The people have spoken. Tropea, Calabria has just been voted the Borgo dei Borghi, the Village of the Villages, in a contest that asked Italians to choose the most beautiful amongst the Borghi più belli d’Italia, or Italy’s most beautiful villages. A difficult choice, to be sure, but Tropea isn’t called la Perla del Mediterraneo for nothing. Let’s have a look at this Pearl of the Mediterranean!
WHERE IS TROPEA, CALABRIA?
Tropea overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea on a horn that juts out from the top of Italy’s toe, if you will, in the Province of Vibo Valentia. The region is Calabria, known for its countless beaches along a spectacular 500-mile coastline that faces the Tyrrhenian to the west, the Strait of Messina at the point and the Ionian Sea to the east. The particular stretch of land along which Tropea is located is known as the Costa degli Dei or Coast of the Gods.
Tropea’s attraction is nothing new. Legend recounts that Hercules founded the town upon return from his labors at the Pillars of Hercules, today’s Strait of Gibraltar. Visitors will find the hero’s name gracing the main square, Piazza Ercole. But Tropea’s history goes well beyond the mythological, with discoveries of ancient Greek tombs and a Roman port in the area. Who wouldn’t want to set anchor along this breathtaking coastline?
Byzantines, Arab pirates, Normans, Aragons and numerous others, as part of Calabria’s long history, have desired these shores between the Gulfs of St. Eufemia and Gioia Tauro. Today, it is the warm-weather tourist who clamors for the spectacular setting.
THE BEAUTY OF TROPEA, CALABRIA
The old town perches as a balcony over the sea. Tropea’s antique palazzi are built right to the edge of the rock, whose face drops straight down to the beach below.
The view from the open terrace and from the interiors of the residences, hotels and restaurants, is magnificent. Tropea’s crystal-clear waters lapping against the white sand and magnificent yet graceful rock formations are a photographer’s Mecca.
A lovely outcropping crowned by a little church, St. Mary of the Island, completes the picture. Surrounded by an emerald-green sea, this miniature sanctuary has views as beautiful from the refuge, itself, as from the shore. For many more photos and detailed information about this “island,” see my blogpost Santa Maria dell’Isola.
For beach lovers, there are many spots from which to choose. Tropea Beach sits at the foot of the old town, and others, each more beautiful than the next line the Costa degli Dei and around the horn of Capo Vaticano, an area of great natural beauty, both along the sea and inland, as well.
OLD TOWN OF TROPEA, CALABRIA
Tropea’s historic center is a medieval maze of streets branching off Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which cuts a path straight down to the viewpoint out to the sea. Café tables fill the squares and shops offer a wide range of local products.
Old patrician houses can be found throughout, many with magnificent portals from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Tropea has numerous churches in addition to the above-mentioned Santa Maria dell’Isola, most notably the Cattedrale di Maria Santissima di Romania, a Romanesque cathedral constructed by the Normans in the twelfth century. Church silver and gold, artwork and furnishings are on display in the diocesan museum.
TROPEA, CALABRIA: CULINARY AND SEAWORTHY
In Italy, a village could never become the Borgo dei Borghi without an outstanding culinary tradition, and the Tropea area boasts two agricultural products that are on demand in the finest of restaurants worldwide, the Tropea onion and the ‘nduja salami. You may not appreciate the status bestowed on an onion until you enjoy its sweet, mild flavor, attributed to the soil and climate. Local restaurants prepare them in every way imaginable, and you can take them home, from the onions, themselves, to a jarred marmalade. The ‘nduja is a very spicy, spreadable salami made in nearby Spilinga. Oozing with flavor, the original ‘nduja is unparalleled. And after dinner, there’s always the local Vecchio Amaro del Capo.
Sometimes it’s nice to work up an appetite while floating on a limpid sea that varies from turquoise to deep blue, whether propelled by your feet, your paddle, a sail or a little engine on a coastal excursion to experience the beaches, grottos and sea life along Gods’ Coast. Extended journeys will take you to the Eolian Islands for a day or even to witness the evocative Stromboli volcano by night.
Or you can just soak up the sunset views directly from Tropea, such as in this striking evening photo with Stromboli puffing across the Tyrrhenian Sea. And as they say in Italian: Rosso di sera bel tempo si spera. Or as we say in English: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. It looks as though there will be another beautiful day in Tropea, Calabria.
Read more about Tropea and the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.
Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook page, Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page, Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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