Going troppo for Tropea
As West Australians, we love our white beaches. When you experience Italy, they’re hard to find, especially around the Amalfi coast so popular with Australian travellers longing to get back there.
While the water can be crystal clear, anyone who’s walked barefoot across the pebbles at Positano knows it can be a beach balancing act.
But three hours south of the Amalfi coast is a wonderful typical Italian town called Tropea, full of white beaches and holidaymakers, yet hardly a non-Italian in sight. The masks are gone as Italy returns to normality.
With our travel bans, there are virtually no Australians there now despite their southern Italian warm weather — but we could be back next year, so let’s whet your appetite.
Unlike some Italian tourist towns with narrow alleyways that can be claustrophobic, Tropea has wide boulevards crammed with al fresco cafes, while all roads lead to the very pretty beaches surrounding this town in Calabria.
It’s a kaleidoscope of colour here, packed with Italians either side of the single beach club with its ubiquitous umbrellas.
And it’s actually easy to get to, with frequent trains through Tropea connecting to Lamezia Terme airport just 45 minutes north.
Tropea has been described as Calabria’s most picturesque village. What makes it such a special place is the interesting architecture and enticing atmosphere in the old town, perched high on the cliff overlooking the alluring white beaches below.
And the Calabrian locals here are so friendly. We visited just before our lockdown, rolling our bags downhill from the train station before two complete strangers went out of their way to call our hotel and walk us there.
Tropea is big enough to have sufficient shops to keep you busy for days, yet small enough to maintain its quaint village atmosphere.
It’s easy to walk around Tropea’s cobblestone streets because most of the old town is pedestrian only and full of flowers, allowing the al fresco restaurants to take on a laid-back yet romantic atmosphere. Locals here don’t eat till late and cafes don’t fill till after 10pm, serenaded by the music and dancing of the many colourful local festivals that are a delight at night.
The local cuisine is memorable, sourced fresh from the sea and the surprisingly green hills around Tropea. The grilled seafood including the local blue fish is superb, while the seafood pasta is sublime. And you can’t leave town without trying the local specialty of sweet red onions known as cipolla rossa added to dishes in various ways.
There’s an outstanding little al fresco trattoria with excellent dishes tucked away in a corner of Tropea called Il Convivo. It is indeed a convivial place of eating, sipping a cool summer cocktail and taking in the historic architecture, sprinkled with red geraniums in flower boxes above you.
The fishermen who supply the daily fresh seafood are following their ancestors, who’ve been protected since the seventh century by Santa Maria dell’Isola — the Madonna of the Island: a remarkable rocky sight just off the white beaches and visible from all parts of Tropea.
Bring your walking shoes because after a steep stroll to the beach, it’s more steep steps up to the sanctuary with its much-visited chapel and cross of Christ looking out to sea.
Like most of Italy, the Calabrians are Catholics, and here you’ll find historic religious icons and crosses seamlessly built into architecture all around town.
The seafarers of Tropea have good reason to seek protection from above. Ferry trips to the nearby actively-volcanic Aeolian islands can be cancelled because of big swells, which happened while we were there before the lockdown.
When we’re allowed to spread our wings again, I highly recommend Tropea for Australians who want to discover somewhere new and exciting: a beautiful beach town with atmosphere and style, and not yet overrun by mass tourism.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails