to the famous sweet red onions. The town owes its name to Greek mythology as one legend tells Tropea was founded by Hercules, son of Zeus.
With a timeless, faded feel typical of sleepy southern seaside towns, this picturesque borgo is a maze of cobblestone pedestrian-only streets, little squares and palazzi.
The Affaccio del Corso offers the best view over the rocky promontory called Santa Maria dell’Isola and the turquoise waters and the beach beneath it. By looking down you’ll probably be tempted to join the sunbathers and languish all day long on the white sand. Should you be able to resist the temptation, we suggest you wear your sneakers and trek all the way to Santa Maria dell’Isola.
A 6th-century Benedictine monastery probably built by Greek monks, Santa Maria dell'isola gives you an incomparable view: from one side over Tropea with its historic houses clinging to the rock they’re standing on and from the other side over Sicily’s Aeolian Islands.
Other landmarks worth a mention are the Norman Cathedral of Maria Santissima di Romania and the Sedile di Portercole, built in 1703 to host the parliament of Tropea’s noblemen.
Tropea is the perfect place for a lunch or dinner al fresco: in every little piazza or charming alleyway you’ll find many restaurants offering the chance to taste local seafood and delicacies. Before diving into Tropea’s dining scene, you should know that this town is best known for its sweet red onion, called cipolla di Tropea. You might see it everywhere, from the open-air markets to every restaurant menu, as well as in some gelato shops where it’s listed as a special ice cream flavor.
On the second day the plan is to rent a boat, which is the best way to discover all the hidden coves and grottos of the Coast of Gods. Some of the most beautiful beaches of the area, with white sand and serene azure waters, are only reachable on foot or by boat, making this Coast even wilder.
The entire Coast is strictly connected to Greek mythology, resulting in the name Coast of Gods.
Let’s start with Capo Vaticano, from vaticinio (prophecy): here you’ll find the beautiful beach Praja di Fuoco (fire beach), a heaven for swimmers, with the clearest water and only reachable by boat or kayak. While there is a reasonable answer to why this beach is called “fire beach” - the granite stones that become really hot during the day - we like to believe local tales: once, when there was no lighthouse on the coast, the wives of fishermen used to light fires on the beach so that their men would come home safely.
Not far from Praja di Fuoco and reachable by car, you’ll find Laguna di Grotticelle, where snorkelling lovers will enjoy swimming with many fishes. Stop along the way at the Capo Vaticano belvedere near the lighthouse for some incomparable views.
The rock in front of Capo Vaticano has its own legend to tell: it was said to be the home of a sybil, where sailors used to stop and ask for prophecies before facing the strait and Scylla and Charybdis.
The Pirate Waterfall looks like a strip of water in the middle of rocks overlooking the sea, ending in an emerald green lagoon, and Scalinea, a small white beach. At this spot you might find octopuses, star fish and a variety of aquatic species. Ask your Sea Sport Escursioni skipper to find some sea urchins and taste them - as fresh as ever (don’t worry, during a few months of the year it is possible to fish them).
Halfway between Capo Vaticano and Tropea there’s the marine archaeological park Forum Ercolis, in front of Formicoli beach. At the time of Romans, this used to be a harbor and it was linked to the land. When the sea is calm you can perfectly see its walls and swim between the many colorful fishes.
Another beautiful beach is Baia di Riaci, only 2 miles from Tropea by car. Reaching the Baia degli Scalpellini (stonecutters), it is possible to observe the signs of the millstones left in the rocks in ancient times. Located in the same bay and easily accessed by swimming, Grotta dello Scheletro (the skeleton grotto) is a grotto where you can witness a "magical" event: thanks to peculiar plays of light, the body of those who enter becomes white, similar to a skeleton.
Stop in front of Tropea at Isola Bella, to admire the ancient houses and palazzos built on a cliff above the sea. The Grotta degli Innamorati (lovers grotto), only reachable by boat, is said to be the place where Tropeans noblewomen met with their fishermen lovers.
Want to discover a secret cove only known by locals? Head over to Tropea’s hospital and look for the little stairs at the end of the street, but be aware - the cove can only be accessed when the sea is calm.
Continue the tour at Michelino beach, a strip of white sand close to the rock La Pizzuta and Capo Cozzo, a stunning and wild beach with golden sand and emerald water.
The steep trail leading to the Paradiso del Sub (diver’s paradise) beach in Zambrone is absolutely worth the effort. This hidden gem features white sand, granite rocks and clear blue waters filled with marine life.
We suggest coming early in the morning as there are few parking spots. The final stop of the tour is Murenario di Sant’Irene, which offers a unique experience: swimming in an ancient Roman fish pond. The Murenario is a large limestone rock that emerges from the clear waters and was worked over the centuries by the force of the sea and by the hands of the Romans who dug numerous tanks for fish farming. The tanks are still well preserved today and swimming between them is an incredible adventure, seeing hundreds of fish, octopuses, moray eels and aquatic plants.
The best way to end a day spent exploring and swimming? Treat yourselves to a special fine-dining experience at Villa Paola restaurant, De Minimi. The restaurant owes its name to the Minimi Fathers, who some believe to be the first example of Mediterranean diet: fish, vegetables, cereals. Young chef Giulio Ierace stays true to this heritage and to his own Calabrian roots, always respecting and enhancing the ingredients and bringing his diners on a sensory journey.
A short way inland and next up on the tour is Zungri, a stone city where time stands still. Wear your training shoes to visit these abandoned cave-dwellings lead by your Hitinero guide, dating back to the Byzantine age, that occupy an area of almost 3,000 square meters and are spread over several levels. There are approximately 500 cave houses that were probably used by the community that settled in the area for storage.
Once in Zungri, stop at Bottega il girasole, a family run shop selling the best Calabrian products. The owners Giulia and Massimo will help you choose from ‘nduja, onions jam, olive oil and local licorice candies,a s well as homemade perfumed soaps and perfumes created with herbs and flowers of the territory.
The seaside town of Pizzo is perched on a rocky promontory and home to a 15th century castle Castello Murat, that used to be a military fortress and prison. While here, one should pay a visit to Chiesa di Piedigrotta, a chapel carved in stone, and the beaches of St. Irene and the Scoglio della Galera. For lunch, check out Hedò, a restaurant serving fresh local seafood in a welcoming atmosphere. But, take notes, the thing that makes Pizzo famous is its special gourmet creation: the tartufo di Pizzo gelato. Try it at Bar Gelateria Ercole on the town’s main piazza.
Looking for a special place for dinner? Head to Capo Vaticano and choose between La Meridiana, a hidden gem only known by locals, or Strombolicchio Gourmet Restaurant, a restaurant by the pool with views over the Aeolian Island of Stromboli.
The final day of our tour is dedicated to the discovery of local artisans and their craftsmanship.
Let’s start with Calabrian ceramics: venture south to the town of Seminara, where Rocco Condurso has his studio. Since ancient times, Seminara has been the capital of Calabrian artistic ceramics. Here in the countryside, rich in iron and copper, the clay was extracted and local artisans started to experiment with shapes and colors. Rocco started working the clay at the age of ten, following in the footsteps of his father and brother. His works are characterized by the use of natural colors such as yellow, blue and green. One of our favorite pieces is the “riccio” (hedgehog), symbolizing trust, friendship and the marvel one feels when looking at the beauty of the world.
San Giorgio Morgeto instead, is home to Aldo Mammoliti, one of the few traditional chestnut basket makers left. Aldo is really passionate about his job, the process of giving life to a product completely unique. He follows an ancient art passed down by his parents that was once necessary to the local economy of inland Calabria and that represents the value of tradition.
His creations can be found at Villa Paola, where guests can use the beautiful chestnut baskets to pick and collect strawberries, passion fruit and anything they might like from the garden.
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