Updated: Aug 7, 2019
After a recent trip to Italy, Wanderous Affair’s editor-in-chief Emily Fata reflects on her favourite spots along the Tyrrhenian Sea to explore during the warmer months of year. Each of these locations feature crystal clear waters in a myriad of shades of blue, and is the perfect spot to unwind from the hustle and bustle of modern city life.
Having finally visited my grandparents’ homeland of Italy with my grandmother this past May, I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible things we had the opportunity to do and see together. One of the major highlights were the cities and towns nestled between lush rolling mountain ranges and the sparkling waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In fact, each new town I visited was followed by a (not so joking) statement of, “I’m moving here. I have to buy a house here!” after searching online for real estate prices in the area.
Though I haven’t purchased my own waterfront villa just yet, I was more than happy to wander the old streets of these beautiful towns and discover more of their history in the process. Here are a few highlights from my four favourite seaside districts in Calabria, Italy:
My favourite location of all, the seaport commune of Pizzo Calabro is an absolute dream. We began by parking the car about mid-way on the mountain between the shoreline at the base of the mount and the historical piazza a slight trek skyward. Upon winding along the highway and carefully avoiding traffic in both directions, we reached the base and made our way toward the strip.
Heading in the direction of the docks, one has several opportunities to stop for a swim at the various beach points. As you make your way along the path, take a moment to enjoy the sights of children kicking a pallone di calcio (soccer ball) back and forth in the sand, or chasing each other as they play hide-and-seek between the colourful rowboats lining the shore, their parents watching on from their spot on their beach towels.
On the opposite side of the street, Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo, a plethora of restaurants and gelaterias line the road, tempting locals and tourists alike for a bite to eat or a quick drink while overlooking the sparkling sea. The further you saunter along, the closer you get to the entry of the observation point, Passerella di Pizzo; allowing yourself to pause a moment and listen to the sound of the waves softly beating against the long cement dock, the rocks, and washing up onto the adjoining stretch of sand.
These breath-taking coastal views are lovely even from the top of the cliff, accessible by returning the way in which you came and walking up the mountainside along Via Marcello Salomone. This main road (where, again, one must keep to the shoulder of the road and be wary of vehicles passing) adjoins to a much safer stone walkway, which leads directly to Piazza della Repubblica. As you approach the uppermost landing, you can see a beautiful mural of the saint Padre Pio with a group of children on your right and a chicken wire statue of a pensive man gazing out at the Tyrrhenian Sea on your left.
We sought a spot to sit at one of the restaurants and gelaterias lining the square, hoping to enjoy a gelato while looking out at the people milling about Piazza della Repubblica. We wound up at Bar Gelateria Ercole, thanks to the host’s assurance that they had “the best Tartufo di Pizzo in town”. Though this was undoubtedly a tourist trap, I have to admit: the tartufo was swoon-worthy.
From where we sat savouring our gelato on the outdoor patio, we could easily see Castello Murat. Though I unfortunately wasn’t able to go inside (it was quite late when we visited Pizzo Calabro), my cousins told me a bit about the castle and its history. This fifteenth century fortification is named after Joachim Murat, the brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte who reigned briefly as the King of Naples.
This vibrant — albeit, sometimes dark — history, a magical landscape where looming mountains meet attention-commanding sea, and delectable local cuisine combined make this commune a stand-out location and thus, a perfect place to bring home some souvenirs from. Nearby 'ricordo' shops are the perfect places to get your typical magnets and shot glasses, or even to pick up a couple red cornicelli keychains (an amulet intended to ward off bad luck or malocchio, the Evil Eye).
In the evening, as you walk back to your car, you can hear the clanging of church bells carrying on the breeze. They're audible in the video below, taken while overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, while walking down from the main square:
Pizzo Calabro is a truly extraordinary experience, one that will forever capture your heart. Just imagine the ability to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of rolling waves, the scent of salt water in the air, and the warmth of the Italian sun against your skin... if you plan a trip to stay overnight here, this dream can become a reality.
For more on Pizzo, you can read my full article on the seaport and commune here.
A hot tourist spot, Tropea has been proudly dubbed a “blue carpet," proclaimed on the town's welcome sign; indeed, the vast Tyrrhenian Sea lapping against the curved shoreline truly appears as flooring, but one that is ever-moving. However, sights of the sea are not the only beautiful views to take in. Walking through the streets within Old Town are a treat of their own: old and colourful building fasciae, unique doorways, locally handmade goods, no shortage of caffès to stop and have an espresso or gelato at, and a plethora of intriguing souvenir shops.
Visitors can find themselves enraptured by the intricate hand painted pottery hung up on storefront walls, magnets sporting fruits and pictures of the beach, tiny terracotta birds that sing ethereally when partly filled with water, and animatronic set-ups of characters partaking in regular rustic activities — looming, fishing, and churning butter to name just a few.
When browsing shops no long piques your interest, you're able to move along to any number of lookout points along the streets encircling the perimeter of the cliffside, which overlook the beaches below. One of the loveliest views are located at the Belvedere observation deck off of Via Indipendenza.
From this small square on the edge of the precipice, you can clearly see the red clay rooftops of seaside buildings lining the beaches (Spiaggia a Linguata to the left and Spiaggia Mare Piccolo to the right), rows of palm trees, and the striking Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea standing proudly atop a mountain against the blue of the Tyrrhenian.
Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola di Tropea is reachable only by climbing up winding steps along the mountain face, carved directly into the rock. When you reach the top of the cliff, you find yourself face-to-face with the clean lines of Santa Maria dell’Isola’s architecture. Though its façade was restructured after a 1905 earthquake, the building itself was likely built between the sixth and ninth centuries, with some sources claiming it to be as early as the fourth century. It was the first home to a community of Basilian monks prior to being passed on to the Benedictines in the eleventh century, who still own it today under the Abbey of Montecassino.
Inside, you can rest a while and reflect in the stunning chapel free of charge. Should you opt to pay a small 2€ fee, you are permitted to enter the church rooftop and monastery gardens. The opportunity to see the stunning open-concept upper level and breath-taking rooftop is well worth the price, as the view from above Santa Maria dell’Isola is a sight to behold; one can see sparkling sea stretching out all around you in a stunning panorama. Like Pizzo Calabro, Tropea is located along la Costa degli Dei (“the Coast of the Gods”). Spiaggia a Linguata to the west and Spiaggia Mare Piccolo to the east, it becomes difficult to keep your gaze focused on any one particular fragment of your sightline.
From here, you return to the main level of the church and move out into the monastery gardens. Following the path lined with lush greenery, you wind your way through rows of prickly pear cacti, colourful flora, and two-toned olive leaves stretched out on robust branches. With one side facing the church and the opposite confronting to the sea, a tall metal cross towers above the pathway as a stoic representation of the centuries of Christians who entered the very building that it watches over.
You may also notice some fluffy bunnies munching on the low-level shrubbery. Further along the path and around the bend, you will happen upon a small rabbit house with another handful of bunnies hopping around it. They're the sweetest things, free to roam about the garden as they please!
This concludes your time in the gardens as well as exploring Santa Maria dell’Isola as a whole, allowing you to travel back down the mountain (undeniably less exerting than the journey up). Once your feet are again firmly planted on sea level, you can opt to either return to Old Town by climbing up the cliffside steps, or lounge at any of the adjacent beaches. In the heat of summer, you can experience the salty waves covering your skin... What more could you ask for?
For more on Tropea, you can read my full article on the town here.
Located in Municipality of Ricadi and last strip of land before the Straits of Messina, walking along Capo Vaticano truly feels like you have stepped into a postcard. One can reach a stunning observation point off of Strada Comunale Capo Vaticano — when you reach the end of the highway, walk along a stone path that leads directly to a lookout point called Capo Vaticano Ricadi (the address is 89865 Capo Vaticano, Province of Vibo Valentia, for those who want to make their way there).
Below the cliff's edge are the pristine turquoise waters of Spiaggia di Grotticelle (Grotticelle Beach), just beyond the protective rail in place along the perimeter. This beach is the largest and the most popular amongst tourists, as it’s made of three adjacent natural bays and contains scattered caves and hidden beaches that fuse to form a mind-blowing landscape.
When the feeling of hunger hits, walk over to the small gelateria just off the path of the observation point for a small snack. Here, you will find the cutest retro caffè, reminiscent of the 1950s. Enjoy a drink of water or soda pop, as well as any of their desserts (hello, Tartufo di Pizzo!).
As your day comes to an end, enjoying this bite to eat on any of the caffè's outdoor picnic tables, be sure to steal a few more moments staring at the sea. Don't worry, though! You'll return to the crystalline water once again.
For more on Capo Vaticano, you can read my full article on the cape here.
Located along the Messina Straight (which pours into the Tyrrhenian Sea), the province of Sicily appears only a stone’s throw away from this gorgeous coastal city. Begin your day at Gran Caffè on Viale Zerbi, enjoying a heaping scoop of fiori di latte gelato, the slightly sweet cream flavour an incredibly delicious treat while visiting Europe. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find at home in Toronto!
Nearby, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Reggio Calabria (the National Archeological Museum of Reggio Calabria) features thousands of local (and nearby European countries’, particularly Greece’s) archeological artifacts. The main floor is home to seemingly endless ancient finds: terracotta pottery, jewels, intriguingly shaped sarcophagi (such a sandalled foot), painted plates, statuettes, and stunning sculptures. Toward the end of this floor’s exhibit, the walls are covered in massive mosaics, stunning tiles that have survived the tests of time to decorate the walls of a modern-day museum. This level is also home to the world-renowned Riace bronzes, an extraordinary duo who were at one time accompanied by arms including a helmet, coat of arms, and a lance held in place by the right hand.
On the other levels, you can find a small exhibit on Hellenistic tombs and of the area’s most ancient civilizations, predating the ancient Roman period.
A short walk away from the museum, you can continue discovering the rich ancient history of Reggio Calabria in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (better known as ‘Piazza Italia’). Amidst the dark slabs of stone on the piazza floor, visible underground through squares of plexiglass, you can see the remains of Hellenistic crypts. At certain times, visitors can take an elevator located right in the square down one level to explore the space below. Should you opt to do this, you will be able to see these early graves face-to-face, as opposed to looking at them through the glare of a pane of glass, from an aerial view.
This square is not far from Piazza Duomo, where one can visit Cattedrale di Reggio Calabria (The Cathedral of Reggio Calabria). The mother church of the Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria-Bova, this cathedral is the biggest religious building of the entire district, measuring an impressive 94 metres in length, 22 metres in width, and 21 metres in height. This holy place has fallen victim to many variations throughout its history, thanks to the alternating links to, originally, the Latin Church of Rome and then to the Greek-Byzantine Church up until the Norman Conquest in 1061.
From here, walk toward Castello Aragonese (Aragonese Castle), located on Piazza Castello between Via Aschenez and Via Possidonea under the shade of tall, fluttering palm trees. Though known as ‘Aragonese’, this castle actually has more ancient origins, with traces of a fortification in this area of the city dating back to eras much earlier than the construction of the castle itself (which has been documented as existing as far back as the year 536 AD). When taking the elevator up to the uppermost battlement, the pale azure Calabrian sky becomes your ceiling and the red clay-roofed buildings of Reggio and the Messina Straight spread out beneath you.
Continue your adventures to Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, where you can find nearby places to grab food as well as plenty of shopping. There was a plethora of stores, both local and chain locations, that presented a variety of things to browse and purchase. Perhaps my favourite shop, Libreria Nuova Ave is a little bookshop where they carried a wide variety of both modern and classic books, all in the Italian language. It’s also the oldest bookshop in the city!
When ready to admire the seafront up close, migrate westward toward the Messina Straight, where you will come face-to-face with perhaps the most exemplary focal point created by the government to the city: an astounding monument erected in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele III. This arresting marble memorial bearing a bronze statue of Athena Promachos was raised along the seafront.
Following the walkway running parallel to the sea in either direction, one can find a number of places to sit and watch the water, to stop and grab a bite to eat, or to look further west to the shoreline of Sicily on the opposite end of the straight. This was a brilliant way to unwind in the last hour of our time in Reggio Calabria, to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and cool off with the help of a breeze sweeping over the waves.
For more on Reggio Calabria, keep your eye open for the Fall 2019 issue of Wanderous Affair magazine, which will feature a full article! Coming September 2019.
Having had the opportunity to finally see the striking province in which my grandparents were born — to taste the fresh oranges picked directly off the trees, to watch the calm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea lap against the boulders lining the shoreline, and to see Italy’s mesmerizing history up close and in person — was, put in the simplest terms, a dream come true.
Though I had the chance to get a small taste of what lies in the regions north of Calabria, this lush, vibrantly green seaside province will always have a piece of my heart.
Until next time, Italia.
To read more of our posts on Italy, click here.