We certainly could not miss a pleasant journey in what we believe to be one of the most fascinating and suggestive coastal regions of Italy: Calabria.
Absolute protagonist of our itinerary was, in particular, a stretch of coast of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, the so-called "Coast of the Gods", characterized by an extraordinary succession of bays, headlands, white beaches and an incredibly crystalline sea.
In Calabria, we started an excellent route starting from Pizzo Calabro, and then proceeding to Tropea and Capo Vaticano.
An ancient seafaring village overlooking the sea and perched on a tuffaceous rock in the center of the Gulf of Sant'Eufemia: we immediately marveled at its "Spiaggia della Seggiola": a small fjord in middle of the village dominated by the Aragonese Castle.
The center of the village consists of an enchanting Piazza della Repubblica with its Belvedere "Spunduni", from which it is possible to fully enjoy a picturesque view of the sea and on top of the underlying and characteristic fishing village.
This square is the heart of the ancient village from which spread a dense network of alleys, subways, arches and steps characterizing the entire historic part, clearly of Aragonese architectural evidence.
Just a few meters from the square is the Castle Murat, a fascinating castle dating back to the second half of the fifteenth century, which was built according to the wishes of Ferdinando I of Aragona.
In reality, the construction of the Murat Castle took place concretely in two different historical periods.
The first and original part of the structure consisted only of the larger tower called the Mastia Tower, dating back to the end of the 1300s. Its construction seems to be part of the defensive system, implemented by the Angevins, for the defense of coastal towns from Saracen incursions.
One hundred years later, Ferdinando I continued the construction during the fortification process of the coasts of southern Italy to contain the Saracen raids that raged in the seas of the Southern Italy.
With an order, dated November 12, 1480, he was willing to add a massive rectangularbuilt to the already existing Angevin tower; the new one was equipped with a conical-shaped tower, somewhat smaller than the previous one.
It was never a noble residence, but continued to always represent a military fortress as well as a prison.
This splendid castle, which today presents itself, as a majestic quadrangular building enriched by the two cylindrical towers, is "leaning" on the cliff overlooking the sea and the small port below and, on the opposute side, it is surrounded by a deep moat.
Here, we have rediscovered a real treasure of the past, in all its charm!
The castle, inside, was originally accessed through a drawbridge built in the middle of two towers, which has now been replaced by a stone bridge.
At the entrance, on the main portal, there is a memorial plaque of Gioachino Murat, King of Naples, Napoleon's brother-in-law and a more famous prisoner who was shot inside the castle.
Murat was shot on October 13, 1815, after several days of imprisonment, following a summary trial held in the main hall of the castle, and was later buried in the church of St. George in a mass grave.
A historical reconstruction has been set up inside the manor house, with costume mannequins, which reproduces the last days of Gioacchino Murat's life. Must visit!
Also, inside the castle it is possible to visit the basements where there are the cells in which Murat and some soldiers of his expedition were locked up, while on the upper floor is the room where the trial against the former King of Naples took place, the cell in which he spent the last days of his life and the gallery where Murat himself was shot are placed.
From the upper floor you can access the terraces of the castle where you may enjoy a fantastic view of the Gulf of Sant'Eufemia.
Special feature: inside the castle, in the entrance hall on the first floor, there is the so-called "marble helmet", placed in a window next to the bust of Gioacchino Murat. This helmet is the only element remaining of a statue depicting Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, King of Naples, which had been placed in the square also called the "Spuntone" and five meters high.
The statue was a work by Canova and De Vivo, which was destroyed in 1860 by a garibaldine brigade staying in Pizzo.
After our visit to the Murat Castle, the opportunity to enjoy a typical delicacy presented to us: the well-known Pizzo truffle (Tartufo di Pizzo)!
Among the many variations available, we decided to taste the traditional truffle: a homemade hazelnut ice cream that is modeled, strictly in the palm of a hand, with a heart of melted dark chocolate and covered with a sprinkling of bitter cocoa.
Of an astonishing quality, it is no coincidence that Pizzo truffle is the first ice cream in Europe to have obtained the IGP mark.
Absolutely have to enjoy it!
From Piazza della Repubblica, we continued our discovery of Pizzo.
From a staircase on the right of the square we went down to the lower part of the village, reaching the promenade.
Obviously, it was impossible not to dedicate a few hours to the enchanting and lively "Spiaggia della Seggiola" beach: wonderful sea and sun!
It was hard to resist searching for other beaches of the coast of Pizzo and, for this reason, we also made a stop on the beach of Calamaio (a wide beach of fine sand, surrounded by a pine forest), at the beach of Marinella (also called "A tunnara" -tuna beach- because once fishing and tuna processing took place here) and finally in the beach of Piedigrotta (famous for its small church carved into the tufa, a wonderful beach of fine sand).
After a wonderful day at the seaside, we returned to the heart of the village and our attention was immediately captured by one of the so-called minor churches: the Church of Mary Immaculate.
It is located on the opposite side to the Belvedere Spunduni. The Church, definitely well preserved, dates back to 1630 and was erected from the congregation of local merchants and farmers devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Recently restored, it has a pleasant façade with very clear hues, with a portal surmounted by a semicircular arch underlined by the semi-arches that frame the side windows of the upper level: the latter is dominated by the statue of the Immaculate Mary at the center, in great prominence, in an arched niche.
The building is surmounted by a crucifix and a lateral bell tower.
Inside are kept several works of art worthy of note, many of which have the Virgin as a protagonist.
Among these we suggest an evocative painting, depicting the Madonna that saves sailors from the shipwreck, the Annunciation and several wooden statues preserved in the sacristy.
Another place you must visit in Pizzo Calabro is certainly the little church of Madonna di Piedigrotta, adjacent to the beach of the same name. It is a real peculiarity: being entirely carved into the rock!
Inside there are several sculptural groups that furnish it, they are statues created by the same sedimentary rock that tell scenes of the Holy Scriptures.
It was a really exciting experience to visit this place.
Traveling just under 30 kilometers south of Pizzo, we reached Tropea: a wonderful seaside resort, defined by most as "the pearl of the Tyrrhenian Sea".
First obligatory stop (and absolutely recommended) is its historic center, located more than 60 meters high and overlooking the sea, which contains 4 breathtaking panoramic points!
The first viewpoint you come across, just arrived in town, is "Largo Villetta" a square from which you can admire the entire coast below, a stretch that goes from the so-called "Marina of the island" to the "Marina del Convento".
Taking a small alley on the right you will find yourself in Largo Magliarese, the second belvedere square. So get ready to admire, just from there, a view to say the least -extraordinary-.
You will find yourself in front of the glimpse-symbol of the entire Calabria, now become a real tourist icon: the view from the top of the church of Santa Maria dell'Isola. Absolutely fascinating!
Entering again in the dense network of alleys, you will reach the third and extraordinary view, right in Largo Galluppi from which a stairway leads directly to the sea. From this vantage point you can admire the San Leonardo rock, the marina and, in the distance, the Pizzuta rock.
Our last stop dedicated to the fine views of the town is the balcony at the end of "Largo Duomo", from which it is possible to enjoy the surrounding hinterland to the wonderful Tropea.
We have not resisted visiting the symbol of the town and, after a first "hike" to the old town (the upper part of Tropea), we hurried to reach the Sanctuary of Santa Maria island.
A structure of particular attractiveness for its position: it is in fact placed on top of a majestic sandstone rock that until a few centuries ago was surrounded by the sea.
Today it is possible to reach the top of the rock, and therefore the sanctuary, by means of a steep staircase that starts directly from the mainland that was built in 1810.
We took a long visit to the sanctuary, visiting both the Museum inside and the gardens behind the church and from which it is possible to admire surprising natural foreshortening and incredible views.
We went down from the sanctuary, then decided to visit the lower part of Tropea, called "Marina" which is situated close to the sea and the tourist port.
Right there is located the beach that everyone calls "Mare piccolo" or "Spiaggia Marina dell'Isola" which has been the setting for many of our tropea mornings.
A splendid inlet of fine white sand, lapped by the waves of an exceptionally crystalline sea!
Tropea also offers many others beautiful beaches. We point out, among the most suggestive, the "beach of the Rotonda": get ready for a breathtaking view. The beach opens up behind a cliff overlooking the sea, simply extraordinary.
Still, definitely worth seeing is the beach "'A Linguata". It is the largest beach in Tropea, favored by young holidaymakers, it hosts a lively beach volley field right next to a very well-structured beach, where there is also the possibility to enjoy a few hours of snorkeling or rent canoes and pedal boats.
A marvelous little beach is placed, next to what is called "the cave of the Palombaro"; this romantic beach can only be reached along the island, guaranteed!
For lovers of tranquility, we suggest, instead, the "Spiaggia del Cannone". It is one of the smallest and least frequented due to its hidden location: located behind the north pier of the marina near the San Leonardo rock. So many hours of relaxation await you on a surprising and comforting beach!
Between a beach and the other, we recommend a morning entirely dedicated to the "discovery" of a magnificent historical downtown, you will not be disappointed!
The historic part is full of churches of various ages (from the Norman Cathedral to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and, again, from St. Mary of the Snow to the Church of the Annunciation) and evocative noble palaces that preserve precious interiors urban furnishings.
Outside these patrician houses it is possible to admire the eighteenth-century balconies (many of them overlooking the sea) and the imposing portals placed at the entrance of their own buildings.
All enclosed in a labyrinth of narrow streets that open into beautiful squares and suddenly overlook the sea below or on green terraces.
Many noble palaces have been built overhanging the sea at a considerable height, with windows and balconies that open directly onto one of the most beautiful corners of the Mediterranean Sea.
A definitely suggestive experience was that of walking through the center of the town, characterized by evocative alleys, dotted with characteristic workshops of iron, wood, terracotta and textile artisans.
Along Via Boiano, the oldest and most evocative street in the old town, our attention has focused on "Villa Braghò", one of the patrician residences of Tropea with its redundant barack portal of 1721.
The old town is rich in fascinating ancient buildings. The characteristic portals of these ancient residences testify to a noble past. Each of these buildings, characterized by its own stylistic identity, deserves adequate attention!
Probably, a morning will not be enough to grasp all the details of this little "treasure", so we suggest you to take advantage of all the time available to stop at every detail of the streets you may find!
Continuing the visit in the heart of Tropea, you will meet the Duomo: a basilica-shaped building on three naves with stone pillars. It was erected in the twelfth century on the remains of a Byzantine cemetery and is a particular example of Sicilian-Norman Romanesque style.
On the façade it shows the main entrance in tuff stone. The left side is instead characterized by a portico with stone arches with a Gothic structure and fake windows covered with masonry.
During the walk in the historic center will not go unnoticed a very special fountain, called "the three fountains" ( le tre fontane).
The stylistic typology of this, albeit small fountain, differs from that of the other fountains of the village.
It is characterized, in fact, by decorative elements in granite of the delicious shells and three elements of Carrara marble depicting as many newts wrapped around the vertical axis.
Most likely, from what we are told, this particular stylistic choice is the result of the spontaneous compositional expression of the local workers, who assembled the various elements coming from different compositions. Definitely unusual!
Our stop in Tropea almost comes to an end, before leaving however it is 'a must' to give our attention, once again, to the local culinary specialties: in particular the Tropea red onion and the 'nduja (types of sausage made from meat and spices)
Regarding culinary specialities, we point out the restaurant Carpe Diem: a fine restaurant in the heart of Tropea that has hosted us more than once during our itinerary.
For all those who want to taste the typical Tropea cuisine we highly recommend it. Excellent pizza too!
So... everything is now ready to resume the journey. We prepare the luggage and leave, albeit reluctantly, Tropea for our last stop in Calabria: Capo Vaticano.
Many thanks, of course, to the hotel that hosted us during these wonderful days of absolute relaxation: the Hotel Perla. Excellent place to stay.
As soon as we arrived in this wonderful seaside resort, from the rocky promontory of the Municipality of Ricadi that divides the Gulf of Santa Eufemia from the Gulf of Gioia Tauro, we have been virtually rapt by a succession of breathtaking views!
At Capo Vaticano, less than 10 kilometers from Tropea, one thing you should not miss is the "belvedere" with its 124 meters of height.
From that point it is possible to see a myriad of coves and wonderful natural inlets, characterized by white sand and an extraordinarily crystalline sea.
Wonder of nature!
After such a vision, we could not resist exploring small beaches with the help of a boat (very cheap!).
In fact, some of these wonderful beaches can only be reached by sea. It has been possible to discover delicious bays of white and very fine sand and to admire breathtaking backdrops.
After our boat trip we dedicated ourselves to the discovery of other beaches accessible via narrow paths and characterized by wild vegetation. A fully recommended experience!
Among the most beautiful beaches, we recommend a visit to Tono beach, Santa Maria beach, Torre Ruffa beach, Praia di Fuoco beach, Formicoli beach and Riaci beach.
For lovers of "comfort" we point out the famous beach of Grotticelle, well equipped with umbrellas and sunbeds, easy to access and equipped with dining options, bars and restaurants.
It, in reality, consists of three contiguous beaches made of fine white sand.
The incredibly blue and transparent sea and the shallow waters make this beach an authentic paradise, one of the must-see beaches in Capo Vaticano.
Visiting this place was an extraordinary experience.
All the coastline is definitely fine, offers pleasant and continuous discoveries among the beautiful natural scenery that characterize every corner of the coast.
In this ancient fishing village, a legend says that in old times there was an oracle right at the top of the promontory to which local sailors turned before facing the sea, visiting it in the cave where he lived, which is under the rock that took its name: Mantineo (which in Greek means "communicating the divine will").
In just under seven kilometers of crystal clear water that can take on different shades of color in a striking way (from the deepest blue to the turquoise and deep blue), Capo Vaticano is followed by panoramas of great beauty and indescribable charm.
Let's say goodbye to Calabria with so much satisfaction for having visited such enchanting places!
Our preferred restaurants and hotels during this itinerary were: