Best Calabria Beaches – The Most Alluring Stretches of Sand
Best Calabria beaches? Who knew Calabria had brilliant beaches? Well, it has wonderful stretches of sand and cosy coves to rival Italy’s finest beaches. However, it also has some fairly shabby holiday towns, which is why you need our comprehensive guide to where to spread your towel.
Best Calabria Beaches – The Most Alluring Stretches of Sand
Italy’s southernmost region of Calabria remains fairly unknown to foreigners, so I’m going to assume that most of you probably won’t know the lay of the land as you might areas such as the Cinque Terre or Amalfi Coast.
Our comprehensive guide to the best Calabria beaches begins on the northern end of the west coast and border with Basilicata, and stretches right down and around the southern ‘toe’ of Italy, before climbing back up toward the ‘heel’ in a north-easterly direction, stretching around to the northwest and continuing right along the northeastern coast to the border again.
We’re only covering what we believe to be the best Calabria beaches, but there are so many more than what I’ve listed here. While hugely popular with Italians in summer, the region’s coast sees very few foreigners compared to the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre.
The Tyrrhenian Sea coastline on the western side of Calabria boasts the finest stretches of sand in our opinion – white and cream sand beaches, often skirting dramatic coves, with spectacular settings such as those at the stunningly located towns of Pizzo, Tropea and Scilla.
The Ionian Sea coastline on the eastern side of the region tends to be home to longer, flatter beaches that don’t capture the imagination as much, but they’ll do the trick if all you’re looking for is a low-key vibe and an affordable place to soak up the sun.
Calabria has a mix of sand and pebble beaches, all offering crystal clear waters that are ideal for swimming, snorkelling and diving. For seafood lovers, marine life in the region is abundant, with swordfish, tuna, anchovies, sardines and mackerel sharing the waters with swimmers, snorkelers and divers, making post-beach feasts, washed down with white wine, almost as enticing as the beaches.
Northwest Tyrrhenian Coast
Known as the Cedri Riviera or Citrus Coast, the northern Tyrrhenian coastline is a massively popular summer holiday destination for Italians with some of the best Calabria beaches. It’s best to explore outside of the summer months, when traffic can be heavy and parking non-existent. If you’re doing a road trip, all of the towns on this length of coast could be visited in one day.
Práia a Mare
One of the first Calabrian towns you’ll arrive at if driving down the Tyrrhenian coast from Basilicata, Práia a Mare is a massively popular summer holiday spot. The main street is lined with eucalyptus trees and the seaside promenade with pine trees, yet the long wide grey sand beach is rocky in parts.
There are canopied cafés on the waterfront, sun beds and umbrellas can be hired from the lidos, along with canoes, pedalos, and sailing boats. Beach volleyball courts are set up on the sand and go karts are for hire across the road.
There is a smaller, more attractive, crescent-shaped beach south of the main beach. It’s rocky and a challenge to access, yet it’s more picturesque, situated opposite a small craggy island.
There are several more attractive coves south of Práia toward Scalea, with crystal clear waters that are wonderful for swimming. Scalea itself is a low-key summer holiday resort.
Diamante’s grey-sand beach is not the most attractive, the paint on its grand pastel-coloured buildings is peeling, and its diminutive old town won’t hold your attention for long. Yet this northern Tyrrhenian seaside town is a fashionable destination for Italians.
It’s worth parking your car near the beach and taking a wander around the old town, where the building walls are painted with murals. Try to visit on a weekend when a market sprawls along the pleasant waterfront.
Diamante is famous for its spicy peppers and sausages and the stalls here sell delicious preserves in jars. Also popular with the locals is a van selling hot panini with spicy aniseed-tinged sausages, potatoes and mayonnaise.
After visiting the leafy modern town with its attractive marina and beach, drive up to the Baroque centro storico on the hill above town, built around and among the ruins of a Norman castle.
Park your car near the pretty belvedere, lined with towering palm trees, then head up the stairs and through the doglegged laneway of the medieval entrance to explore this labyrinthine old town. Note the elegant Palazzo Perez on your left.
Visit midweek or any day at midday and Belvedere Marittimo feels like a ghost town. Only the decorative ceramic reliefs on the buildings provide any kind of hint at the mayhem that can erupt on a midsummer weekend afternoon when the place is crammed with Italian holidaymakers here to take in the atmosphere and buy the town’s famous ceramics.
There are panoramic views across the square and down to the coast from the 16th century Chiesa Santa Maria del Popolo.
Unlike many cities and towns in Calabria, Amantea’s small modern commercial centre, like those in Reggio, Cosenza and Vibo Valentia, is a lovely place to spend some time, especially during a Sunday afternoon passeggiata in the warmer months when the main street and the waterfront promenade really come alive.
Being by the sea, fishing has always been a mainstay of the economy, and gastronomes will love Amantea’s fantastic stores specializing in preserved treats, such as anchovies in different types of olive oils. For us, the real reason to visit Amantea, however, is its cliff-top old town.
Vibo Valentia Coast
Calabria’s smallest province, Vibo Valentia, is also its luckiest, blessed with the region’s most spectacular coastline and beaches (pictured above), its liveliest provincial capital, its most beautiful towns in Tropea and Pizzo, and a gastronomic scene that’s the envy of the region.
Bordering with Catanzaro to the north and east, Reggio di Calabria to the south, and the turquoise Tyrrenhian Sea to the west, Vibo Valentia offers the best of Calabria. The coastline is skirted by long stretches of sand, crescent beaches hugged by craggy rocks, and sheltered fishing coves carved from sheer cliffs.
The alluring hilltop towns of Tropea and Pizzo have an abundance of charm, boasting warrens of atmospheric lanes, pretty palazzos perched on cliff’s edge, gorgeous sea vistas from belvederes made for savouring the sunset with a cold beer in hand, and delicious gelato and tartuffo icecream, which are celebrated all over Italy.
Capo Vaticano serves up more splendid beaches backed by family-focused resorts and caravan and camping grounds, crammed with Italians during the summer holiday season. Inland, there are undulating slopes concealed by olive groves and grape vines and lush mountains ideal for hiking and mountain biking.
Pizzo is one of Calabria’s prettiest towns, with its pastel-painted palazzos and charming red-roofed residences sprawled across a headland that’s nearly as heavenly as its rival Tropea’s. Known locally as La Pizzu, this alluring coastal town on the Tyrrhenian Sea just north of Vibo Valentia is a delight to explore.
The sea vistas from the belvedere off Piazza della Repubblica and from Piazza Musolino are spectacular and from here a walking path and stairs take you down to the palm-lined Lungomare Cristoforo Colombo and a small beach on the southern side of the headland, and on the northern side a tiny sheltered fishing cove.
Dubbed ‘the Positano of the South’, because of its elegant palazzos with balconies dripping with bougainvillea, steep narrow streets, spectacular sea vistas, and superb sandy beaches, Tropea is Calabria’s most enchanting town and is also the location of some of the best Calabria beaches.
Stunningly situated on the Tyrrenhian Sea, at the foot of Mount Poro, which separates the Gulf of Gioia Tauro from the Gulf of San Eufemia, Tropea sits atop an enormous miocenic sandstone rock, known locally as La Rupe (the cliff) or Il Scoglio (the rock).
The town’s elegant old sandstone palazzos and somewhat crumbling apartments seamlessly blend with the sheer cliffs, which dramatically drop down to the coastal road and sea below. From the sandy beach it appears as if Tropea has been carved out of the very rock that it’s perched upon.
To add to the drama of the setting, another smaller rock, L’Isola Bella (the beautiful island), above, strikingly juts into the sea, with the splendid convent, Santa Maria dell’Isola standing on top, located in a luxuriant garden.
Tropea has two of the best Calabria beaches, the stunning Spiaggia Della Rotonda and Mar Piccolo (Little Sea) at the foot of the convent, immediately below town, and marvellous Mare Grande (Big Sea) and Spiaggia Del Convento, on the other side of the convent.
Both are within walking distance of the historic town centre, accessible by stairs from Largo Duomo. Mare Piccolo is a ten-minute walk and Mare Grande a further five minutes away. There is another set of stairs that take you straight to Mare Grande beneath Largo Porta Vaticana.
The beach at Parghelia, on the other side of the port, is best reached by car. There are lidos on all the beaches where you can hire sun beds and umbrellas, but there is also free beach space to spread out your towel.
The coast between Tropea and Capo Vaticano is home to some of the best Calabria beaches. On the south side of the Cape, on the Golfo di Gioia Tauro, is one of the region’s most dramatic stretches of coastline, best appreciated on a drive from Nicotera, heading north in the direction of Tropea.
There are dozens of beaches, from long wide stretches of sand to tiny crescent beaches within pretty coves protected by craggy rocks and sheer cliffs. The water is crystal clear and the beaches pristine. There are lidos all along here where umbrellas and sun beds can be rented for the day, while it’s also possible to find the occasional stretch of free sand.
The problem? Unless you’re staying at one of the beach resorts or caravan and camping grounds dotted along the coast, you’ll have a difficult time accessing the beach. There are few parking spaces and in summer you’ll have a very long walk.
Whatever you do, avoid the area in August when the whole of Italy is on holiday and it’s impossible to find a spare grain of sand to spread your towel out on.
The good news is that Capo Vaticano’s proximity to the mountains means that when you tire of the beach (or can’t get access to the beach) you can head into the hills for walking, hiking, horse-riding and mountain biking.
The Violet Coast or La Costa Viola
This former Magna Graecia city is now a rather messy modern town of dilapidated buildings and half-completed grey concrete blocks, however, there is a superb, long, creamy sand beach, backed by bars. In the compact older part of town there are handsome baroque buildings and a few churches that are worth a look.
Also worth noting: Gioia Tauro is one of Italy’s biggest ports, controlled by the ’Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia, which was found to be using the facility as a base for illegal trafficking.
The so-called ‘jewel of the Costa Viola’ according to the tourism marketing brochures, Palmi was popular with the English aristocracy at the turn of the 20th century. It’s now a tad shabby, however, its seaside quarter, Lido di Palmi offers one of best Calabria beaches and spectacular views down the coastline to the south, accessible by boat.
The steep terraced slopes between the town and beach are lovely, covered with groves of oversized olive trees and gravity-defying grape vines that are definitely worth a look but don’t warrant an overnight stay.
Home to one of the best Calabria beaches, Scilla, sprawled over a rocky headland that juts into the aquamarine sea, is also one of Calabria’s most alluring towns. On one side of the headland – crowned with an imposing castle – is a long, wide, white-sand beach, backed by colourful houses stacked up high to the top of the hill.
On the other side of the bluff is the charming old neighbourhood of Chianalea with its pretty pastel-painted houses squeezed between sea and road. Sitting right beside the water, it’s a breathtaking sight when the waves crash dramatically against the buildings. But on a calm day, there could be no lovelier place to be with a glass of wine than on the wooden deck of their restaurants overlooking the sea.
There is very little to do at Scilla, other than visit Ruffo Castle and explore the atmospheric streets of the upper town and its few churches, but that’s just the way its devoted fans like it. Action centres on the beach and lidos by day.
In the afternoons, a stroll to the fishing harbour is warranted to watch the daily catch of swordfish come in fresh off the boats. And in the evenings, a feast of fresh seafood at one of the waterfront restaurants should be followed by a moonlit stroll once more along the shore.
Scilla is incredibly popular in summer and on weekends throughout the year, when it’s best to book ahead.
Reggio di Calabria’s Southwest and East Coasts
Reggio di Calabria province is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes of Calabria. The province’s northwestern shore boasts a dramatic coastline, where enormous emerald mountains majestically meet the Tyrrhenian Sea, suddenly dropping away to sheer cliffs and rocky headlands hiding jagged bays and sandy beaches.
Immediately south of the city of Reggio di Calabria, a string of good beaches offer weekend escapes for Reggio’s residents and windsurfing is popular here. The isolated interior is marked by steep mountains, meadows blanketed by wildflowers, towering dark forests, and deep hidden valleys carved by dry rocky river beds. But let’s tell you about the coast for now.
The Ionion Coast
The further southeast you travel along the coast from Reggio Calabria, the towns unfortunately become a little scruffy. While the sea is calm and safe for swimming, and the water is crystal clear, the areas around the beaches are a tad unkempt. The train line runs beside the shore and the main road is on the inland side of the tracks and it’s often hard to find a place to cross the rail lines. There are a few towns worth stopping at if you’re road-tripping the coast.
Some 13kms east of Mélito di Porto Salvo, Bova Marina is home to several grand pastel-coloured buildings, but is unfortunately blighted by ugly concrete apartment blocks. However, from the headland at the eastern end of town there are lovely views of the coast and Sicily. Another 12kms east, Galati on Capo Spartivento offers even more stunning views of the coastline.
On the east coast, Locri was once one of the most prosperous city-states of Magna Graecia. Now a fairly shabby town, whose saving grace is a pretty lemon-coloured church on the small main square, it nevertheless offers long sandy beaches.
Marina di Gioiosa Jonica
Marina di Gioiosa Jonica, 4kms north, and Rocella Jonica, 8kms further on, are two of the more pleasant towns on this stretch of coast, peppered with some of the best Calabria beaches on this coast. Popular with Italian families, they get packed in summer.
Marina di Gioiosa Jonica has a lively waterfront with several gelaterias and Art Nouveau-style cafés. Rocella Jonica, meanwhile, boasts an attractive seafront promenade lined with palm trees, a captivating castle overlooking town, and a bustling little piazza where the locals like to linger over drinks at the café tables in the evenings. Inland, are the atmospheric villages of Gerace and Stilo.
The coastline of the province of Catanzaro may not boast the best Calabria beaches, but its laid-back vibe and off-the-beaten-track location is part of the allure for lovers of all things local.
Covers part of the sole of Italy’s boot, stretching from the provinces of Crotone and Cosenza in the north, along the Gulf of Squillace on its eastern shore, to the province of Reggio di Calabria in the south, and Vibo Valentia to the west.
It may be Calabria’s least engaging province for travellers, with a coastline of lacklustre towns, sprawling cookie-cutter holiday developments and scruffy caravan and camping grounds.
Soverato is one of the most affluent and more attractive towns on this stretch, with a splendid 16th century watchtower, a wide seaside promenade shaded by palm trees and oleander bushes, and garden pizzerias that burst at the seams in summer.
The main street of Corso Umberto I is lined with grand buildings and the elegant Chiesa del Rosario. On the last Sunday of the month, it’s closed for the lively Fiera Espositiva dell’Antiquariato (antique fair). It’s not to be missed if you’re in the area.
While these may not be the best Calabria beaches, between Soverato and Copanello the squeaky creamy stretches of sand are pleasant enough.
Marina di Badolato, 14 kms south of Soverato, is also pleasant, with a good creamy sand beach and crystal clear water, although it’s less developed and there are fewer facilities.
Some 13 kms from the provincial capital, Catanzaro Marina has a grey-sand beach, lively seaside promenade, waterfront cafés, and a fishing harbour. Just south of here are a string of popular lidos on slate grey beaches, backed by laidback camping grounds, wooden cabins, motel-style holiday units, and newer holiday houses.
BEST CALABRIA TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
Have you been to the region? Which of the best Calabria beaches do you recommend?