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If you want to explore another side of Italy, there is no doubt that holidays to Tropea will guide you off the beaten track. The charming historic town is perched on top of a cliff that towers above the mesmerising blue and turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and is part of the wider region of Calabria, in Southern Italy.
Famed for the quality of its sweet tasting red onions, cipolla di Tropea or Tropea’s onion has become synonymous throughout Italy when referring to all red onions. However, there is so much more to the small town. Tropea overlooks Stromboli, a small island that inhibits one of three active volcanoes in Italy and while the volcano has been active for more than 2,000 years, Tropea itself dates back to medieval times, with traces of civilization dating back to 4,500 BC.
Tropea has borne witness to the rise and fall of the Ancient Greek authority, the Byzantines, Roman Empire, the Normans and more. With a history laced with the thread of Greek mythology, legend has it that Hercules declared Tropea to be one of his ports along the 40km of La Costa degli Dei - The Golden Coast of the Gods.
The town embodies a wonderful combination of majestic natural beauty, fascinating architectural charm and is in close proximity to the mysterious Aeolian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great for couples, explorers and adventurers alike, the seaside terrace town of Tropea is a historical and cultural escape just waiting to be explored.
Tropea may not spring to mind when considering the go to coastal towns in Italy, to those in the know, including our Italy experts, the seaside town is referred to as ‘The Pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea’ or ‘The Jewel of Calabria.’ In addition to its impressive scenery, crystal blue waters, natural balconies, colourful buildings and verdant groves, there are numerous lively trattorias and piazzas in its centro storico - Old Town.
Tropea is a curious maze of winding narrow lanes where a passeggiata - a leisurely stroll in the evenings - often takes place. Why not take an alternative stroll through the less visited citrus groves and vineyards surrounding the town and sample the superb regional wines? Alternatively, take a horseback ride through the meadows and olive groves.
If you’re arriving in July, head to the annual Sagra del pesce azzurro - the Blue Tail Fish Festival and The Red Onion Festival – which takes place to celebrate local produce and culinary traditions. Of course the best part is the tasting of these traditional delicacies, and there is also a biannual blues festival for live music lovers.
Visitors can simply relax and take in the obvious beauty of the beaches lining the Coast of the Gods, including Tropea Beach, Cannone Beach, Rotonda Beach, ‘A Linguata Beach, L’Occhiale Beach and the Marina dell’Isola. Though, there are many water activity clubs that will keep energetic visitors occupied, as well as kitesurfing and windsurfing for the thrill seekers.
In addition to popping in to the small artisan shops, bars and cafés on and around the main street of Corso Vittorio Emanuele or in the main square, get lost in the history of the must see monuments. The 12th Century Cathedral of Maria Santissima di Romania, the Franciscan Monastery, The Duomo and the Church of Santa Maria dell’lsola are musts for history lovers.
Tropea’s location also allows easy access to the stunning Aeolian archipelago by ferry. Here you’ll find thermal springs, mud baths, hiking trails, black sand beaches and evening viewings of the erupting Stromboli.
Dishes from Tropea are consistent with those you would encounter throughout the rest of Southern Italy. A healthy balance of meat, fish and vegetables - of which aubergine is the most popular, is what will be chalked up on the boards outside the restaurants.
As well as the sweet red onions of Tropea and Calabrian oil, a distinct feature of the region’s cuisine is the fiery peperoncino chilli peppers, or what locals refer to as ‘red gold’. These red hot peppers can be found on most menus in its most famous form, ’nduja di Spilinga. This spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria and is made up of finely minced pork, sweet pepper, peperoncino and salt. Once cured, the spread is best enjoyed with bread, grilled fish or meat, on pizza or as a pasta sauce.
The local red wine is a must, with the fresh dishes and Calabria’s answer to Limoncello, Liquore al bergamotto, pairing perfectly. Liquore al bergamotto is made from the region’s bergamot oranges, and is said to help with digestion.
Among traditional ice cream flavour favourites, Tropea boasts its own red onion flavoured gelato. If the sound of that doesn’t entice you, latte di mandorla, a chilled sweet almond milk, might be the better option.