Tropea, a small city situated on the dramatic cliffs of Calabria, has quite a few distinctive titles - the "jewel of Calabria," the "pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea," and the "Borgo dei Borghi" (meaning Village of Villages).
With unparalleled scenery, unique cuisine, and fantastic beaches, it's no wonder Tropea is popular with Italian travelers! Still, it's often overlooked by North Americans exploring Calabria and greater Italy.
Below, we'll tell you everything you need to know to make the most of your stay in Tropea, Italy.
Best Time To Visit
Many European tourists may not frequent Tropea, but Italians are well aware of this "jewel of Calabria"! It's a popular destination for Italians during their summer holiday, particularly in August, and Tropea in August is extremely crowded. Thankfully, because it's always warm and balmy in Tropea, you can enjoy a trip to the beautiful beaches just as well in the off-season!
May and early June have that summertime heat without the crowds. September and October do as well, and the water will be warmer. Avoid both April and November, as it's usually too rainy for businesses to be open as regularly. Many businesses close down for the winter, so avoid those months.
This is the main square, the center of the Old Town section of Tropea Calabria, and it is just architecturally beautiful to see. Named after Hercules, this is the perfect place to grab a tartufo and people-watch.
Cattedrale di Maria Santissima di Romania
This Norman cathedral dates back to the 12th century and houses a diocesan museum. It's named after Tropea's patron saint, Mary the Madonna of Romania, and there is a beautifully painted rendition inside the cathedral. The Madonna of Romania is said to have saved Tropea multiple times from war and natural disaster. On September 9, they take the painting down from the cathedral and parade it through Tropea, ending with a large festival.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele
The Corso Vittorio Emanuele is the real main street of Tropea, and a great spot for people watching, popping in small shops, and enjoying outdoor cafes. This takes you through the heart of Old Town Tropea and really gives you a feel for the culture of coastal Italy. The street ends abruptly with spectacular views over the beach and sea.
Santuario di Santa Maria dell'Isola di Tropea
When you see a little church situated atop a tall cliff jutting out into the sea, you'll know you've found the Santuario di Santa Maria dell'Isola di Tropea. This is perhaps the most prominent landmark in Tropea and a point of pride to Calabria. The story goes that in the 11th century, Benedictine monks found a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary washed up on this shore. Pilgrims traveled from long distances to visit the statue, named Santa Maria dell'Isola, and be healed. The statue was kept in a cave on the shore until it disappeared. The chapel is free to visit, and a beautiful garden behind it is available to visit for a small extra cost. The Sanctuary of Santa Maria offers a great view of Tropea's cliff sides.
Best Things To Do
The beaches in Tropea are incomparable. The coastline is called "la Costa degli Dei," or the Coast of the Gods, and Italy has arguably no finer beaches. The sandy beaches even put the Amalfi Coast to shame. They are large, long, and made of light, soft white sand. You'll find a mix of private and public beaches. While the private beaches do give you access to nearby facilities, the public beaches at Tropea are clean, calm, and casual.
Calabria has a unique cuisine that you won't find elsewhere in Italy. One of the features of the food is the use of Calabrian chiles - many dishes have some spice! A paste that uses pork and chiles is called 'nduja and is actually a famous export of the region. You'll find it on bread or pizza. Local seafood, caciocavallo and ricotta cheeses, red onions, and chickpeas show up on menus frequently. Try a tartufo while you're there - it's a delicious ice cream dish with layers of melted chocolate and chocolate ice cream wrapped around a hazelnut.
Enjoy An Onion Experience
The most famous food in the area, and an expensive export elsewhere, is the Tropea red onion, or the "Cipolla Rossa di Tropea." These deeply red, almost purple, are so sweet that you can just about bite into them raw like you would an apple.
You can sign up for a Tropea Onion Experience, a tour of an onion farm right outside town. They'll tell you how these sweet red onions are grown and let you dig up your own. Then, you'll get to try many different local dishes that feature these Tropea onions.
Make A Day Trip
If you'll be staying in the Tropea area for a decent length of time, be sure to take a day trip out of Tropea Calabria itself to enjoy the beautiful villages nearby.
This small town just south of Tropea has even more pristine beaches than Tropea itself. You can enjoy boat tours, snorkeling, and fishing, and it's easiest to get to Capo Vaticano by boat trip.
The Aeolian Islands are a set of volcanic islands off the coast of Sicily. One of the islands, Stromboli, is still an active volcano! Boat trips to and between the islands are a great way to explore the unique natural environment of these islands.
Fifteen minutes from Tropea is a complex of more than 100 grottos that Benedictine monks lived in from the 12th century to the 14th century.
This city is at the very tip of southern Italy. Along with the stellar views, you can visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (an archaeology museum) and the Gelato Cesare. This is a 100-year-old gelato shop that serves the best gelato in all of Calabria.
Scilla is similar to Tropea, just smaller. This lovely town has a castle built right at the edge of the sea and a signature swordfish sandwich that is worth the trip.
Pizzo is a small cliffside village with nice boutiques and restaurants. This is actually where tartufo, that delicious ice cream dessert, was created.
Where To Stay
When it comes to overnight accommodations, you can either stay in a hotel or inn in Old Town Tropea or stay in a beach resort.
The beach resorts in Tropea, Italy, aren't as sleek and nice as beach resorts in other locations. The hotels in Tropea are nice and range from luxury beachfront hotels to simple budget suites with amazing ratings.
Where Is Tropea Located?
Tropea is located in the Calabria region of southern Italy. It sits alongside the Tyrrhenian Sea, specifically on the Gulf of Saint Euphemia.
How To Get To Tropea, Italy
The best way to get to Tropea is through the Lamezia Terme airport. It is the nearest airport to Tropea, and it's an hour's drive from Tropea. While Lamezia Terme primarily runs only international flights to Italy, it connects to Milan.
You can catch a bus or taxi from the airport to the Lamezia Terme station and enjoy the two-hour train ride to Tropea. Or, if you'd rather, you can take a taxi or rent a car and drive there directly. Keep in mind that Tropea is a ZTL, or zona traffico limitato. This means that, for the most part, you can't drive inside the city itself.
Walk Your Way Through
Tropea Italy is small enough that you can explore on foot. When it's time to visit Tropea, Italy, be sure to bring your most comfortable walking shoes.
Aside from Tropea, there are so many charming villages and pretty country roads to explore, and the best way to explore the surrounding region is by car.
To drive in Italy, most nationalities require an International Driver's Permit, so be sure to check the regulation or get one before travel.
Tropea's train station lies about 350 meters from the historic centre, on top of the town. Trenitalia provides service on this line between Lamezia Terme and Rosarno.
To explore the surrounding islands, a boat is the best transportation. You can visit the Islands of Vulcano, Lipari, Panarea and Stromboli.
You can find a taxi near the train station and the beach area, especially during summer. If you cannot find out, ask your hotel or restaurant to call one up for you.
Uber is not available in Tropea, Italy.
Get Off The Beaten Path
The main drag in Tropea, Calabria, isn't going to look much different from other breach resorts in Italy and elsewhere. If you want to enjoy a Tropea that isn't heavily commercialized, get off the beaten path and into the center proper. Enjoy the beaches, then head into Tropea's old town, skipping the tourist-heavy streets altogether.
Prepare For Physical Exertion
Calabria is a poorer and less developed region of Italy, and it's absolutely safe! However, you will find that you'll have to do more trekking than you perhaps would have in another location.
Old Town Tropea is off-limits to non-resident cars. Most hotels don't have elevators. The route from the town center to the seaside involves a significant amount of stairs. Furthermore, the roads aren't always in the best shape, and public transit can be spotty.