Tropea is a quaint seaside town in the of Calabria region of southern Italy, near Sicily. This stretch of coastline is aptly named the Costa degli Dei, the ‘Coast of the Gods’, and boasts dramatic cliffs, sunny beaches and gorgeous Italian cafes and campsites.
It is not very well known to many English-speaking tourists, but during the peak season (June – September) many Italians and Germans visit the town. During May and October Tropea is both cheaper and less crowded with the weather still remaining warm and sunny.
Because this is such a hidden gem from most tourists, English is not as commonly spoken here so be prepared to have to speak some Italian. I got by with the bare minimum and some miming.
How to get to Tropea
Catching the train to Tropea is generally your best bet. Tropea is on a scenic railway line along the coastline, with trains running between Naples to Rosarno. There is only one train station in Tropea, and it is a 10 minute walk from the centre of town.
I caught a night train from Florence to Tropea for €35 (second class seat, not sleeper/bed), departing at 7.30pm and arriving at 6am. This worked perfectly and saved a night of accommodation, but make sure you set your alarm and have a back up alarm too! The train continued on further down the coastline after Tropea, terminating in Rosarno.
There are also direct trains from Naples, which can go for as cheap as €9.90. I caught a night train from Tropea to Naples, departing at 11.30pm and arriving at 4.00am (I then stayed in the Naples train station until it was daylight as Naples isn’t the safest place for a girl walking alone in the early morning!)
Alternatively, there are flights into the nearby airport Lamezia Terme from many destinations in Italy and Europe, where you can catch a regular train into Tropea.
How to get around
To reach the centre of Tropea from the railway station, follow the access road to the left outside the station building. Where this joins a larger road, turn left and follow it under a railway bridge. This road continues downhill right into the heart of Tropea.
The historic centre of Tropea quite small and quaint, with only a few main roads and several narrow streets and alleyways. You won’t need to catch any transport or drive during your stay unless you wish to day trip to one of the surrounding towns.
There are several grocery stores within walking distance of the centre, around 15 minutes or so, and plenty of chemists, souvenir stores and cafes. The main beaches are just below the historic centre at the bottom of the cliff, easy to get down to and when you’re climbing back up just remind yourself you’re walking off all that pasta you’ve no doubt been eating!
Although the town and surrounding areas are connected by bus services (I saw some public buses running!), I have a feeling these operate mainly for locals as it is virtually impossible to find timetables and information.
The local railway line has regular trains to surrounding coastline towns which are nice to explore if you have the time – there is a ticket machine at the station which sells tickets for local journeys, and there are timetables on the platform or online at http://www.trenitalia.com/tcom-en. You are also able to buy tickets on the train from the conductor but it will be more expensive than the machine.
Where to stay
Francesca’s AirBnB is on the top floor of a building perched right on the top of famous cliffs. It is incredible. The one bedroom apartment was clean, modern, spacious and not to mention that view… I cannot recommend this accommodation high enough.
Daily budget for one day in Tropea
I visited Tropea during the first weeks of October, so the crowds and inflated prices had somewhat faded. Also having my own apartment with a kitchen helped to keep food costs low after doing a €15 grocery shop once I arrived.
- Transport; train tickets to surrounding areas for day trips: €10 return
- Dining out; cover charge, standard dish and glass of wine: €15
- Accommodation; Air BnB apartment: €50 per night
- Misc; postcards, gelato, coffee: €5
How long to stay
At least 2 days at a bare minimum will give you a taste of the stunning seaside town.
Of course, a day trip is possible as it is such a small town but the sunset is gorgeous from up on the cliffs and there are so many incredible restaurants to enjoy a beautiful seafood dinner at. I stayed for a whopping 10 days, mostly because it was 10 months into my travels and I was really feeling the need to unpack my bag, laze around on a beach, and have a bit of my own space at the Francesca’s gorgeous Air BnB.
What to see and do in Tropea
Tropea has that charming timeless, faded feel of a sleepy southern Italian seaside town and while there aren’t many big ticket tourist attractions, the landscape itself is breathtaking. The town is a maze of pretty lanes and buildings – some of which are crumbling away – and little hidden squares where you’ll usually find a café with sprawling tables across the cobblestone streets. There are a number of easily reachable towns nearby Tropea, with local trains running regularly. Just make sure you check the time of the last train as sometimes it can be as early as 7.15pm.
The two most famous sights of Tropea are the historic centre sitting atop the dramatic cliffs, and the Santa Maria dell’Isola Gardens and Monastery, sitting on the large rocky outcrop. Conveniently, standing at the top of the cliffs in the historic centre will give you the best view of the monastery.
Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery
This fairytale-like medieval church is perched atop a large rock and is quite an impressive sight. If you climb up to the monastery, you can look back to Tropea for the best outlook of the town and beaches below. The Gardens and Monastery costs €1.50 to enter and closes at sunset.
There are several beaches around the headland of Tropea; some charge a fee and offer sunbeds and umbrellas (use for the day can go between €10 and €20) and some stretches of beach are free where you can spread your own towel. Maybe it’s because I’m Australian and all our beaches are free, but I can never seem to bring myself to pay! On the free beaches, you’ll also encounter some local merchants who will try to sell you their wares – anything from sunglasses to jewellery to massages to towels. If you are generally interested, they are willing to barter and you can score yourself a deal but if you are not interested, tell them very firmly “No gracias.” They can become quite pushy and frustrating if they think you could be swayed into a sale.
If you catch the train around 20 minutes north, the small town of Pizzo sits happily atop of a steep hill. It is a good 20 minutes’ walk from the train station into town along the sea, but there are often private drivers offering lifts into town for a fee. You can also enlist their services to take you to Chiesetta di Piedigrotta Castello; a cave containing sculptures and statues some dating back to the 1800s, which hides around 5 minutes’ drive out of Pizzo. I walked from the town to the cave, the opposite way to the train station, but be warned, there is no footpath or shoulder off the road and is quite hairy at times. Stick to the left and the entrance to the cave is well signed. There are also lots of tour buses stopping here regularly so just keep an eye out for them and ask if needed.
Day Trip to Scilla
Heading south you will come across the town Scilla, a quaint, picturesque fishing village with an impressive castle on a headland. I spent an afternoon here lazing on the beach and enjoying a seafood pasta at one of the many beachfront restaurants.
Day Trip to Reggio Calabria
Reggio Calabria is further south than Scillia and is most famous for the two famous Greek statues – the Riace Bronzes – displayed in the town’s archaeological museum.
There are also several boat trips available through the tourist offices in town which venture out to surrounding islands or the Stromboli (active volcano) just off the coast. On clear days, Stromboli is visible from Tropea – I could even see the smoke pouring out from the top of the volcano from my window.
What to eat in Tropea
Tropea is full of small and traditional restaurants serving locally caught seafood, pizzas and pasta. and other authentic and traditional local meals. I dined at Le Volpi e L’uva, which was absolutely delicious. My friend who lived in Florence had come down to stay for the weekend and together we enjoyed a gorgeous seafood pasta, some locally caught fish and a bottle of red wine.
Other recommended restaurants include La Lamia, Osteria Del Pescatore and il Normanno.
The region is also famous for its red onions, which you can buy pickled or fresh, with many stores displaying the crop on strings or in jars outside their shopfront.
There are also a number of small take away stores selling delicious arancini balls, perfect for an afternoon snack while you sit and enjoy the sun.
The nearby town Pizzo is famous throughout Italy for its special icecream called Tartufo di Pizzo. I had two of the chocolate truffle desserts during my stay in Tropea and again when I visited Pizzo. Very rich but so good.