Pizzo Calabro: Where Mountains Meet Sea
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
In today's post, Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, writes about her favourite seaside commune in Calabria, Italy: Pizzo Calabro. This stunning seaport is home to beautiful natural views, red clay-roofed homes, and “the best Tartufo di Pizzo in town”.
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 (I definitely would, had I had a swim suit on me and if I had gone mid-day, when the spring weather would have been at its warmest). Instead, I made my way along the path leisurely, taking in the sights of children kicking a pallone di calcio (soccer ball) back and forth in the sand or chasing each other as they played 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 lined 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 to the observation point, Passerella di Pizzo; approaching this spot, you can see the magnificent Castello Murat towering overhead, its position on the edge of the cliff stretching above you the perfect spot for spying potential adversaries from above, in a time long ago.
In the modern day however, one won’t find the armed forces of a foreign invading nation on the beach; instead, you can expect to discover row upon row of tables set up side-by-side, their vendors calling out to you in hopes that you will purchase something from them. Phone cases, keychains, richly coloured jewellery… really, this is a great spot to pick up a few things for either yourself or as souvenirs to bring home, so long as you’re aware of the going rate for these items. That is, avoid getting overcharged. That being said, if you know that the price listed is a bit steep, don’t be afraid to haggle — if they refuse your counteroffer, simply walk away. There’s no need to feel obligated to purchase anything from anyone, even if they make it seem that way, and you’re likely to find someone offering it for a more reasonable price elsewhere.
After making your way past the vendors, you’re able to turn onto Passerella di Pizzo, which stretches out into the waves below. We were lucky enough to visit at a time when there were few people in the area, thus allowing us 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 we 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.
For those who don’t know, tartufo is a hazelnut ice cream that is shaped in the palm of the hand, in the form of a flattened sphere with a melted dark chocolate centre, the outside covered with a dusting of powdered cocoa and sugar. This dessert was first invented in the 1950s and was most likely inspired by its namesake: customary chocolate gelato from the city of Turin. Indeed, it’s produced with the same ingredients and was extremely popular at the time. Tartufo di Pizzo is traditionally handmade and, quite remarkably, is the first ice cream in Europe to have obtained a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certification.
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.
He had fled to Corsica after Napoleon’s fall, where he was joined by a thousand supporters with the hopes of regaining control of Naples by provoking an insurgence in Calabria. Arriving at the Port of Pizzo in 1815, he attempted to rally additional support in the town square, but his plan backfired. Instead, the crowd became hostile, resulting in his capture and a death sentence for treason. Now, modern-day visitors can see his cell and the specifics of his execution by firing squad, demonstrated with various waxworks within what is now a museum.
His last words were: «Soldats! Faites votre devoir! Droit au cœur, mais épargnez le visage. Feu!» (“Soldiers! Do your duty! Straight to the heart, but spare the face. Fire!”)
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 for me. Though still in the early days of my trip at the time, Pizzo had become one of my favourite places that I have ever travelled to. For this reason, I decided that I wanted to send postcards to my typical list of people from the seaport (I have a list of close friends and family that I send to, from every place that I travel). It was also a great spot to begin my search for souvenirs to bring back. I began this hunt in that same small piazza, lazily gravitating toward the first shop I laid eyes on instead of pricing around… a novice tourist’s mistake, but my full stomach and waning energy got the best of me that evening. I settled on a couple of shot glasses and a couple red cornicelli keychains (an amulet intended to ward off bad luck or malocchio, the Evil Eye).
With my souvenirs clutched in hand, we made our way back to the car by walking down the stone steps and out to Via Marcello Salomone once again. This time, the evening sky was the colour of cotton candy; pinks and purples melted into one another as the church bells rang the eight o’clock hour. You can hear them in the video below, taken while overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, while walking down from the main square:
Pizzo Calabro was a truly extraordinary place, one that has captured my heart forever. If I had the luxury of picking a place to build a little seaside villa anywhere in Calabria, this would be the spot I would want it nearest. 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.
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