Tropea was voted Italy’s most beautiful village of villages. Locals call the clifftop seaside town ‘the Positano of Southern Italy’ because it’s absolutely breathtaking. That means it’s also one of the most popular destinations in Calabria in summer, which is why autumn, spring and winter are wonderful times to go if you want to avoid the summer crowds.
Elegant pastel-coloured palazzi with balconies dripping with bougainvillea, atmospheric cobblestone streets, and spectacular sea vistas at almost every turn, Tropea is easily Calabria’s most gorgeous seaside town and its stretches of shimmering sand some of Calabria’s most beautiful beaches.
And according to Italians who voted for Italy’s ‘borghi più belli d’Italia’, Italy’s most beautiful villages, out of 260 villages in a national competition in 2021, Tropea was named Italy’s ‘Borgo dei Borghi’, the ‘Village of the Villages’.
Stunningly located in Southern Italy 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 sandstone rock called La Rupe (the cliff) or Il Scoglio (the rock).
To add to the drama of Tropea’s spectacular setting, a smaller rock, L’Isola Bella (the beautiful island) strikingly juts into the sea, with its splendid old convent, Santa Maria dell’Isola perched on top.
The town’s handsome sandstone palazzos seamlessly blend with the sheer cliffs, which dramatically drop down to the narrow coastal road, slender snowy sands and sparkling turquoise sea. From the beach below, it appears as if Tropea has been carved out of the very rock that it sprawls across.
By far the best way to explore this historic clifftop town is by foot and the Tropea stroll below is how we recommend you do that. Leave the hire car at the hotel and don’t bother with bicycles here. Just slip on some comfy walking shoes and you’re set.
Note: I created this Tropea walking tour when we were researching and writing the first English travel guidebook to Calabria some years ago. While some things never change in these ancient Italian towns, some do. Feedback always welcome in the Comments below.
Tropea, Calabria’s Positano of Southern Italy
Tropea is a wonderful place to settle into for a while, not only to explore the town and laze on its beaches, but it’s also a great base for day trips and drives.
Where to Stay in Tropea
Tropea Boutique Hotel
The most centrally located for your Tropea walking tour, the Tropea Boutique Hotel is just 150 m from Marina dell’Isola and offers some of Tropea’s most breathtaking sea views. There are few better spots to take in the sunset and silhouette of Stromboli than from the hotel’s rooftop terrace. The rooms and bathrooms aren’t as spacious as our picks below, but the location and those views make up for it. Service is warm and friendly.
Book the Tropea Boutique Hotel with our booking partner.
Solmaris Tropea Rooms & Suites
Just 300 metres from the beach and historic heart of Tropea described in our walking tour, below, the modern Solmaris Tropea is a fantastic choice if you drove to Tropea, as there’s private parking. This intimate boutique hotel also offers complimentary airport taxis if you book a stay to the value of 220 euros. The spacious light-filled rooms have delightful wallpapered feature walls, big windows and most have balconies. Bonus: a stunning rooftop terrace with sun-beds.
Book the Solmaris Tropea with our booking partner.
Bonsai is another excellent hotel if you have a hire car as there’s on-street parking nearby. Located above the seafront and boasting sparkling water views from its terraces, Bonsai is fab if you want to split your time between the beach and town. If sea vistas from your room is a priority, choose carefully, as rooms offer ‘partial ocean views’ and ‘garden views’ of the town and mountains. Rooms are modern and comfortable.
Book Bonsai with our booking partner.
Tropea Walking Tour
Our Tropea walking tour is best started in the late afternoon or in summer in the early evening, but first a little history of Tropea to take with you.
History of Tropea
Legend has it that Hercules founded Tropea when he stopped to delight in a garden here and so taken was he with the area that he built a port and name the place after himself, Port Ercole.
The ancient Roman author Pliny the Elder supports this story, however, other stories have a victorious Sextus Pompeius, having won a battle again Octavius Augustus, celebrate his triumph (trofaea) by founding a town called… Trofaea.
The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Normans, Swabians, Angevins, Aragons and Bourbons all settled in Tropea at some point, however, it was under the Norman occupation that the town assumed a strategic maritime role under Ruggero II Guiscardo, a Duke of Calabria and Puglia.
Then there’s another story that attributes Tropea’s name to the words tropee and trupia, still used by local mariners to refer to the strong dangerous currents that characterise the sea around Tropea.
Where to Find Traces of Tropea’s History
In the well-preserved old centre of Tropea, traces of many different historic periods are much more apparent than in other towns and cities in Calabria, probably because Tropea managed to escape the degree of earthquake damage other Calabrian towns experienced.
During the Renaissance era, Tropea was a great literary centre and enjoyed a period of splendour that’s still evident in those stately palazzos, which belonged to aristocratics. As you wander around, you’ll see the coats of arms belonging to noble families still gracing some buildings.
On your ambles, you’ll get to peek into attractive cobblestone courtyards with pretty tinkling fountains, gawk at the grand 11th century Norman cathedral, pop into myriad churches, and slip under the massive Baroque, Arab and Gothic granite and sandstone portals around the town.
Exploring the enchanting warren of alleyways that is Tropea’s old town is one of the reasons to stay in Tropea itself, rather than by the beach.
When to Stroll Tropea
One of our great pleasures when we have been in Tropea has been to wake early in the morning for a saunter through the tranquil pedestrian-only streets to one of the belvederes (lookouts) to take in the sparkling sea, visible from a number of vantage points.
A stroll through the breezy lanes in the late afternoon when the buildings take on a golden-orange hue is something of a ritual with the locals, who always seem to have a gelato in hand.
And a walk after dinner is a perfect end to the day, when Tropea’s moodily lit lanes and gleaming cobblestones will remind you of Rome.
You can easily wander about Tropea at your own will, or you can do this Tropea walking tour, which takes in Tropea’s top sights and the most stunning views.
Tropea Walking Tour Route
This easy saunter around Tropea’s enchanting centro storico (old town) takes in the main attractions, atmospheric alleyways, marvellous palazzi, magnificent churches, and the alluring sea vistas from its popular belvederes.
Our Tropea walking tour begins and ends on the main square, Piazza Ercole, and takes about one hour, longer with stops for gelato and beers. It’s best done in the late afternoon.
This lovely piazza is lined with gelaterias and cafés with terraces, where you can sit in the sunshine and sample Tropea’s famed locally made gelato. Buy one before beginning your walk.
From Piazza Ercole follow Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Mercato to visit Chiesa Santa Caterina.
Chiesa Santa Caterina
Following the destruction of the Dominican church in the 1783 earthquake, restoration work incorporated the old church ruins within the new structure. Pop inside to admire the beautiful paintings.
Return along Corso Vittorio Emanuele to Piazza Ercole. Turn right on Via Roma, a charming shopping street, to Largo Duomo.
This imposing Norman Cathedral is one of Calabria’s finest, bearing the marks of several historical periods due to its piecemeal construction, as much as its rebuilding after earthquake damage.
Inside, two unexploded American bombs from World War II are displayed – with a grateful prayer to the Madonna attached.
Cross Largo Duomo to admire the views from the belvedere of the port and sea. Return to the corner of Largo Duomo and Via Boiano, and follow this alley to Largo Gallupi.
Largo Galluppi and Largo Municipio
This square was named after philosopher Pasquale Galluppi (1770-1846), born nearby on Largo di Francia, who became a professor at the University of Naples from 1831. Note the impressive portals, one Baroque and one Gothic.
The Municipal Square is surrounded by splendid buildings, including Ex Convento dei Francescani Conventuali, Congrega dei Nobili, and Ex Collegio Del PP Gesuiti.
Cross Largo Padre V M Netta to Chiesa del Gesu, on your right.
Chiesa del Gesu
The Chiesa del Gesu is an imposing 18th century Jesuit church built upon the ruins of a 17th century cathedral, dating to Early Christian and Byzantine times.
Pop inside to see precious relics, ornaments and vestments, an ornate Baroque altar, and valuable paintings.
Follow narrow Via D’Aquino across Piazza Toraldo Grimaldi and along Via Aragona. Turn right on Dardano, cross Vico Delle Pentite, turn left on Largo Sannio and right on Via Pelliccia.
This belvedere boasts the most spectacular views in Tropea, looking directly onto the crystal clear sea and white sand beach, known as Mar Piccolo (little sea), and the stunning Santa Maria della’Isola convent on the headland on the left. Savour these sublime vistas before continuing the walk.
L’Isola Bella and The Convent of Santa Maria dell’Isola
You may only get a chance to take in views of L’Isola Bella and the convent from the largo above if it’s still closed for restoration as it was when we were last in Tropea. Like so many of the region’s great buildings, the old convent was devastated during the 1905 earthquake, rebuilt in a Gothic style, and requires ongoing restoration.
Set in a luxuriant garden that sprawls across the top of the outcrop of L’Isola Bella (the beautiful island), the convent of Santa Maria dell’Isola is centuries old. It was established under the auspices of the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino, near Naples, in 1077, to which it had been assigned by Pope Urban II and consecrated in 1397.
However, a house of religious worship had stood on this spot since the fourth century, when a Byzantine monastery was founded by Saint Basil the Great, who was responsible for hundreds of monastic communities in Calabria.
Follow Corso Vittorio Emanuele toward Piazza Ercole then turn right on Via Pietro Vianeo to Via Indipendeza
This small square off Largo Porta Vaticana is the spot to watch the sunset. Buy a beer from the café-bar and join the locals on a bench for this daily ritual. On a clear day you can see the volcanic island, Stromboli, in the distance.
This is another wonderful spot from which you can absorb the splendid views of Santa Maria della’Isola on the craggy outcrop above the aquamarine sea.
Cross the square and follow Via Indipendenza to Piazza Ercole.
This atmospheric lane is lined with delightful shops crammed with delicious local specialties such as Tropea onions, preserves, liquorice liqueurs, and olive oils.
Take time to browse and buy some edible souvenirs on the way back to Piazza Ercole.
If you’re planning to explore more of Calabria than Tropea, see our Calabria itineraries and our posts on Calabria road trips, Calabria national parks and Calabria’s hilltop towns for ideas. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the Comments below.