The clifftop town of Tropea is known for its pristine beaches, dramatic rocky coastline, and prized red onions.
Situated in the sunny gulf of St. Euphemia, Tropea is a vacation destination almost too serene and otherworldly beautiful to share. The Calabrian paradise is a beloved beach getaway for northern Italians, and over time, its popularity among foreign travelers has grown as well, amplified by trending images of white sandstone cliffs overlooking a turquoise horizon. The small city sits elevated from its Caribbean-like shores on a sheer rocky protrusion in the beachy landscape, the tops of its pastel buildings just barely visible from the sea below.
Built on a former Byzantine cemetery, the coastal oasis is now a top resort destination named the “most beautiful village in Italy” in the 2021 “Borgo dei Borghi” competition, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Its famous shore is lined with white sand and juts out into a rocky peninsula, where a Byzantine monastery is perched dramatically above the lapping waters and sea caves below. Tropea’s landscape is a striking battle of the elements. Backdropped by the lush Aspromonte mountains, the town’s high Calabrian peaks gradually descend into a sandstone promontory, where the rugged and arid terrain of southern Italy gives way to a calm tropical reef.
Known as the La costa degli Dei, or “the coast of the gods,” the Calabrian coastline is steeped in Greek legends and mythology. Some believe that Tropea’s world-famous name is derived from the Greek name Tropheum, a reference to the heroic Hercules, who, according to legend, saved the town and its neighboring region from two giants and later made the coastal hamlet one of his ports.
Though praised for its sunny beaches and warm Calabrese hospitality, Tropea is also a famed culinary hotspot of southern Italy, specifically known for its wine-red Cipolla Rossa onions. The Tropea onion was originally brought to southern Italy by the Phoenicians, who traveled from present day Lebanon to trade with the Greeks roughly 2,000 years ago. Today, the crowned vegetable is grown in three distinct hybrids: the April cipolla fresca, the cipolla da serbo of June, and a sweet white cipollotto harvested in October.
Tropea onions are low in acidity and far less harsh than the average red onion, making them sweet enough to eat like an apple. According to chefs and foodies alike (and indisputed by born and raised Tropeans), Tropea’s cipolla rossa onions are the sweetest and most delicious in the entire world. For an authentic taste of Tropea’s famous onions and local cuisine, Da Cecè is located in the heart of the beachside town and offers seafood and pasta dishes that incorporate the cipolla fresca, cipolla sa serbo, and cipollotto.
While popular among vacationing Italians and Europeans, Americans have yet to discover the picturesque pearl of the Tyrrehenian tucked deep into one of Italy’s southernmost regions, but a trip to the bel paese isn’t truly complete without day spend lounging on Tropea’s postcard beaches. From its labyrinth of historical alleyways to its breathtaking ocean views, Tropea is a bucket list destination that any lover of Italy should check off not just once, but time and time again.