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A Day Trip to Scilla, Calabria

Discover the enchanting allure of Scilla, Calabria in Italy—a quaint coastal gem nestled in the south's embrace, where rich history, breathtaking vistas, and culinary delights await and make it the perfect day trip destination for travellers seeking authentic Italian charm.

Several blue fishing boats lined in a row on the shoreline of the Messina Strait, with green mountains and cloudy skies in the background.
Fishing boats in Scilla, Calabria. Photo by Emily Fata.

This post is very long overdue, but one of the most amazing things about travelling this past summer was that I wasn’t on a timeline or, frankly, didn’t really have any plans. So, it seems that my promptness to write about it all also fell to the wayside. Don’t worry though, I’ll eventually cover everything once I completely emerge from the dolce far niente lifestyle.

 

That said, one of the many beautiful towns in southern Italy that my cousin Vittoria took me to this past summer was in Scilla, Calabria, which is administratively part of the Metropolitan City of Reggio Calabria, but unlike Reggio, it's much more quaint and village-esque. It’s also close enough to Sicily, being on the opposite end of the Messina Strait, that you can easily see the island region across the water. We went with her two-year-old niece, originally planning to spend the afternoon at Spiaggia di Scilla (Scilla Beach), but we made the mistake of not checking the weather and counting on the beautiful early September warmth we had been experiencing—a bit of a mistake.

 

As we neared the town, sunny skies turned into a drizzle and a drizzle turned into proper rain…but while that was able to pause our beach plans (the winds and crashing waves made sure of that), it wasn’t about to put a damper on our plans in Scilla.


A near-aerial view of Scilla Beach, with pristine blue waters, a sandy shoreline, and green mountains and storm clouds in the background. In the foreground is a red clay roof.
A view of Spiaggia di Scilla from above. Photo by Emily Fata.

The Legend of Scilla, Calabria


First things first: let’s talk about how the town got its name.

 

The legend of Scilla dates back to ancient times, when a nymph named Scylla caught the attention of the sea god, Glaucus. Scylla was already enamoured with a mortal named Minos (I mean, mood—have you seen Italian men?). So, naturally, in the jealousy that the gods are known for, Glaucus attempted to win Scylla's affections by using his divine powers. Instead, though, he transformed her into a sea monster with multiple heads and multiple sets of teeth. Horrible, huh?

 

Because of this, Scylla was forced to retreat to a cave along the coastline, where she preyed upon sailors passing through the waters. Over time, the town near her cave became known as Scilla (that’s where we are right now—hi!), and this area is forever tied to the legend of the monstrous nymph.

 

So, if you ever find yourself exploring the shores of Scilla, keep an eye out for any remnants of the legendary sea monster, a reminder of the town's mythical past. You’ll see little symbols throughout the town, if you look hard enough!


A Taste of the South


With an afternoon at the beach crossed off our list thanks to the rain, we decided to stop at a little café for something to eat. Despite having been to Sicily a few weeks prior, I had never stopped to try their famous granita and Sicilian brioche (brioscia co'tuppu): a dessert made from a sweetened fruit purée that’s been frozen and shaved into an icy, crystallized texture, along with a sweet bread. You eat it together, and they add a bit of fresh whipped cream on top of the granita for extra flavour. Being so close to Sicily, having this treat in Calabria was a very close second place.

 

A wooden table with two brioche buns, granita with whipped cream, and two cups of gelato on top of it.
Un pranzo dolce (a sweet lunch). Photo by Emily Fata.

While I ate my granita and my cousins had their gelato, we were able to reassess our plans for the day, which now included exploring a castle with history dating back to the Etruscan period (between 8th and 3rd century BCE), sightseeing, and dinner. In the meantime, I was savouring the strawberry granita and the sweetness of the brioche, all while listening to the nearby waves crash over the sandy beach.


Exploring Scilla’s Historic Castle


Once finishing our lunch (yes, sometimes dessert is allowed to be your lunch when you’re an adult), it was time to switch into castle mode. Which, to be fair, I am forever in the mode to explore castles. Scilla’s fortress is called Castello Ruffo di Calabria, and it’s the kind of place that makes you think, “Yeah, I could live here”—or maybe that’s just what I say in every castle I step foot in.

 

Castello Ruffo di Calabria is a rare example of architectural splendour, and it sits pretty on the Scilla promontory, facing the Strait of Messina. Being in seclusion, but still in proximity to the sea, makes Scilla the perfect site for this lookout post to guard the Calabrian territories against any intruders arriving by water.


A woman in a floral dress holding hands with a toddler. They are climbing up stone steps, with castle walls directly in front of them.
Me and my littlest cousin exploring Ruffo Castle. Photo by Vittoria Urzetta.

As I mentioned before, it dates to the Etruscans, and the castle’s defensive walls were built during the Magna Grecian era. Even the Romans, who enlarged it, thought this was the ideal location for a settlement! Only the walls of the 9th-century San Pancrazio Monastery, which served as a barrier against the Saracens, are visible in the modern day, thanks to contemporary excavations.

 

Ruffo Castle from its spot atop a hill, overlooking the Messina Strait. In the background, you can see a sky full of clouds.
Beautiful Ruffo Castle. Photo by Emily Fata.

The location eventually became a military stronghold in 1060, then state property in 1808, before eventually turning into a youth hostel. Now, since the 1970s, this is a significant cultural centre within Scilla that hosts gatherings and exhibitions. Not to mention that it’s a tourist attraction, where visitors can explore the grounds for a small fee and climb to the uppermost point to look out over the beautiful sea.


Walking through the location is a little adventure, and even our toddler travel buddy loved it! From passing under stone archways to various lookout points where you can see th volcano, Mount Stromboli, looming across the Strait from its home in Sicily, all the way to an old sword fishing boat, it’s well worth spending an hour at Ruffo Castle.


Walking Through Scilla, Calabria


From here, we followed the road from the castle toward the main part of town to the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Maria Santissima Immacolata, on Via Chianalea), a place of worship that Ancient Greek parchments have mentioned since the early centuries of Christianity. It was linked to Ruffo Castle, but after being badly damaged by the earthquakes of 1509 and 1599, the church was rebuilt and enlarged. Another earthquake in 1783 damaged the roof, dome, and entire central vault and, after being rebuilt, was damaged again in 1894 and yet again in 1908. While it looks absolutely beautiful inside today, it's hard to believe that for almost half a century, the building was deteriorating and had to be completely demolished and rebuilt from the ground, up.

 

A view of the nave inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception. There are paintings depicting religious figures and archways along the sides of the church, with pews lining the centre.
Inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Emily Fata.

It's the cost of living in an area that seems to offer more earthquakes than granita and brioche, I guess!

 

Once you’ve seen these two major points (plus the beach, if it’s not a rainy day), you can then explore the town of Scilla on foot. Thankfully, the weather had cleared up at this point and, aside from the choppy waves, you would never have believed that the sky was so dark and dismal just hours before. We took this chance to admire the little houses, shops, and restaurants lining the narrow cobblestone streets, stepping into stores at random that had caught our attention; some were on street level, while others required you to walk up or down a few steps to enter.

 

Eventually, our little companion started to get tired, and we knew that it was time to have an early dinner and head back home.



Dinner on the Messina Straight


A vegetarian pizza with many vegetables on it.
My delicious veggie pizza. Photo by Emily Fata.

At this point, it was nearing sunset, but Italians don’t typically eat before 7 o’clock and it was only 6 PM—in fact, after seeing that many of the restaurants were closed, we called a few in town to find one that had pizza and opened at 7, sharp. We were able to entertain each other with two cocktails and a juice, playing games while sitting at a table of an outdoor café until it was time to walk over.

 

Inside the little pizzeria on Via Annunziata, we had the option of sitting on a covered patio overlooking the Messina Strait or sitting inside with a window facing in the same direction. We decided to sit indoors (it was getting chilly, and me and the toddler have about the same tolerance for cool temperatures), where I ordered vegetarian pizza.

 

By the time we finished eating and paid, bellies full, it was close to 8:30 PM and time to return home for the night.


A view of Scilla at dusk, with a darkening sky. In the midground, the town is lit up in a glow from the city lights, with the warm illumination reflecting off of the sea in the foreground.
A view from the restaurant patio. Photo by Emily Fata.

Road Trip Adventures Gone Wrong


…But, as fate would have it, my lovely cousin is forever itching to give me the most adventurous experience she can, and on this particular trip, it included running out of gas on the side of the highway at night while it was raining. When I tell you I couldn’t stop laughing, I mean it. It just seemed totally unexpected, yet expected; a wild idea that we’d end up like this, but also, the kind of thing that would end up happening to us. And it was actually fun, and a 'side quest' I won't soon forget.


A nighttime view from inside of a car, with the windshield covered in rain.
A brief intermission on the way home.

Thankfully, her niece was fast asleep in the back of the car, so we stayed parked on the side of the road and called her dad to come drive out to us with a jerrycan of gasoline. It took a while for him to arrive, along with her cousin who’s a mechanic, but the car was eventually topped up and the engine checked to ensure everything was good to go.


All in All


Scilla, with its rich history, stunning views, and warm hospitality, left an indelible mark on my trip to Italy and was the perfect way to spend a day in Calabria. Even with an initial setback of unexpected rain and adjusting plans from a day at the beach, we found ourselves immersed in the town's charm, indulging in local delicacies, exploring ancient castles, and wandering through its picturesque streets.

 

If you find yourself in Calabria, missing the opportunity to visit Scilla would be a shame. Whether you're seeking history, culinary adventures, or simply a peaceful seaside escape, this quaint town has something to offer every traveler. Trust me, it's a journey you won't soon forget.


 

4 Comments


marysa
Mar 06

Such a scenic place to check out, and so much great history town. This is definitely worth the day trip to check out different spots.

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Renata Feyen
Renata Feyen
Mar 05

It depends, but usually we also prefer to eat indoors, especially when there are lots of wasps flying around

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Ben Butler
Ben Butler
Mar 05

Holy cow! Calabria is absolutely gorgeous. I love the way the city is set hard up against the water like that!

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Archana Singh
Archana Singh
Feb 28

it's such a great day trip to this charming quaint little town. Scilla seems to have everything - good food, great sights and a laid back vibe that i crave in my holidays. Thanks for sharijg.

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