My 5 days along the Tyrrhenian coast of Calabria have been a genuine revelation. With 7 Blue Flag beaches, super-friendly people and amazing food, Calabria is a true gem of southern Italy, yet international travelers rarely venture here. Intrigued by a general lack of guidebooks dedicated to this region, I flew to Lamezia Terme to find out more about what Calabria has to offer.
Having only 5 days for this trip, I decided to focus on a specific area in order to limit transfers and truly experience the slow-paced southern Italian lifestyle. I chose the Tyrrhenian coast, which is divided into two scenic sections: Costa degli Dei (Coast of the Gods), from Pizzo to Nicotera, evoking ancient Greek mythology, and Costa Viola (Violet Coast), from Bagnara Calabra to Scilla, so called because of the peculiar colors of the waters at certain times of the day. Aren’t you already daydreaming of blissful, sunny days just by reading these names?!
Here’s my 5-day itinerary:
Day 1: Lamezia Airport > Pizzo > Tropea
Day 2: Zungri > Briatico > Capo Vaticano > Tropea
Day 3: Palmi > Scilla
Day 4: Reggio Calabria > Scilla
Day 5: Bagnara Calabra > Lamezia Airport
Renting a car is the easiest way to explore Calabria, especially if you have only a few days available. Piecing together public transportation routes can be quite time consuming, and connections may be a little scarce outside of the major cities. Check out the Ferrovie della Calabria website to get an idea.
What to see along Calabria’s Tyrrhenian coast
Pizzo, a pretty little town perched on a rock above the gulf of S. Eufemia and overlooked by the Murat Castle. After exploring the narrow streets and browsing the many little shops, stop by one of the many bars dotting Piazza della Repubblica and taste the local ice cream specialty called tartufo.
Just a couple of km north of Pizzo, don’t miss the unique Church of Piedigrotta, entirely carved out of tuff stone. According to the legend, it was built in the XVII century by shipwrecked sailors right on the beach, as a last act of faith to evoke salvation. Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, as the sea here is pretty amazing.
The charming seaside town of Tropea, with its maze of narrow streets, sandy beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and dramatic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea as far as the Stromboli island in Sicily.
The extraordinarily beautiful Capo Vaticano, a great place for scuba diving lovers. Here you’ll find stretches of soft sand sloping into azure waters and a seabed inhabited by a rich marine life.
The rocky settlement of Sbariati in the village of Zungri, often overlooked by tourists but definitely worth the little detour. This is an urban hamlet of caves entirely carved out of sandstone most probably between the XII and the XIV century, testifying a peculiar type of socio-economic organization.
The small fishing village of Briatico, north of Tropea, with fantastic views of the Tyrrhenian coastline. Leave your car at the beginning of via Lungomare, near the Conad supermarket, and walk through the path starting right in front of it. It may be a little steep but trust me, it will lead you to paradise! You will reach an astonishing rocky beach with turquoise waters, that will be most likely all to yourself.
Mt. Sant’Elia in Palmi, with a panoramic viewpoint over Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, and a Devil’s Stone hiding a fascinating legend about the battle between good and evil.
Scilla, the pearl of the Purple Coast, an enchanting village wrapped in history and legend. It is said that it was the home of the sea monster Scylla who, together with Charybdis, guarded the Strait of Messina and menaced Ulysses and his crew as they sailed by.
Bagnara Calabra, a quaint coastal village with sandy beaches, renowned for its swordfish fishing fleet (with a festival that celebrates the year’s catch in July). It is also a renowned center for the production of torrone, the beloved Italian sweet so popular in the winter, which has been awarded the IGP quality certification mark.
Reggio Calabria, the oldest city in the region, on the toe of Italy. It features an amazing seafront promenade that Italian writer Gabriele D’Annunzio once described as “the most beautiful kilometer of Italy”. While you are here, don’t miss a visit to the National Museum of Magna Grecia, with a fantastic collection that includes the two famous full-size statues of Greek warriors known as Riace Bronzes.
What to eat
Forget diets and calorie counts and try all the delicious food of Calabria. Hand-made pasta, yummy cheeses, fresh seafood, tempting sweets, you name it!
Not only is the local gastronomy based on simple ingredients that combined together produce tasty dishes, but it also features some pretty unique products. If you like strong flavors, then you should absolutely try nduja, a super spicy pork salumi spread. Can’t do without a soft drink? Forget Coke and go for a Brasilera, the coffee-flavored soda produced in Calabria.
Where to stay
Calabria has plenty of accommodation options to fit all tastes and budgets, so you won’t have any problems. Here’s where I stayed and can recommend:
- in Tropea, I spent two nights at Villa Vittoria, a fantastic B&B in the town center with a reserved parking space right in front of the entrance and easy distance from the railway station. The staff goes above and beyond to make guests feel welcome! They even prepare a wonderful tray with drinks, fresh fruits and snacks in your room upon arrival.
- In Scilla I stayed at B&B Sunshine, right in front of the beach of Marina Grande and only a 5-minute walk from the old fishing village of Chianalea. I was assigned the SoleLuna bedroom, with a fantastic shower covered in quartzite stone. The owner is very helpful and he even filled the small fridge in the room with drinks and freshly baked cakes for “afternoon cravings”…how thoughtful is that?!
When to go
Calabria enjoys mild temperatures all year round, although inland areas surrounded by mountains can become pretty cold in the winter months. As usual, I suggest to avoid peak season and prefer the months of May-June and September-October instead. Bear in mind that although Calabria is still quite unknown to international travelers, it’s a favorite holiday destination for Italians, so it can become quite crowded in July and August.
If you are looking for a great alternative to the typical Italian coastal retreats like Cinque Terre or the Amalfi coast, then you should really consider Calabria. Ping me an email if you’d like to know more about this region or need some help to put together your trip!
Until next time,