A trip to heavenly Calabria and its Costa degli Dei. Here is what to see and do in Tropea like a local.
Known as the Perla del Tirreno, the Tyrrhenian Pearl, Tropea is a must-visit spot for anyone looking for an authentic and dynamic holiday experience.
Some sneak peeks: crystal-clear water beaches, the radiant flavours of the fantastic local cuisine, and masterpiece panoramic views.
To help you visit Tropea like a local, we have compiled a list of the 10 things to do to make your trip truly memorable.
What to do in Tropea like a local
A must-to-visit spot on the bucket lists of worldwide travellers, Tropea is increasingly becoming the ultimate dream destination for summer holidays. We also recommended it to you as one of the 10 must-visit destinations in Italy 2024.
Tranquil and not yet entirely mainstream, this town at the tip of Italy's boot, suspended between the crystal-clear hues of the sea and the dazzling reds of its specialities (like spicy 'nduja salami and sweet Tropea onion), is a refreshing alternative to universally more popular, crowded, and expensive destinations.
Here are some tips on where to stay, what to do, and how to make the most of your time in this beautiful town and visit Tropea like a local.
10. What to do in Tropea like a local: strolling through the town centre
Navigating through Tropea's historic centre doesn't require the aid of motorized vehicles. Instead, be prepared for long, pleasant walks interspersed with tasty breaks (we cover some quirky ones at point 6).
Start from Piazza Ercole, Tropea's refined and aristocratic heart, and its vibrant cafes and artisan shops. Then, stroll along the main thoroughfare and weave through bustling cobblestone alleys flanked by cream-coloured buildings and baroque doorways.
The contrast of red onions and peppers, displayed like garlands at grocery stores and small restaurants' entrances, complements the azure sea that occasionally, unexpectedly, peeks through various panoramic terraces. If you're lucky enough, you might also catch a glimpse of Stromboli's silhouette.
The so-called Affaccio dei Sospiri is the most famous and photographed belvedere in town, but certainly not the only one. However, we'll revisit this topic in a bit.
Step into the Cathedral, explore the Diocesan Museum and be amazed by MuMaT, the Civic Museum of the Sea at Palazzo Santa Chiara.
In the evening, linger until late sipping an aperitif or enjoying a seafood dinner at one of the typical venues along Corso Vittorio Emanuele or the streets and squares nearby.
Summer nights are so young, and you'll be happy to spend some time among the lounge bars of the old town and the nightclubs of the coast.
9. Staying amidst countryside and sea.
The perfect accommodation is tranquil and panoramic yet conveniently close to the main attractions.
Visiting a place like Tropea, renowned primarily for its extraordinary sea, undoubtedly involves embracing the most beautiful and sought-after beaches along the Costa degli Dei.
Choose a hotel or a B&B in the historic centre, or opt for rooms and apartments a short distance away, amid the countryside and the sea.
One great example is the Hibiscus Uno residence. It's perfect for those who want to relax in style while still being close to everything. The old town is just a five-minute walk away, and the beach is easily accessible on foot. You won't need to worry about transportation as everything is within walking distance.
8. Reaching the Sanctuary of Santa Maria dell'Isola
The imposing Santuario di Santa Maria dell'Isola is undoubtedly one of the most storied spots in Tropea, thanks to its breathtaking view. As you approach the sanctuary, the sight of the majestic religious building atop the large cliff overlooking the town transports you into a living painting.
The place exudes a radiant charm, partly due to the natural beauty of the environment. Its centuries-old history and legends add to the allure, attracting residents and tourists.
The winding ascent leading to the sanctuary is an experience in itself, though it can be quite challenging during the scorching summer months. However, the panoramic view will leave you breathless once you achieve the summit and look over the parapet. The turquoise waters stretch out beneath, reaching the village perched on the cliff and creating a mesmerising sight.
7. Swimming with a GoPro
The pristine sand of the Mediterranean Costa degli Dei has something in common with the Caribbean sceneries. Some of the most beautiful Italian beaches unfold along this coast with irresistibly clear and transparent water. Get your GoPro ready and embark on exploration.
The shores closest to the town are accessible through staircases leading from the village to the foot of the cliff on which Tropea stands. These include those near the Cathedral, in Largo Galuppi, Largo Villetta, and the Convent.
The Spiaggia dell'Isola, framed by Mediterranean vegetation and almost nestled in the rock, is the exemplary calling card that impresses newcomers.
The beaches della Rotonda and del Convento are among the most loved and frequented, with the latter as a must-visit for snorkelling fans thanks to the secluded coves hidden along the cliff.
Small and enchanting, the sandy stretch hidden in the Palombaro cave can be reached by swimming or pedalling to Isola Bella, the large rock home to the famous sanctuary.
6. Tasting Onion Gelato
You're on holiday in Tropea; it's mid-July, and the heat is intense. You decide to step into a gelateria to cool off. While you're there, choosing how to fill your cone or cup among the classic pistachio, chocolate, and sour cherry flavours, you notice a sign that reads 'Cipolla di Tropea'.
Is it a heat-induced mirage? Have you consumed so much of it (on bruschettas, in pasta, arancini, salad) that you believe you're hallucinating?
The person behind the counter is encouraging: your mental faculties are all right, and that peculiar flavour is delicious. The evening has just taken an unexpectedly daring turn. But what will Tropea onion gelato taste like?
The first spoonful reveals a reassuring balance between the onion's sweetness and the mixture's creamy freshness. A dessert that is calm and, all in all, traditional. As for the 'nduja salami gelato, that's another story...
5. Crossing a mythical rock
The next stop is in a place full of enchantment and magnetic charm, where the blue of the sea is filled with iridescent shades in harmony with the sunlight filtering through.
The San Leonardo Rock is on the right side of the Le Roccette beach. You can explore it not only by swimming but also entering directly from the beach through a series of steps carved into the rock.
The cave is called Grotta delle Sirene because, according to legend, sirens used to chain the maidens they were jealous of right here.
This scosglio is very similar to the rocky formation on which the sanctuary of Santa Maria dell’Isola rises, and, as numerous archaeological finds suggest, its bond with the local population is definitely ancient.
Once, the cave was used as a reserve for fishermen. Today, thanks to a distinctive shape and allure, it has turned into a true Tropea landmark.
4. Hiking in Calabria
From the surrounding green hills to the deep blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The trails in the Calabrian nature traverse spectacular landscapes and awaken the senses with the fresh air of the Mediterranean.
One of the best trekking opportunities near Tropea is known as Cammino di Ulisse, a recently established route through the wild nature around Caria di Drapia.
The path is well-marked, it stretches for 12 km and features some elevation changes. At the end of the trail, you'll find a curious sign encouraging hikers to exchange a kiss against the spectacular panoramic backdrop. The endpoint is around the Torre Marrana, an ancient watchtower in the municipality of Ricadi.
If you're up for some extra adventure, then the trek from Joppolo (another town on the Coast of the Gods) to the hamlet of Caroniti is worth the effort. Starting from the waterfront, you'll traverse woods up to the Poro plateau. The view from the top is monumental!
3. Looking for an epic view
The kiss Stromboli shares with the setting sun is an exclusive spectacle to witness along the Costa degli Dei twice a year, in spring and summer.
They call it Tramonti di Ulisse, Ulysses' sunsets, because even the Homeric hero was dazzled at such a sight. The visual impact is breathtaking.
The phenomenon can be observed from different locations and occurs in Tropea between April and May and between August and September.
Ideal places to see the sun descend into the sea from the mouth of the Stromboli are the beaches along the Calabrian Tyrrhenian coast, such as Marina dell'Isola and Rotonda.
Splendid vantage points are the Piazzetta del Cannone, Largo Duomo, Affaccio dei Sospiri, Largo Galluppi and the Rico Ripa belvedere, hidden between two buildings in Largo Magliarese.
2. Attending a local event
A variety of events reflecting a perfect fusion of sacred and secular culture make you live Tropea like a local.
Twice a year, in March and September, the entire community comes together to celebrate the patron saint, la Madonna di Romania. In August, the festivities shift to honouring Santa Maria dell'Isola, featuring a week of events culminating in a procession via the sea and a spectacular fireworks display on Ferragosto night.
On March 23rd, the Annunziata Fair offers a diverse range of products, from local specialities to souvenirs.
During the summer, the International Folklore Festival transforms streets and squares into a vibrant stage featuring international bands and groups.
The Tropea Blues Festival is a must-attend for music enthusiasts, with its notes enveloping the historic centre in a magical atmosphere.
The cultural events lineup is complete with the international poetry award Tropea: Mediterranean Waves and the Contemporary Theater Fest.
A treat for food lovers is the Red Onion Festival, offering tastings, music, and entertainment.
1. Exploring the surroundings
Just three recommendations for an amazing day trip.
A short distance from Tropea, Capo Vaticano offers outstanding panoramas with its white granite cliffs overlooking a sea so crystal clear that boats seem to float in mid-air when looking out over the belvedere near the lighthouse.
The easily accessible Aeolian Islands are another treasure trove of natural wonders. Several shipping companies offer mini-day cruises departing from Tropea.
Head north to visit one of the most popular destinations for travellers in Calabria, Pizzo Calabro. Enter the Aragonese castle, exchange (with a local?) tender effusions in Vicolo dei Baci (alley of kisses) and sample the sweet and irresistible local speciality: tartufo gelato.