Calabria offers some of the cleanest and most pristine beaches in Italy. Over 500 miles (800 km) of coast line nearly surround the Calabria region, the toe of the boot. You'll find some of the places mentioned and travel information on our Calabria Map and Travel Essentials.
Tyrrhenian Coast of Calabria
Calabria's Tyrrhenian coast features spectacular rocky cliffs interspersed with fine white sand. Capo Vaticano and Tropea are the most popular tourist destinations along this coast and both have Italian language schools. Tropea's beaches are consistently rated some of the cleanest in Italy, receiving a perfect five "sails" out of five from Italian environmental group Legambiente. Both are achingly quaint villages full of historical sites, shops, restaurants, and lodging in addition to their glorious beaches.
Pizzo is another notable town nearby, famous for its Chiesa di Piedigrotta, a church completely carved out of the tufo rock near the beach, and for tartufo, a special delicious kind of ice cream celebrated with a festival in Pizzo every August.
Diamante is a fishing village known for its catches, beautiful beaches, and annual Peperoncino Festival in September celebrating the spicy hot chile pepper featured in many Calabrian dishes.
Scalea is another popular resort. The beaches that crowd in the summer highlights this old town, but it also has a rather charming city center spread over a series of steps, from where it gets its name. The area of Scalea lies within the territory of the old Greek coastal colonies of ancient Sybaris and archaeologists have found many prehistoric artifacts here.
Along the Tyrrehenian Coast you'll also find Palmi, the home of La Casa della Cultura Leonida Repaci with a collection of pottery and paintings and the Museo Calabrese di Etnografie e Folklore, a superb collection of Calabrian folklore items. About 3 miles (5 km) south of Palmi is the Monte Sant'Elia (the first peak of the Aspromonte Mountains) from which you'll enjoy the breathtakingly best view of Sicily and the Calabrian Coast - the plains of the Poro, the Gulf of Gioia, the rock of Scilla, the Sicilian coast, and the peak of Stròmboli's volcano.
According to Homer in The Odyssey, Scilla's amazing cliffs were home to the six-headed sea monster Scylla who terrorized ships passing through; the other danger mentioned is Charybdis, a whirlpool in the Strait of Messina. The currents of the strait, which can indeed become quite fierce, are said to be controlled by the temperament of Aeolis (of the nearby Aeolian Islands). Local lore says that mermaids still live in these waves.
More tangible things to see in Scilla include its 17th century castle, Castello Ruffo, which sits above the main beaches. Near the castle is Chiesa di Maria S.S. Immacolata with a renowned altar and fourteen bronze sculptures of Jesus Christ.
Ionian Coast of Calabria
The Ionian coast has calmer waters than the Tyrrehenian Coast, but just as impressive cliffs and stretches of sand. Certainly less developed and often less crowded than its Tyrrhenian counterpart, the Ionian proffers numerous historical and archaeological treats including Le Castella's Aragonese castle and Capo Colonna's sole remaining column of the once magnificent ancient temple of Hera Lacinia.
Soverato and Siderno are both hubs of activity on the Ionian Coast with many qualities of modern cities and they get quite crowded with northern Italian and other European tourists in the summer months.
For those who love medieval villages, the best preserved ones can be found in Stilo, Gerace, and Badolato. Stilo features the impressive La Cattolica, a 10th century, brick-built Byzantine church with five tile-covered domes.
Gerace is reputed to have been founded in the 9th century by refugees of nearby Locri (a great stop for those who love archaeological digs) looking to escape the pervasive danger of invading Saracens. It's said that a sparrowhawk led the refugees to this town, which eventually prospered as a Byzantine and Greek Orthodox stronghold against Church's latinization policy. Gerace is one of the best preserved medieval villages in all of Italy, highlighted by an 11th century cathedral, still the largest in Calabria, with three aisles separated by two rows of thirteen columns taken from the original Byzantine nucleus of the structure in Locri.
Badolato is an 11th century village that was built by Robert Guiscard. Much of the protective stone walls remain circling this town that overlooks the Ionian Sea. Badolato holds 13 separate churches, although only one is still open year-round for Mass.
If you love wine, think about visiting Cirò, home of Calabria's most noted wine selection, nestled into hills full of vineyards, orange groves, and olive trees. The predecessor to the wine of Cirò (Krimisa) is said to have been given to the winners of the earliest Olympic games to celebrate their victories.
What to Do on the Coasts of Calabria
Both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts provide welcome respites from the overcrowded, overdeveloped beaches elsewhere. Calabria's coast provides ample opportunity for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, or sailing, including the unique chance to dive in the vicinity of centuries-old shipwrecks and recently discovered ancient cities like the one found by an amateur diver near Roccelletta in July 2009.
Of course, there are also the less active sports of sun-bathing and people-watching, which are widely practiced here as well - just be sure to bring sunscreen as the sun of the Mezzogiorno can be brutal!
Calabria Beaches was contributed by Michelle Fabio, who moved from small town Pennsylvania to her ancestors' hilltop village in Calabria in 2003; she blogs about her life in the toe of the boot at Bleeding Espresso.