Tropea – the land of sun, sand, sea and the sights

Titled as “Dove nessuno è straniero” in Italian, it means – where no one is a foreigner; and how true that is – the picturesque village of Tropea truly makes you feel at home.

So where is Tropea located?!

Perched atop a hill in Calabria – popularly referred to as the toe of the boot (Italy), Tropea is located on the western coast of Calabria, dipping it’s toes in the Tyrrenhian Sea. As Calabria is the very end of mainland Italy coupled with being a hilly region, and Tropea is located in the centre-west of this region, it’s not the most convenient place to get to, but then again – isn’t that the case with any place worth it’s salt? As inconvenient as it might be to get to Tropea, it’s sprawling beaches framed by the dramatic cliff and rock formations, on which sits the settlement of Tropea – are well worth the drive. And if this hasn’t yet convinced you to book your next summer trip to Tropea, we’ll throw in an additional nuance – you can experience these immensely picturesque views of Tropea and some of the best sunsets, all for free – from its humble city beach with crystal clear waters and astoundingly white sand.

We visited Tropea in September 2019, when it hadn’t yet acquired the fame of being one of the most beautiful villages of Italy by the Association of the most beautiful villages of Italy? And rightly so, as of 2020 – Tropea was accredited with being one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, entering the coveted borghipiubelliditalia association of villages.

Having been to our fair share of European and Italian seaside villages, we don’t say it lightly when we say that Tropea offers the best combination of a sandy city (village) beach + marble white sand + pristine blue waters + spectacular views and sunsets from the city beach. In fact, this unbeatable combination is precisely the reason we implore you to visit Tropea and experience its beauty yourself.

Pit-stopping for this view overlooking Tropea

For the beach bums and romantics at heart – Tropea for the spectacular panoramic views, white sand beaches with pristine blue waters and magical sunsets:

Spiaggia della Rotonda – unmistakably the top attraction and our top recommendation (of things to do) in Tropea is visiting its prized city/village beach. Tropea – the village, is perched atop a hill, at the foot of which is located the sandy beach. Technically, two separate beaches on either sides of the Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea, it is the beach – Spiaggia della Rotonda, squeezed between the sanctuary and the cave – Grotta di San Leonardo, that is the most picturesque beach of the entire region of Calabria. The strategic location of the beach between the Sanctuary and the Cave equips it with the most spectacular panoramic views, while the beach itself is blessed with white sand to soak in the sun on a lazy sunny afternoon or swim in its crystal clear waters to cool yourself down.

The view from the beach
Looking up to this!
This panorama 😍

A major part of this beach is public and has free access, however that isn’t to say that you’ll parch yourself out in the sun. At the rear end of the beach towards the cave, there is a modest beach bar called L’Ammurrata that will satiate your hunger pangs with local fried seafood delicacies and quench your thirst with Aperol Spritz. And if you’re in the mood for something light, there’s always a Granita or two 😉. Although we couldn’t try it as the sunbeds were fully occupied, it seemed that the umbrellas and sun beds to rent near the beach bar belonged to this bar. So if you like to use the organized facilities just like us, you can rent them here; and tell us about your experience with it.

Spend a day or two lazing out at this beach, when in Tropea. And in the evening, enjoy the sunset with a wine at the bar. Insider’s tip – being sunset lovers ourselves, this is the best sunset we’ve ever experienced in the whole of Italy, and therefore we can’t recommend enough enjoying the sunset from L’Ammurrata with a glass of wine, when you’re in Tropea. The sunset here was so magical that it was not only the highlight of our Calabrian holiday – but has been forever etched in our memories as being one of the best sunsets we’ve ever witnessed 🌅.

Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea – the undisputed gem of Tropea, perched atop Isola di Tropea, i.e. the island of Tropea, the roof of the sanctuary and its garden offer unbeatable panoramic views of the town and the beach at its foot. We highly recommend you to visit the roof and the garden during sunset. It’s costs a nominal fee of €2 or €3 per person. And even though the sanctuary itself is a short climb, the sunset views from there absolutely make it worth the climb. And, if the climb up didn’t make you short of breath, the sunset views from here will certainly take your breath away 😉.

Just as the beach, we can’t recommend visiting the sanctuary enough for its spectacular panoramic + sunset views. Additionally, we’d advise you to visit the sanctuary either during the day or preferably during the sunset, but certainly not after dark. This is because the roof and the garden isn’t accessible then and the views of Tropea in the dark are nothing compared to what they’re during the day.

For the foodies at heart – la cucina povera:

Popularly referred to as la cucina povera, the modest Calabrian cuisine has fed its inhabitants for generations. Translated loosely into “cooking of the poor” or “peasant food,” la cucina povera in Calabria is characterised by the usage of the simplest and the most basic of the ingredients to create dishes with the most accentuating flavours one would have ever tasted. As to this date, the Calabrians have retained the centuries old simplicity in their cuisine, and how! Modestly versatile and fresh local produce like Cipolla onions, fiery Peperoncini, ‘Nduja and fresh catch of the day are the stars of Calabrian cuisine and can be found in many regional delicacies.

Cipolla onions – the most treasured local culinary contribution to the Calabrian cuisine is the versatile Cipolla onion native to none other than Tropea! More specifically, it’s called the cipolle rosse di Tropea. These torpedo-shaped red onions are known for their surprising sweetness and singular aroma. A ubiquitous ingredient in Calabria, Cipolla onions are eaten on sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, and sliced over pizza.

The versatility of Cipolla onions is attributed to how beautifully they take to different methods of cooking and preparation, all while retaining their distinctive flavour. While these onions take beautifully to grilling and roasting, their delicate sweetness renders them perfect to be eaten raw with just a touch of olive oil. But perhaps the best application for Cipolla Z onions is to make them into the unique onion marmalade, where they are combined with sweet peppers and cooked down for hours until transformed into a paste that can be spread on a crostini or eaten with cold cuts and cheese. Understandably, due to its fermented nature contributing to its relatively long shelf life – Cipolla onion spread or marmalade also makes for a perfect souvenir to take back home.

And while you’re there, try out these delicate gems in risotto with Cipolla onions or for the more exploratory souls – give the Cipolla gelato a try!

Njuda – for the meat lovers, there’s no ingredient, that represents Calabria better than ‘Nduja – pronounced en-DOO-ya – is a soft and spreadable fermented salume, comprised of ground pork parts, such as belly and jowls, and spiked with mouth-numbing Calabrian peperoncini. This fiery, salty, funky, and buttery pork salume is so integral to the local cuisine that there’s a huge annual festival devoted to it!

Also a versatile ingredient due to its many uses, you can find ‘Nduja in the regional Calabrian delicacies like sauces, soups, stews and even pizza toppings. And thankfully due to its fermented nature, ‘Nduja also keeps forever and makes for a perfect souvenir to take back home for some Calabrian cooking 😉. Unfortunately, as we’re vegetarians, we didn’t try this local delicacy ourselves; however, owing to its popularity – if you’re meat eater, do give it a try and let us know what you think of it in the comments 🙂.

Peperoncini – naturally, this brings us to another one of the main ingredients and the fiery star of Calabrian cuisine – peperoncini 🌶. In late summer, peperoncini are stitched on wires and hung from buildings. This way, they are left to dry in the spots with sunlight and abundant ventilation to conserve them, allowing their use in cooking until the next harvest.

Households, vegetable vendors and even souvenir shops hanging peperoncini at their entrance all throughout the year is a common occurrence in Tropea and throughout Calabria, and makes for a colourful and delightful sight! However, don’t be followed by the vibrant red colour of the peperoncini, they’re as fiery on the tongue as delightful they are to the sight. They are eaten whole, fried until crisp, crushed, pickled, powdered or as a paste. Notable Calabrian dishes which use peperoncini are the condiments bomba Calabrese, peperoncini oil, peperoncini pecorino and ‘Nduja. It is due to this spicy nature of the peperoncini that we didn’t dare to try them out ourselves, however, if you’re fond of the spicy food that awakens all your senses to the core, or just feel adventurous wanting to test your spice tolerance level – give a pepperoni a try 🌶😉.

Where to eat in Tropea:

Due to the paucity of time and not having made reservations enough days in advance, unfortunately, we didn’t experience any restaurants in Tropea city centre that left us awestruck and wanting us to recommend them to you all. We believe that this could be our opinion based solely on our experience characterised by bad timing, and thus, don’t hesitate to try some well rated restaurants that you find on Google.

Having said that, we chanced upon two places that not only deserve a mention, but are an integral part of a wholesome Calabrian and Tropea holiday experience. We can’t recommend enough that you visit both of these places to truly experience the Calabrian cuisine in all its glory.

Osteria della Cipolla Rossa – a place in the historic centre of Tropea run by a passionate couple, who are passionate about telling the story of Calabria and Calabrian cuisine through the combination of traditional delicacies presented with a modern twist, Osteria della Cipolla Rossa refuses to call itself a restaurant. Thus, we’d like to refer to this place as a unique culinary experience in and of itself.

The Osteria is run by the husband and wife, the wife – who is the head chef creating the most scrumptious Calabrian delicacies, and the husband – who is the story teller knitting the whole experience together through his explanation of these culinary marvels. Do not be fooled by the simple appearance of the place, Osteria della Cipolla Rossa is almost always fully booked out owing to the memorably culinary experience that they provide. In fact, they don’t even have a paper/digital menu. The menu is seasonal and even changes daily, based on that day’s local produce. There is an immense emphasis on local and fresh produce, due to which you won’t even find a refrigerator in this osteria! Everything that is cooked on any particular day, is used up that day. And this freshness of the ingredients is exactly what makes their dishes so delicious and unforgettable, that they’ll create culinary memories that will last your lifetime! Our top food recommendation for your holiday in Tropea is Osteria della Cipolla Rossa; hence, we insist that you make it a point to visit them, and to visit their website and the Osteria in person in advance to make your reservation. Trust us when we say that you’ll thank us for this recommendation and having to make this effort.

Ristorante Manitta – a great find that we were simply lucky to have chanced upon was Ristorante Manitta from the Agriturismo Manitta. As this is the restaurant belonging to the Agriturismo Manitta, it is not located in Tropea, but in the outskirts of the town, at a comfortable drive on 15-20 minutes by car. Also a restaurant that is almost always fully booked out, we recommend you to make a reservation in advance by phone or through their website.

Ristorante Manitta serves mind blowingly delicious regional Calabrian delicacies that are served with an equally warm service, all at an extremely affordable price. As we were seated there while having dinner, we quickly observed that Manitta is a locals’ favourite, an even firmer assurance that we’d made the right choice. And if that wasn’t enough, their La Manitta platter of appetizers for two, sealed the deal! In fact, we loved this restaurant so much, that we drove once again during our holiday in Tropea.

For the wandering souls – the historic centre of Tropea:

Just because you choose to make Tropea your base, does not mean you can’t spend a day or two exploring the mesmerising village itself. And that’s precisely what we did! While Tropea has its fair share of churches, museums, viewpoints and other points of interest, there isn’t any place in particular that we’d recommend you, apart from the sanctuary with its roof and the garden, and the city beach mentioned above. While the points of interest are beautiful in their own right, adding to the charm of the village, it’s just that these didn’t leave us awestruck in particular.

And yet, we’ll be quick to add here, that Tropea is truly one of the most beautiful villages of Italy; and what makes it so beautiful is the village in itself – it’s cute alleys that allure you with their charm, the pop colour vespas or vintage fiat500’s parked in the narrow alleys, all against the backdrop of bright or dark red peperoncini hanging from the historic houses that make up the old town centre. You can out and about and explore during the day or catch a swim in the morning at the city beach, and then be back by late afternoon to enjoy Tropea at its finest! It’s a town best explored as the sun begins to fall, and the town comes back alive from its sleepy afternoon siesta. Tropea is a town meant to be enjoyed in the late afternoon over countless cups of gelato, while observing the shops, bars, cafes and osteria gradually turn into a meeting point for the young, the piazza’s a resting place for the old, and all around you, the air fills with rapid and heavily accented Italian. As you wander through this mesmerising town, take some time to stop and adore these colourful alleys in wonder, photograph everything and enter whatever takes your fancy – churches, palaces, piazza’s, etc. (provided they’re open, of course!), as you embrace the prevailing culture of Riposo (or rest) that dominates this charming little town.

For the adventure junkies – diving in Costa degli Dei:

Calabria, sandwiched between the Tyrrenhian and Ionian, happens to be an excellent place to learn or pursue diving. The seabeds of Costa degli Dei are blessed with unique formations and rocky shoals that are home to colouful and lively flora and fauna; and who knows – you might be lucky enough to witness a sea horse or if you’re an experienced diver – then you might encounter a really cool ship wreck in the deep sea!

So if you’re an adventure junkie who wants to learn diving, or an experienced diver who draws energy from diving into the deep sea, Tropea is your place to be! While we did our dives with a company based out of Scilla, while exploring Tropea, we came across two diving companies – TropeaSub and Tropea Diving. If you’re into diving or want to learn it, feel free to give them a call to inquire about their packages.

For the unrelenting explorers – day trips from Tropea:

Calabria is a region of Italy where the prevailing culture of riposo asks that you relax and slow things down a bit. Riposo translates to “rest,” and it happens every day in Calabria—typically from noon to 5 p.m., but sometimes starting at 11 a.m. That’s right – the rules of life in Calabria are so nonchalant that time itself doesn’t hold a strict schedule. For this reason coupled with a more practical reason of logistics, we’d recommend you to take things slow on your holiday in Tropea and for that matter – anywhere in Calabria.

Coming to the practical reason, Calabria is a mountainous region characterised by narrow winding roads connecting its main cities; and at times – you’ll even encounter dusty mud roads as you head inwards to explore the lesser known villages. Owing to its the mountainous terrain, reaching even relatively close-by-kilomoters places in Calabria is guaranteed to take a rather long time as you navigate through its steep and winding roads connecting cities, towns and villages. Therefore, we’d recommend you to pace yourself out in terms of planning day trips from Tropea.

To give some context to our recommendation, the most popular day trip, to Scilla, took us about 2.5 hours to cover a distance of 89 km one way, from Tropea to Scilla with our rented car. Hence, in terms of planning the day trips from Tropea, we’d recommend you to:

1. Plan day trips from Tropea which are a maximum of 125km away, assuming that you’ll take around 6 hours to and fro to make it to that place.

2. And truly truly take it slow, by alternating between a day trip on one day and relaxing at the Tropea city beach the following day.

For the medieval village admirers and seekers of picture perfect shots – Scilla and Stilo:

Chianalea di Scilla – for picture perfect shots, beach bums and diving enthusiasts:

Chianalea di Scilla

Another priced gem of Calabria, and as beautiful and charming as Tropea, the villages of Chianalea di Scilla, are also part of the association of the most beautiful villages of Italy, and rightly so! While the village Chianalea di Scilla is so beautiful that it is worthy of a blog of its own (and we’ll write one soon), and of making this your (next) base on the trip to Calabria, we’d like to mention it here as it can also make for a perfect day trip from Tropea.

Just like Tropea, Chianalea di Scilla also has all the elements for making it a perfect, power packed destination for your Calabrian holiday – the cosy pebbly city beach with crystal clear waters, set against the beautiful backdrop of the hilltop village, the village itself having an unparalleled rustic yet colourful Calabrian allure to it, and to top it off – its coastline making for a perfect diving site for beginners and experienced divers. As newbies to diving, Scilla is where we did our first dives, however, we also met up with experienced divers during our time there, who went 20+ meters deep under the sea!

The village Chianalea di Scilla is so beautiful that we highly recommend you to spend a couple of nights here during your holiday in Calabria. And if that doesn’t fit your itinerary, we’d strongly urge you to at least take a day trip to this picture postcard village. While being 95 km and ~2.5 hours of a drive away from Tropea, visiting this village is certainly worth the time and effort to complete your holiday in Calabria. We’d recommend you to reserve at least 5 hours for a day trip in Chianalea di Scilla
– 3 to 4 hours for a dive session + 2 hours for relaxing at the beach + 3 hours for exploring the charming villages. Thus, if you are only making Chianalea di Scilla a day trip, it would be wise to make some choices beforehand in order to avoid having the feeling of missing out on the treasures this cute village has to offer 😉.

Stilo – for the true offbeat explorers – Stilo, the land of the sun:

In spite of being 120 km and ~3 hours of drive one way for a day trip from Tropea, the cute Byzantine church of Stilo and the stunning panoramic views it has to offer, convinced us to drive all the way down to Stilo – and it certainly lived up to our expectations of leaving us smitten. And the bonus – this place is not yet fully discovered by tourism industry, and therefore retains its tranquil and untouched charm. Thus, if you’re looking for a truly offbeat place with stunning panoramic views, authentic Calabrian charm, a unique Byzantine church, and all while driving through a scenic coastline – give Stilo a chance! In fact, we were so charmed by this village, that we have a dedicated blog for it! For more information on Stilo, head over to our blog about Stilo.

For archaeology enthusiasts – archaeological remains in Zungri:

For all the archaeology enthusiasts and/or offbeat travellers, did you know that Zungri, a village close to Tropea, is home to fairly recently discovered archaeological site? Barely 18 km and at a comfortable drive of 30 minute from Tropea, visiting the archaeological remains here makes for a perfect relaxing day trip. In fact, these remains have been discovered rather recently, and hence, you will hardly find this place in any of the recommendations. So, if this offbeat place tickles your curiosity, do give it a try and let us know what you think about it.

And on your way to the caves, grab a drink at this cute curbside bar – Bar i ficaredi. Or, if you’d want something more elaborate, e.g. an elaborate brunch or a drink with a view – go to this restaurant just around the corner from the caves – Ristorante Le Grotte di DeSo. We had a delicious mushroom risotto with drinks over here, while soaking in beautiful panoramic views overlooking the valley, from its terrace.

Where to stay in Tropea:

We’d recommend you to stay just outside the historic centre of Tropea but on the top of the hill on which Tropea is located. This will allow you to avoid the dreaded ZTL zone if you’re visiting with rented car, and yet be a stone’s throw away from the all the buzz of the old town centre – to quickly pop in and pop out of the centre for a bite or an espresso. Additionally, you’ll also be indulged by the nice panoramic views from your balcony or old town views of Tropea during a casual stroll to the centre. And this way, on a “beach day” (as we like to call it 😉) – you’ll comfortably navigate the searing mid day heat of the Mediterranean on your way down to the beach (located at the foot of the town) and only have to make the calorie burning ascend upwards (if you’re taking the stairs), once the hottest part of the day has passed.

This was the view from our balcony 😍, and we didn’t miss a single breakfast here!

We stayed in this spacious AirBnB in Tropea, hosted by Romana. The place is a stone’s throw away from the historic centre, the parking outside the apartment is easily available and free. The hosts – Romana and her mother, are very kind and warm and quick to respond to your questions or requests. And the best part about this place – it’s balcony with spectacular panoramic views overlooking the valley and the Tyrrenhian sea! We can’t recommend it enough, especially if you’re travelling with a car!

How to reach Tropea:

We can’t stress enough on how important it is to have a car for your holiday in Calabria. This is primarily for two reasons: one, the public transport in Calabria (just like the rest of south Italy) is neither very frequent nor reliable, thus making it very inconvenient to use; and two – to make that even more challenging, Calabria being a mountainous region, even rather short distances take a relatively longer time to cover, owing to the steep and bendy roads. Thus, unless and until you’re planning to stick to the city/cities you base yourself in, and not to do any neighbouring beach or city trips, we’d advise you against relying on public transport.

The two closest airports to Tropea are that of Lamezia Terme and Reggio Calabria. Thus, if you can get flights to and from either one of these, these would be the ideal ones to start your journey from. If not, then the airports of Naples and Bari are the other two airports that are the next best to use, in order to reach Tropea. The easiest way to reach Tropea from any of these airports is to rent a car from the airport and drive down to Tropea.

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